Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Seven Links

Kyleen from the adorable blog Sixteenbeans tagged me in the seven links blogger game, and I figured I'd jump in. You find seven posts from the past that fit each of seven categories. Then, you're supposed to tag five others.

Kyleen's blog is adorable. Do find the time to visit. Lately I've been especially drawn to these herbed yogurt crackers and this angel food cake with strawberry mascarpone cream that she posted.

Here goes....

Most Beautiful Post: Fresh Fruit Fraisier

This fresh fruit fraisier was both my first Daring Baker's challenge and the cake for my friend Christy's bridal shower my mom and I threw this summer. Not only does this cake have delightful memories attached to it, I somehow caught a perfect photograph of it. I thank my mother for picking such beautiful flowers and setting the table. 

Most Popular Post: New York State Upside Down Cupcake

This New York State Upside Down Cupcake was my entry to this year's ice cream cupcake contest, hosted by the Cupcake Project. It got some traffic from the Cupcake Project, but then it was StumbledUpon, and the hits are still coming. Who knew you could get so much traffic so quickly?

Most Controversial Post: Indian Spiced Tofu

I searched and searched for a controversial post. Perhaps it was this post since many people responded that they don't really cook with tofu?

Most Helpful Post: Greek Celebration Bread

While I'm not sure my Greek Celebration Bread post was particularly helpful to anyone else, I received so much helpful advice about bread baking from it. Reading the comments was so enlightening and definitely improved my bread baking.

Surprisingly Successful Post: Mom's Olive Oil Orange Bundt Cake

I guess describing a cake as a cross between a pound cake and a doughnut is bound to make it more successful. This was a cake I was not particularly excited to bake, but people just kept requesting it after I posted it.

Most Humbling: Bialys

There's nothing like a glass pan exploding while the oven door is open to remind you that you still have a lot to learn in the kitchen.

Most Pride Inducing: Big Berry Birthday Cake

This was my very first post, a birthday cake for my good friend's birthday. You can see from the unfinished cake photo that I had a lot to learn about food photography. However, this cake propelled me into my blogging journey, and I'm certainly thankful for that. 

I'm "tagging" five of you in the spirit of the game, but please feel no pressure to participate! 

Elaine from California Living

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Daring Bakers: Candylicious

The August 2011 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drive and Mandy of What the Fruitcake!?. These two sugar mavens challenged us to make sinfully delicious candies! This was a special challenge for all of us Daring Bakers because the good folks at http://www.chocoley.com offered an amazing prize for the winner of the most creative and delicious candy.

They challenged us to make at least two different candies, including one chocolate candy, and to try our hand at tempering chocolate. They gave us an almost dizzying amount of suggestions, but they really encouraged us to try out our own flavor combinations.

My first offering is a dipped bonbon with a very long name: Pepita and Cranberry Brittle Covered in Tempered Dark Chocolate with a touch of Fleur de Sel. Feel free to shorten the name.

When you first bite, you get the crunch of the pepitas and brittle. A second bite yields a surprising texture and flavor contrast as you hit your first dried cranberry. The little bit of salt perched atop the dark chocolate finishes the chocolate off perfectly.

I'm glad I made these small because they are addictive. I found myself getting my camera out multiple times to photograph these chocolates because photographing them meant cutting into them and once they're cut into, you just have to eat them.

With the extras, I threw together some simple chocolate bark, topped with pepitas and dried cranberries. I'm doing this with all my leftover chocolate from now on.

For my second chocolate, because really, you knew it would be a chocolate, I made salted caramel crack(ers). While these may not have been daring, they certainly were delicious. Who knew that the saltine crackers you ate while sick as a kid could turn into something so addictive and tasty when covered in caramel and dark chocolate? It's hard to have just one bite.

My goal is to turn the leftovers into the Salted Crack Caramel Ice Cream sold at Ample Hills Creamery in Brooklyn. Now I just need to whip up a batch of salted caramel ice cream.

Friday, August 26, 2011


In my family, cookies often played a starring role at dessert. At Christmas each year, cookies were the star, and we made plate after plate of different kinds. Cookies could be the whole dessert, and we would each leave incredibly content.

However, perusing Brooklyn restaurant menus over the past few years, cookies rarely feature on dessert menus. Sure, No. 7 swears by their chocolate chip and bacon cookies, but at most restaurants, cookies only appear on the menu when they are complimenting another dish.

This fregolatta falls into that camp. I needed a cookie to accompany some chocolate pot de cremes that I made. This cookie, described as the little black dress of cookie crumbles seemed just right. Incredibly simple to make, the dough is stirred together and then patted into springform pans. There's none of that fussing to measure exact portions or spending hours pulling out tray after tray of cookies that chocolate chip cookies call for. Instead, two springform pans bake in the oven for 25 minutes each, yielding two huge cookies.

Then comes the fun part. You take the cookie, and you balance it on something. A whole almond is recommended if you want to impress your guests, but any small object will work. You take a wooden spoon, and you whack the cookie as hard as you can. Watch it crumble! Don't be afraid to really hit it.

These crunchy, almond-filled pieces were a perfect compliment to the decadent pot de cremes, and they worked equally as well with coffee for the next few days.

I would have expected nothing left from a Lidia Bastianich recipe. Number 12 on Gourmet Magazine's list of 50 women game changers in food history, she has established quite a food empire for herself.

In selecting Lidia, Gourmet wrote, "Everybody's nonna, Lidia founded an empire, and she does it all: cookbooks, TV shows, restaurants, and wines galore. Then last summer--with son Joe, Mario Batali, and Oscar Farinetti--she opened Eataly, the cucina italiana Manhattan multiverse and basically, took over the world."

Be sure to visit all the other bloggers who made recipes by Lidia Bastianich this week. While you do that, I may just visit Eataly. Fittingly, this post comes on Eataly's 1st birthday:

Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green 

Monday, August 22, 2011

BBA #3: Bagels

Regularly, I tell my students that books and the internet are tremendous resources for gaining new knowledge. We take on nonfiction research projects we've always wanted to explore, and we read and read and read to learn all we can. We identify main ideas, we make sense of unfamiliar words, and we piece information together from different sources until we have cohesive ideas about our topics.

The first 100 pages of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread are my summer nonfiction research project. Tucked in those pages are terms I've never heard, ideas I've never encountered, and enough information to keep me learning about bread for the rest of my life.

When you open The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, it's easy to imagine skipping to page 108 where the formulas for different breads actually begin. Do not. If you do, your bread will not turn out as well.

Case in point: I've made Peter Reinhart's bagel recipe several times over the past year from a post on Smitten Kitchen. Deb broke down the bagel recipe and really explained each step. But my dough never rose quite the way I wanted. I never got the bubbly, doubled rise I desired from my starter. My finished bagels were always tasty, but I knew they could be better.

Little did I know that there is a MAJOR difference between instant yeast and active dry yeast. You only need 33 percent instant yeast in a recipe, whereas you need 50 percent active dry yeast to achieve the same rise. That little difference in yeast yielded the foamy and bubbly sponge I had previously failed to recreate.

I didn't know what a windowpane test was. Yes, I'm sure I could have googled it, but I just never got around to it. Reinhart explains the windowpane test clearly (part of Stage Two of his TWELVE stages of Bread). It's when you hold a small piece of dough up to the window and stretch it to make a paper-thin membrane. If it falls apart or tears before the membrane is formed, not enough gluten has developed in the dough, and it requires more kneading. If you can see through it like a windowpane, it's ready.

Reinhart even broke down how to shape the bagels into individual rolls for proofing. Before, I had a hard time forming even rolls, and my finished bagels had some inconsistencies in appearance. Reinhart suggested putting a ball of dough on the counter, cupping it inside your hand, and rotating the dough in a circular motion until it popped up into a perfect ball in your hand. He says it can be done with both hands at once, but I will save that for later recipes.

The end result were bagels so tasty they didn't need to be toasted. They had shiny, thick, caramelized crusts (from the water bath in alkalized water), and they were dense inside. They had just the right amount of chew. I gave the bagels a quick dip in an egg wash (Deb's idea) after they came out of the water bath. This helped the toppings to stay firmly on the bagels. I had sesame seeds, poppy seeds, salt and minced onions on hand to top the bagels.

These bagels were delicious with lox and cream cheese for a dinner party just a few hours after they came out of the oven. However, the apartment was hot, hot, hot from the 500 degree oven!

As part of the BBA Challenge, we're not posting recipes from the book. If you enjoy the recipes from The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, buy the book and bake along with us!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Roasted Tomato Confit

It is officially tomato season, and my google reader feed has just been bombarded with posts about tomatoes. Like this one by Lottie + Doof. It's a tomato cobbler topped with cheddar cheese biscuits. I think I could eat it for dessert and be happy.  Or this tomato salad with crushed croutons from Smitten Kitchen. I've been tempted to preserve tomatoes five ways, as suggested by Food in Jars

I just had to join in the fun with this recipe for roasted tomato confit. While this recipe is not exactly by Patricia Wells, it's inspired by her. She's number 11 on Gourmet Magazine's list of 50 women game changers in food history.

Of the selection, Gourmet wrote: "Milwaukee-born Wells gave us France, spreading the bistro love as the Paris-based restaurant critic of L'Express and the Herald Tribune. She taught us--and reminded the French--about Provencal cooking, and... quoi? An American woman is telling the French what to eat? Oui."

Of the original recipe for these tomatoes, Wells writes: "Nothing can match the pure, wholesome flavor of tomatoes, and no method amplifies tomato essence like a reduction. These are the sun-dried tomatoes of the 1990s--fresh tomatoes that are baked for hours in a very slow oven until much of their moisture evaporates, creating tomatoes with a dense, haunting, rich and pleasant tangy flavor."

I adapted Wells's recipe slightly, replacing the garlic with shallots, omitting the sugar and adding a good deal of butter. After about two hours of slow roasting, these tomatoes were incredibly tender and flavorful.

Wells recommended using the tomatoes in soups, salads, on sandwiches, for pasta, or anywhere else. What I did with these tomatoes is inspired by my dear friend Thomas. You'll just have to wait and see what it was. I'll apologize right now that I have none left to share with you. You would have enjoyed it.

Be sure to check out the other bloggers who made recipes by Patricia Wells this week:
Val - More Than Burnt Toast
Joanne - Eats Well With Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
Susan - The Spice Garden
Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
Heather - girlichef
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Jeanette - Healthy Living
April - Abby Sweets 
Mary - One Perfect Bite
Kathleen -Bake Away with Me
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island
Barbara - Movable Feasts
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Amy - Beloved Green 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fresh Vegetable Pasta, Risotto Style

I've been on a bit of a pasta kick lately. I know it's summer vacation, and I should have time to cook myself elaborate dinners each night. But I just can't bring myself to turn my oven on. Our kitchen has only one window, and if our bedroom doors are closed, the hot air just hangs there and quickly heats the kitchen.

So, I've been making pasta. Big batches of pasta that I can eat for lunch and dinner for a few days. Pasta I can reheat if I have an easy-to-please guest over for a meal. Pasta that is even good cold if you don't want to unplug the one fan in the kitchen so you can plug in the microwave.

This pasta is a definite winner. It's the most fascinating cross between pasta and risotto, and it's prepared in a risotto style. The pasta is toasted in oil, wine is added and cooked until it is absorbed, and then enriched vegetable broth is added. The pasta is stirred and stirred and stirred until all the broth is absorbed. The remaining pasta is rich and creamy, without the addition of any cream, and only a bit of parmesan cheese is mixed in at the end.

The finished pasta is just loaded with lightly cooked vegetables. Leeks, asparagus and baby peas are lightly sauteed together and finished with a pinch of red pepper flakes for that perfect suggestion of heat.

And the campanelle pasta! Cook's Illustrated described it as "ruffled, bell-shaped," and I'd call it just adorable. It holds on to the sauce well, and the pieces remain separate so you can enjoy them one by one.

Although the process is much more time consuming than your typical pasta dish, it's certainly worth the extra time, and you'll be left with a rich, flavorful and unique dish.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Baked Sunday Mornings: Grasshopper Bars

In college, we got our hands on a video titled "Cooking with Cordials." It was an old promotional video from the 1950s put out by Hiram Walker. The video matches my ideas about the 1950s perfectly. The stay-at-home wife prepares the vegetable and fruit dishes with cordials, while the businessman cooks the liquor-glazed roast. The cordial dishes they create are just over top. Imagine peas floating in bright green creme de menthe. Fruit salad stewing for hours in a cordial bath.

Try as I might to find a clip for you, an internet search turned up no results. My apologies. It's horribly entertaining, and I think my description doesn't do it justice.

So this weekend, I cooked with cordials. Hiram Walker creme de menthe, to be exact. A huge bottle of it because that was the smallest size my liquor store had. Any suggestions of what to do with the rest are greatly appreciated.

I made the Grasshopper Bars from Baked Explorations: Classic American Desserts Reinvented. The base is a thick fudge-brownie layer. It's topped with a creamy mint layer and a firm layer of chocolate ganache. I omitted the mint extract since I didn't have it, but I was glad. The bars were minty enough as is, and I think the extract would have been too much.

The bars sliced up beautiful. Baked mentions they're equally appropriate for a child's snack after school and for a beautiful plated dessert to finish a dinner party. I found they were perfect with good friends, long conversations and wine.

To view the recipe for these delicious bars and to see all the other bloggers who baked Grasshopper Bars this week, visit Baked Sunday Mornings

Friday, August 12, 2011

Welsh Rare-bit

I remember my first meal in Park Slope, Brooklyn, quite vividly. It was mid-August, pouring rain and a little chilly. We were frantically apartment searching, hoping we'd be in somewhere permanent before we started our first teaching jobs that September. My mom was in town visiting, and we had stopped to look at a delightful apartment that had everything we'd imagined a Park Slope apartment would: exposed brick walls, rooftop access, and the tiniest bedrooms you've ever seen.

We stopped at an adorable little cafe for lunch called Sweet Melissa's, which you may be familiar with if you follow Sweet Melissa Sundays or know the delightful baking cookbook from the bakery: The Sweet Melissa Baking Book: Recipes from the Beloved Bakery for Everyone's Favorite Treats.

The Welsh Rarebit immediately jumped out at me. It wasn't the kind of meal you'd write home about, but it was delicious. A cheese and butter soaked baguette toasted just so with a perfectly light arugula salad. It was adult comfort food at its finest. What better meal to end a long day of apartment searching than this savory treat.

So when I saw that Mrs. Isabella Beeton, half of woman number 10 on Gourmet Magazine's 50 women game changers in food history, had a Welsh Rare-bit of her own, I just had to try it. Her version is certainly a splurge, loaded with butter and cheese (and if your cheese is a little dry, Beeton recommends adding even more butter to improve it), but she does advise you to only have one slice. It's dressed up with some mustard and black pepper which give it a deeper flavor.

It's taken from her book Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, which gave women advice on how to run a proper Victorian household. The book covered topics from the management of servants to the use of local and seasonal produce. The complete book is 1,112 pages long and contains over 900 recipes. She finished the book before her untimely death at age 28.

Of the selection of Mrs. Beeton and Mrs. Hannah Glasse, Gourmet Magazine wrote: "Mrs. Glasse's The Art of Cookery (1747) and Mrs. Isabella Beeton's Book of Husehold Management (1861) are important foundation cookbooks."

Be sure to visit the other bloggers who cooked recipes by Mrs. Beeton and Mrs. Glasse this week.

Val -  More Than Burnt Toast - Syllabub 
Joanne - Eats Well with Others
Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed - Apple Snow
Susan - The Spice Garden
Heather - girlichef - Pan Seared Trout with Caper Sauce
Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
Janette - Healthy Living
Mary - One Perfect Bite - Excellent Rolls and Shrewsbury Cake
Kathleen - Bake Away With Me - Another Sort of Butter Cake and Bakewell Pudding
Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen
Sue - The View from Great Island - Hodge Podge Stew
Linda of Midwest Life and Cuisine