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holiday sidekicks

24 November 2009

dj

when my friend Paul asked me for Thanksgiving side-dish ideas, i began to think not about food, but about classic and cult television characters. go figureLucy and Ethel. Mary and Rhoda. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. for me, the combination of perfectly balanced personalities (comedic mastermind and straight gal; independent, midwestern career woman and artistic, husband-seeking New Yorker; cape-clad super-heroine teacher and student) and sometimes zany antics entertained and demonstrated that things are generally better when you have a trusted sidekick.

so, what side dishes best complement the Thanksgiving turkey? the pairings are clearly endless. i keep my holiday meals simple, but they have combinations of rich, spicy, wonderful flavors. i’ll share just some of the things i plan to make in the next few days. hope you’ll let me know what you’re creating.

beginning with dessert (of course), i’ve already prepared and frozen Kate’s Apple Pie, with Arkansas Black, Belle de Boskoop, Golden Russet and Waltana heirloom apples. i just need to bake it on the big day. tomorrow i’m going to try Tyler Florence’s pumpkin and banana pie (minus the meringue…ack), using Kate’s crust recipe. i’ll let you know how that turns out; i plan to top it with lots of whipped cream.

next, the carbs: Perfect Northwest Macaroni and Cheese, minus the King Crab, plus some crispy pancetta for the topping. mashed potatoes are a definite requirement, so some rose fingerlings, whipped with a good measure of butter, half-and-half  and some Velveeta. did i really say that? yes, that’s how my dad made them, and that’s how everyone at my house likes them.

grandma Ida

i do a pretty traditional whole-berry cranberry sauce. this New Englander cuts back on the sugar, so the sauce is more tangy. oh, and i’ve had a request for a butternut squash dish; i’ll bake and whip the squash, add some spices (like a little cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves), then finish the dish by baking in a casserole with a mixture of pecans and my apple crisp topping. if i had a family-favorite to share, it would be this: my grandmother’s sweet potato and apple casserole. super easy to make, with that lovely balance of sweet and tart.

whatever your traditions, there can never be too many good sidekicks. i know i’m particularly grateful this year for my happy-go-lucky, laid-back sidekick, Elroy, who is continually glued to me. especially when there’s something cheesy in the kitchen, with his name monogrammed on it. wishing you and yours a happy holiday!

Ida’s Sweet Potato and Apple Casserole

INGREDIENTS

3 medium-size fresh sweet potatoes (i use garnet yams)
2 – 3 tart apples (e.g., Granny Smith or Waltana)
1/2 stick organic butter, cut into small pieces, and more to butter the casserole dish
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus a little more for sprinkling
2 teaspoons cinnamon, plus a little more for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

  1. peel the sweet potatoes and place in a large pot of cold water.
  2. boil the potatoes until they are cooked through, but are still firm; be careful not to overcook.
  3. drain the potatoes, and let cool.
  4. butter a covered casserole dish. (mine is 3 quarts)
  5. peel and core the apples, then slice into 1/4-thick pieces.
  6. preheat oven to 350F.
  7. cut the cooled sweet potatoes into a little slimmer than 1/2-inch slices.
  8. place a few pieces of the butter on the bottom of the casserole dish.
  9. put a layer of the sweet potatoes over the butter.
  10. place a layer of apples over the sweet potatoes.
  11. sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over the apples (use more, if your taste dictates).
  12. sprinkle a teaspoon of cinnamon over the sugar.
  13. dot the apple layer with butter.
  14. repeat the process (the top layer should be sweet potatoes).
  15. bake covered for about 40 minutes, or until the apples are cooked.
  16. remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon.

babka grandma would be proud of

15 November 2009

dj

babka

my grandparents arrived in the United States in 1903. Russian immigrants—he from a big city and she from the country—they settled in a section of Boston to begin exciting new lives as Americans. my grandfather opened a wholesale millinery, and my grandmother continued her career as a seamstress. i didn’t come along until more than half a century later, just a few months after my grandfather had passed away. but memories of my grandmother remain vivid and dear.

beginning at the age of four and for the next few years, my mom would drop me off at Nantasket Beach on the Hull Penninsula, where i would gleefully spend a week every summer with my grandmother. just the two of us. she’d rent a room in a giant boarding house, complete with veranda and rocking chairs, right across the street from the beach. she and her friends would dote on me, taking my hands as we crossed the street to spend the morning sunning and swimming on the South Shore. already in her sixties by that time, grandma was still a very strong swimmer, diving headlong into the surf and briskly doing laps along the beach. as she emerged triumphant from the salty water, she’d wave enthusiastically at me, as if she took great pride in the accomplishment. and, indeed, she should have.

grandma and mom circa 1930

grandma and mom, circa 1930

as we both got older, we’d play baseball in my parent’s yard; grandma would pitch the ball to me, i’d hit it with my trusty bat, then i’d run and get the ball, so we could do it all again. our dog would run alongside, thinking this was a very clever game. on Sundays, my parents would drive us to grandma’s apartment in the city for a visit. sometimes she’d make chicken soup, and we’d all sit around her kitchen table slurping down the golden liquid. sometimes we’d bring babka from our local Jewish bakery, so she could have a special treat. what’s babka? a sweet, moist and buttery yeast-based bread, much like brioche, filled with a blend of rich chocolate, sugar and cinnamon, finished off with a streusel topping. as grandma might say in still-broken English, “so, what’s not to like?”

with my grandmother top of mind, i wanted to re-create the babka of my youth. first i tried a recipe from Gourmet, but something about it wasn’t quite right. what was it? hmmm. no cinnamon. no streusel. the dough didn’t seem elastic enough as i worked with it or delicate enough after it had been baked. so, i went in search of an alternative. i turned to the chocolate babka recipe found in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. and that was it: exactly as i remembered it, exactly as grandma loved it.

rather than making loaves, i cut the recipe by 2/3 and made six individual servings in a popover pan, an idea i borrowed from the Bread Farm in Edison, Washington. this perfect babka kept beautifully for several days, maintaining its rich flavor and texture.

Chocolate Babka
a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
makes three loaves

INGREDIENTS

for dough
1 1/2 cups warm milk (110F)
2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
3/4 cups plus a pinch of sugar
2 whole, large eggs, plus 2 large eggs yolks, at room temperature
6 cups organic unbleached flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, at room temperature, plus more for bowl and pans

for filling
2 pounds semisweet chocolate, very finely chopped (i used Scharffen Berger)
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, at room temperature

for topping
1 egg
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/3 cups organic unbleached flour
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS

  1. in a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and a pinch of sugar over the warm milk; stir until dissolved. let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. in a medium bowl, whisk together the 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs and yolks.
  3. add to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.
  4. in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine flour and salt, then add the egg mixture; beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated.
  5. add the 2 sticks of butter, and beat until completely incorporated, and a smooth soft dough forms, about 10 minutes. (the dough should still be slightly sticky when squeezed.)
  6. turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth.
  7. place the dough in a well-buttered bowl, and turn to coat with butter.
  8. cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  9. to make the filling, stir together the chocolate, sugar and cinnamon.
  10. using a pastry blender, cut in 1 1/2 sticks butter until combined; set aside.
  11. to make the streusel topping, in a large bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar and flour.
  12. using a pastry blender, cut in the butter, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; leave in some larger pieces (see top photo), then set aside.
  13. in a small bowl, beat the egg with the cream to create a wash; set aside.
  14. generously butter three 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pans (check out the online version of the recipe for instructions about the parchment paper; i used a non-stick popover pan, and the babka came lifted out beautifully.)
  15. punch the dough down, transfer to a well-floured work surface, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  16. cut the dough into three equal pieces.
  17. roll out one piece of the dough into a 16-inch square, about 1/8-inch thick.
  18. brush edges of dough with the egg wash.
  19. crumble 1/3 of the filling evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1/2-inch border on the long sides.
  20. roll up the dough lengthwise into a tight log (as if you were making cinnamon rolls), pinching ends together to seal. (ok, this is where i went my own way, cutting the roll into 6 individual pieces and placing in the popover pan.)
  21. twist dough evenly down the length of the log, a full five or six times.
  22. brush the top of the log (or tops of your babka popovers) with egg wash.
  23. crumble two tablespoons of the chocolate filling down the center of the log, being careful not to let the mixture fall off (i didn’t have the dexterity for this feat).
  24. fold the log in half, into a horseshoe shape.
  25. cross the right half over the left.
  26. pinch the ends together to seal, and form a figure eight.
  27. twist two more times, and fit into prepared pan.
  28. repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  29. brush the top of each loaf with egg wash.
  30. sprinkle 1/3 of the streusel topping on each loaf.
  31. loosely cover each pan with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until dough has expanded and feels pillowy, about 40 minutes.rising babka
  32. preheat oven to 350F.
  33. bake loaves, rotating halfway through until golden, about 55 minute (20 minutes for babka popovers).
  34. reduce oven temperature to 325F; bake until loaves are deep golden 20 to 30 minutes more. cover loaves with foil, if they begin to brown too quickly (10 minutes for babka popovers).
  35. transfer pans to wire rack to cool completely.

the fascinating rhythm of pie

10 November 2009

dj

apple pie from 11/07 class

for me, baking is a dance—one that i perform with infinitely more poise and grace than i could ever exhibit on any dance floor. i glide through my kitchen, moving from pantry to countertop to oven with clarity of purpose and a decided rhythm that helps me keep beat with my joyful, self-defined creative process. as i learned from Seattle’s acclaimed, award-winning, pie-baking maestro Kate McDermott this past weekend, rhythm also plays a pivotal role in crafting an exceptional pie.

Kate and husband Jon Rowley spent more than two years refining their perfectly tender, flaky, lightly crisp and rich pie-crust recipe—and another few years researching and experimenting with combinations of heirloom apples to determine which yielded the best-tasting results. with a Brix refractometer, they measure each variety’s sugar content to determine how other ingredients might be adjusted to ensure every pie’s flavors are ideally balanced.

Kate listening to pies

Kate McDermott listens to the rhythm of a nearly done heirloom-apple pie.

as a classically trained musician with a highly refined ear, Kate discovered that her pies were completely baked when they emitted a rapid cadence of sizzle and a steady beat of whump. these culinary rhythms prompt her to remove her glorious handmade pies from the oven.

recently—in our small class of four pie-making wannabes— Kate demonstrated how to form a perfect pie crust by first combining refrigerated King Arthur flour, cold Kerrygold butter, chilled rendered leaf lard and salt in a very large, very chilled mixing bowl. she plunged her hands deeply into the bowl and lifted the ingredients with her palms up, blending the butter, lard and flour with her fingers, leaving fat chunks of all sizes to encourage an ultimately flaky consistency. next, Kate sprinkled icy cold water until a dough formed. then she let us loose to do the same, until each of us had two, flattened pie-dough disks.

as our dough chilled in the fridge, Kate and Jon shared that heirloom apples have thin skin, which contains tremendous flavor; it’s neither necessary nor desired to peel them. we all cheered. we cored and chunked Belle de Boskoop, Black Twig, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Egremont Russet, Elstar, JonathanKing David and Prairie Spy varieties, tossing them into a giant communal bowl. Kate then measured and divided the apples into four-to-five-pound piles, one pile for each of our pies. we laughed nervously when we realized how many apples we needed to load into our pie dishes. after combining a blend of spices with the apples, we were ready to roll out our pie crusts. and that’s when i panicked.

rolling my pie crust has always been a overwhelming challenge. i clumsily try to shape a round, but it never is. round, i mean. Kate helped me to relax, work more confidently and less gingerly with proven techniques. if the dough isn’t perfectly round, life isn’t over. a happy revelation. it will still fit in the pie dish and on the top of the pie. and, most importantly, it will still taste great.

when our crusts were rolled and pies filled, we crimped, vented and egg-washed the top crust, then Kate carefully loaded our masterpieces into her oven. as the pies baked, Kate served snacks, including some of her own divine apple pie, and read Henry Ward Beecher‘s apple pie sermon aloud. as our pies came out of the oven, and we listened for their sizzles and whumps, i realized it wasn’t simply the rhythm of the pies that made for a warm, uplifting afternoon. it was Kate’s melody: her overarching enthusiasm, patience, openness, generous spirit and genuine love of pies. and it was the harmony of working together for a common goal: to proudly craft our own amazing pies.

i wish i would have taken more photos during class to share every step of the process with you, but i was literally up to my elbows in flour, lard, butter, pie dough and apples (and loving every minute of it). i totally forgot to remove my camera from its case, until our pies had been popped in the oven.

i’m about 100 percent positive that neither of the Gershwin brothers would have imagined the title of their 1924 hit could be applied to an award-winning berry or cherry or peach or heirloom-apple pie. but Kate’s rhythmic discovery is, indeed, fascinating. and her dedication to the Art of the Pie and teaching it to others, unwavering. if you’re near Seattle, i enthusiastically recommend that you take her class; it’s truly an experience every aspiring pie maker should have.

Kate’s Apple Pie
recipe shared with the gracious permission of Kate McDermott, Art of the Pie
makes one double-crust, 9-inch pie

INGREDIENTS

for the double crust
2 1/2 cups refrigerated King Arthur unbleached white flour
8 tablespoons leaf lard, cut into various-size pieces, from peas to walnuts
8 tablespoons Irish butter (e.g., Kerrygold), cut into various-size pieces, from peas to walnuts
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 – 8 tablespoons ice water (variable, depending on environmental conditions)

for filling
about 10 cups heirloom apples, quartered and cored
1/2 cup flour
1/2 – 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar (my optional addition to 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (my optional addition)
a pinch or two of nutmeg
1 tablespoon organic apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

for topping
1 egg white mixed with 2 to 3 tablespoons water
1 – 2 tablespoons sugar

DIRECTIONS

  1. in a generously large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients for the double crust, except the water.
  2. with clean hands, blend the mixture together until it looks like coarse meal; leave some lumps in it, so your pie will be flaky!
  3. sprinkle ice water over mixture and stir lightly with your hands or a fork.
  4. squeeze a handful of dough together; if it doesn’t hold, add a bit more water.
  5. form the dough into a ball, then divide in half.
  6. make two chubby disks, about 5 inches in diameter.
  7. wrap each disk in plastic, and let chill for about an hour.
  8. when the dough has chilled, place one of the disks on a well-floured surface and sprinkle some flour on top of it.
  9. thump the disk with your rolling pin (Kate prefers a French rolling pin, but whatever works best for you) several times; turn the disk over and thump the other side.
  10. if needed, sprinkle more flour on the disk to prevent sticking, then roll out the crust from the center in all directions. Kate advises to turn the dough quarter turns and to flip it over during the rolling process.
  11. when the dough is about an inch larger in diameter than your pie dish, fold the dough over the top of your rolling pin, brush off the excess flour on each side, and lay it carefully in the pie dish. don’t be alarmed if you have to patch your dough in a place or two; just brush a little water over any cracks, then reconnect the dough with any extra pieces you have left over.
  12. for your filling, slice the apples in 1/2-inch pieces.
  13. in a large mixing bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, except the butter; mix lightly until the surface of the apples have been coated.
  14. pour the mixture into the pie dish that contains your bottom crust, mounding high; dot with the butter.
  15. preheat oven to 425F.
  16. roll out your top crust, and place over the pile of apples.
  17. trim your crust with kitchen shears or a sharp knife, leaving about an inch of overhang.
  18. roll the crust over or under, so the pie is sealed; make sure the crust doesn’t extend beyond the edges of the pie dish.
  19. crimp the edges of the crust with a fork.
  20. paint with egg-white wash.
  21. cut decorative vent holes of your choice in the top crust.
  22. sprinkle sugar on top.
  23. bake the pie for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 375F and bake for about another 40 minutes.
  24. when you remove the pie from the oven, listen for the sizzle and a deep, subtle bubbling or whump.
  25. cool on a wire rack. Kate’s sage advice: if you leave your pies to cool on the back porch, expect resident squirrels to pay a little visit.

serve alone for breakfast or with ice cream after your evening meal.

a prim and proper breakfast

6 November 2009

dj

scone with icingwhen i want a little something with my morning cup of tea, but don’t want to fuss, i turn to the noble scone. it’s simple. unassuming, yet satisfying. exactly what i would serve my friend Alex from the U.K., should he pop across the pond for an impromptu visit.

thought to have originated in Scotland, scones are made much like down-home southern biscuits. light and flaky wonders, scones are easy to whip up, and flavorings—like dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, culinary lavender, zests and cheeses—provide sweet and savory diversity. as one might imagine, scones can become quite addictive. and so it was at our home in the Colorado mountains.

when we’d grab a scone at a local bakery or coffee shop, they were nearly always overcooked: light brown on the outside and dry as Death Valley in July on the inside. gosh, we have to be able to do a better job than this at home. and, indeed, mastering how to make a very presentable, deliciously edible scone didn’t take long. treat the dough like a pie crust or a biscuit: mix it by hand, don’t overwork it, don’t overcook it.

soon, donning my headset, i was on early-morning conference calls with my east-coast team, passionately discussing creative projects—and banging out scones in the background. scones, prebakingputting my little handset on mute, i’d ask my partner, what flavor do you want today? the breakfast scone-making practice went on for quite some time. i never got tired of making them. but my partner got tired of eating them. and frankly, so did i. perhaps it was too much of that good thing.

we took a break from scones. and i began to make them more judiciously. there’s a lot of great advice about scones and their nuances at joy of baking. by applying baking common sense, you can make them in a heartbeat. your friends and family will be duly impressed by your skill and civility—especially if you remember the Earl Grey.

the recipe here delivers a scone that’s flaky, but has depth/density. i add just a bit more sugar to give a hint of sweetness and to balance the tart cherries and lemon. apply your own true north to the flavorings; the combinations are endless!

Tart Dried Cherry and Lemon Scones
a variation on a recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

INGREDIENTS

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 heaping tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup tart dried cherries
the zest of 1/2 lemon
2 eggs
1/4 cup whipping cream, plus one tablespoon
1/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

for icing (optional)
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 425F; lightly butter a sheet plan; or cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. (i actually bake mine scones at 375F.)
  2. in a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
  3. cut in the butter, until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. (i like to leave in a few pea-sized pieces of butter.)
  4. add the cherries and lemon zest.
  5. in a small bowl, combine the eggs, cream and vanilla.
  6. add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients.
  7. turn the dough onto a floured surface, and lightly knead, 8 – 10 times.
  8. pat or roll the dough into a circle about 1/4-inch thick.
  9. cut into wedges or use a biscuit cutter to make rounds.
  10. brush the tops of the scones with the tablespoon of cream. (if you don’t add the icing, you may want to sprinkle the tops with sugar.)
  11. bake about 15 minutes, until lightly golden.
  12. cool slightly on wire rack.
  13. combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl.
  14. drizzle icing over warm scones, and serve!

dj

 

p1040632already deeply saddened that cherry season is now but a distant memory, i turned on Food Network over the weekend to catch an episode of Iron Chef America. as is the tradition, the chairman melodramatically waved his hand to reveal the secret ingredient: mounds of luscious, fresh cherries. Bings. Rainiers. Montmorencys. sheer torture. i could defrost some of the pie filling i put up this summer. no, exercise some self discipline; you’re saving that for the holidays. hmmmm. i could open the five-pound bag of tart, dried Montmorency cherries that just arrived from Cherry Republic. brilliant! not really, but it was a sound alternative to preserving the remaining quantity of precious cherry pie filling. and i knew immediately what i wanted to bake: rugelach.

rugelach—or little twists in Yiddish—are rolled, crescent-shaped cookies filled with dried fruit (like raisins or currents or apricots), chocolate, preserves or a combination thereof. when i was still quite small, my dad and i would go on a weekly run to our local Jewish bakery, where Bill, one of dad’s World War II Army buddies, served as the head baker. from my tiny vantage point, the bakery’s endlessly long, shiny silver and glass cases filled with pastries and bagels intrigued and overwhelmed. Bill made it simple by handing me a rugelach. sticky and sweet, the cookie made an indelible impression. but it wasn’t until a few years ago that they became a standard in my holiday cookie-baking repertoire.

dried cherriesi love the process of making rugelach: aside from the fun of playing with dough, when i brush the preserves on it, i feel like an artist mixing paint on an easel. yeah, i should probably stick to writing. the recipe below is a little twist on Martha’s: the plump, moist, puckery dried cherries serve as the perfect counterpoint to the sweeter Hero black cherry preserves i slather on the rugelach dough.

consume this tangy, sweet treat with a cup of tea or coffee or a big glass of milk. i can never eat just one. or two. i used up all my self discipline on saving the pie filling.

Rugelach
a variation based on a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
i encourage you to look at the original recipe for filling variations; i’m sure you can come up with some cool ideas of your own. enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

for dough
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks
2 1/3 cups organic unbleached flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for filling
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup walnuts (pecans work, too)
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
1 cup Hero black cherry preserves, melted (i just leave it out at room temp)
2 cups tart, dried cherries

for topping
1 egg, lightly beaten
fine sanding sugar or granulated sugar for sprinkling

DIRECTIONS

  1. in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  2. add the sugar and salt; beat until combined and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  3. add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating to combine after each.
  4. with the mixer on low speed, add the flour to combine.
  5. mix in vanilla.
  6. turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface.
  7. divide dough into three equal pieces, and shape each into flattened disks.
  8. wrap the disks in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  9. preheat the oven to 325F.
  10. line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  11. for the filling: in a food processor (i use the small, three-cup KitchenAid chopper), pulse together the walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and salt until finely ground; set aside.
  12. on a lightly floured work surface (i use a roll pat mat), roll out one disk of dough into a 12 x 8-inch rectangle (long side facing you), about 1/4-inch thick.
  13. brush the top of the dough evenly with the preserves.
  14. sprinkle 1/3 of the walnut mixture onto the layer of preserves; use the back of a spoon to press the walnuts into the dough.
  15. sprinkle on 1/3 of the dried cherries; press the cherries gently into the dough.
  16. tightly roll the dough into a log.
  17. place seam-side down on pan, pinching the ends of each side of the log together. tuck ends under log.
  18. repeat the process for the remaining two dough disks. (place the logs 2 inches apart on the pan.)
  19. chill the pan with the logs in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  20. with a long, sharp knife, at 1-inch intervals, make 3/4-inch deep cuts crosswise in the dough. make sure not to cut all the way through the log.
  21. lightly beat the remaining egg, and brush over the tops of the rugelach; sprinkle with sanding sugar.
  22. bake each batch until lightly golden brown, about  35 – 40 minutes (in my oven this takes only about 30 minutes; watch over carefully, so the rugelach doesn’t overcook).
  23. place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 20 – 30 minutes in the pan.
  24. transfer the logs one at a time to a cutting board, and slice all the way through.
  25. return cookies to rack to finish cooling.

Martha’s recipe states rugelach can be kept in an airtight container for up to four days. i’ve found that they keep really well for a week. and they are perfect gift to ship for the holidays.

p1030154

the odd couple: the pig and the cow

20 October 2009

dj

chicken pot pie

fictional hero Forrest Gump said he and lifelong love Jenny went together like peas and carrots. some perceived them, perhaps, as an odd couple. but most as a beloved one. and so, to me, has become the pairing of the pig and the cow.

much like barbecue, cooks of all abilities are impassioned about the contents of their pie crusts: all-butter. all-shortening. a perfect split. or something more asymmetrical. ever on the mission to improve my mediocre attempts, i’ve spent what some might deem an inordinate amount of time  researching the topic. until i unearthed my pie crust true north: a fusion of rendered leaf lard (the fat that protects a hog’s kidneys) and european-style butter.

great cooks have already waxed poetic about this winning combination—a combination that yields the most flaky, memorable crust ever known. so, i set out to try my hand at re-creating all its glory. first, i sent an e-mail to Heath Putnam of Wooly Pigs to ask if he had any leaf lard on hand. Heath was kind enough to give me a call to let me know he planned to bring some leaf lard to the next Seattle University District Farmers’ Market. then, early (i’d say bright and, but it was one of those Pacific Northwest gully washers) on Saturday morning, my friend Lourdes and i met at the market. even though we got soaked to the skin, we had a totally fantastic time and left with Wooly Pigs’ leaf lard in shopping bag. the next step? rendering the lard.

i learned a ton about rendering leaf lard from Ashley’s wonderful not-without-salt post and by watching her video, where she uses the stovetop method. there’s also a very nice compilation of other leaf lard-related references on her blog. feeling elated, but pooped after our market outing, i chose to render my leaf lard using the oven method. lessons learned?

  1. exercise patience during the oven-rendering process (i.e., stop looking through the glass door every 20 minutes; the temp is only on 200F; go to bed). rendered leaf lard in mini muffin tins
  2. probably don’t store your beautifully rendered, precious-as-gold lard in muffin tins (one of the methods i read about); go out and get a nice Ball canning jar. easier to manage and store.
  3. pie crust born of the perfect union of pig and cow can be used for both savory and sweet applications. oh, and from my new vantage point, simply cannot be surpassed.

i introduced the pig and the cow to the chicken (they became fast friends). you’ll find the results here, created mostly with a bunch of leftovers. a rich, hearty filling that takes advantage of  the flavors of seasoned rotisserie chicken. and, of course, topped with that heavenly, flaky, to-die-for crust. sigh.

Odd Couple Chicken Pot Pie
a variation based on a turkey pot pie recipe from Emeril’s TV Dinners

INGREDIENTS

for the pie crust
recipe of your choice. mine new favorite is here. i don’t pretend for one second to know how to make it like Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, but i aspire to learn one day.

for this recipe, you can choose to have a top and bottom crust or just a top crust. i went with the latter.

for the filling
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion (e.g., Walla Walla, yellow)
salt and pepper
6 tablespoons unbleached organic flour
2 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup diced potatoes (i just cooked small Yukon Golds in boiling for about five minutes, then let cool and cut up) or any leftover potatoes (not mashed!)
1 cup leftover, diced sweet potatoes
1 cup diced carrots (i used whole petite carrots and threw them in with the Yukon Golds for about two minutes)
1 cup sweet young peas, fresh or frozen; defrost if frozen (i used fresh snap peas)
2 cups shredded cooked, leftover rotisserie chicken or turkey

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 375F.
  2. grease a 9-inch square baking dish (i used 4 small, individual casseroles).
  3. heat butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.
  4. add the onions, season with salt and pepper, cook/stir for 2 minutes.
  5. stir in the flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to make a roux.
  6. stir in the chicken stock, and bring the liquid to a boil.
  7. reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 4 to 6 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken.
  8. stir in the half-and-half and continue to cook for another 4 minutes.
  9. season with salt and pepper.
  10. stir in the potatoes, carrots, peas, chicken and any other leftover vegetables.
  11. season to taste.
  12. if you’re using a bottom crust, line the baking dish with the rolled-out crust.
  13. pour the filling into the prepared pan.
  14. place the top crust on top of the filling. unbaked pot pie
  15. carefully tuck the overlapping crusts into the dish, forming a thick edge.
  16. crimp the edges, and cut vents in the top crust.
  17. place the baking dish on a cookie sheet.
  18. bake until the crust is golden brown, around 25 to 30 minutes.
  19. let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

when the pasta’s on the pumpkin

16 October 2009

dj

scout's pumpkin ravioli

ah, fall in the Pacific Northwest. no, the frost isn’t on the pumpkin—yet. but the rain is overflowing the gutters, already laden with pine needles. the leaves of many colors are plastered on the lawn (which is blessedly green again), beaten down from heavy precipitation. our resident rabbits’ cotton tails? completely vanished. the entire warren running rampant and undetected as they blend into the drab landscape. on occasion, there’s a rare glimpse of sunshine. and i experienced one of those golden moments just the other day.

i’d been contemplating what to do with the remaining sugar pie pumpkins i’d picked up at Jones Creek Farm. the cooking-project criteria: creative. a little bit of a challenge. and, oh yeah, delicious. i dug out my recipe binders. pumpkin soup. nope. pumpkin fudge. nope. pumpkin bread. pumpkin pie. nope, nope. pumpkin cheesecake. save for Thanksgiving. pumpkin ravioli. now we’re talkin’.

i began by filling the house with the smell of baked pumpkin. nice. things were already looking up. then, i combined what i felt were the best components of four different recipes to come up with the variation you find here: a sparkling pumpkin ravioli true north. it’s delicate yet rich. with fragrant herbs and a wonderful burst of fall flavors to brighten up any soggy day.

Pumpkin-filled Ravioli with Butter, Sage and Toasted Pine Nuts

a variation based on recipes from Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Giada De Laurentiis and Martha Stewart

INGREDIENTS

for filling
1 small sugar pie pumpkin (about 1 pound) (or 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree)
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parrano cheese (or Parmesan cheese)
2 tablespoons butter
salt
pepper

for basic egg pasta
(i made this with my KitchenAid stand mixer and pasta roller attachment, according to the recipe in the provided instructions. there are certainly other recipes and methods, including purchasing sheets of pasta.)
1 3/4 cups of unbleached organic flour
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon water (this is what the KitchenAid recipe calls for; i used nearly 2 1/2 tablespoons to get the desired consistency)
1 egg beaten lightly for egg wash

for sauce
1 stick butter
2 tablespoons of the leftover pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
8 sage leaves

for topping
1/4 cup pine nuts

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. remove stem from pumpkin, and cut in half.
  3. scoop out seeds. (here are a few neat ideas for toasting the seeds as snacks.)
  4. brush surface of each half with sunflower oil.
  5. cover cookie sheet with non-stick foil, and place pumpkin on the cookie sheet pulp side down.
  6. bake for about 1 hour, 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. (Mario’s recipe says to cook the pumpkin for 30 minutes; i don’t know how the pumpkin would soften in that amount of time, but wanted to call it out.)
  7. after the pumpkin has cooled, remove pulp and transfer into a food processor.
  8. puree the pumpkin.
  9. turn the pumpkin into a medium saucepan and add heavy cream and herbs.
  10. cook over low heat for approximately 1 hour, or until the mixture is thick, and the liquid has evaporated. stir occasionally to prevent scorching. (be careful of the splatting hot pumpkin mixture, even at low heat.)
  11. remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter, cheese and nutmeg; salt and pepper to taste; set aside to cool.
  12. make pasta sheets with your chosen methodology. it’s recommended that the sheets be rolled as thinly as possible.
  13. cut the pasta into two sheets and place on a floured surface (i dust parchment paper with flour and place the pasta sheets there).
  14. brush one of the sheets with the egg wash.
  15. using a teaspoon, place 24 equal mounds of the pumpkin mixture on the egg-washed dough, about 2 inches apart.
  16. cover the mounded dough with the second sheet of pasta, and press around the mounds of pumpkin to seal the dough together.
  17. using a sharp knife or a biscuit cutter, cut the ravioli into squares or circles.
  18. press edges together to seal. (i was paranoid of the filling coming out in the boiling water, so i actually crimped the edges with a fork.)
  19. preheat oven to 350F and toast the pine nuts until light, golden brown, about 5 minutes; set aside.
  20. bring 6 quarts of water to a boil; add some salt to the boiling water.
  21. drop ravioli in the water and cook for about 4 minutes. remove the ravioli with a slotted spoon, saving the water.
  22. while pasta cooks, melt the stick of butter in a 12- to 14-inch saute pan with high sides, until the butter begins to foam; be careful not to burn the butter.
  23. add 2 tablespoons of pasta water and balsamic vinegar to the butter and whisk to emulsify.
  24. add sage leaves and ravioli to the pan, tossing gently for about 1 minute to coat pasta with the sauce.
  25. divide ravioli among four warmed plates, and top with pine nuts; serve immediately.

blondies have more fun

15 October 2009

dj

blondies

from the onset, my younger sister had it all. towheaded and adorable, adults doted on her. they’d bend down and swoop her into their arms, gushing, oh, isn’t she cute? (she was, of course.) and then look directly at me and say, and you’re very smart and so grown up. aside from the long-term self-image issues best addressed by a professional (don’t worry, i got over it on my own), the adults didn’t realize what an utter imp my sister truly was.

already beginning to turn from towhead to brunette.

already beginning to turn from towhead to brunette.

tasked with watching her during outdoor play time, she’d constantly vanish: one minute in the yard, the next, gone. when i first experienced these disappearing acts, i’d panic. i am the responsible scout; i let her out of my sight. i would scour the neighborhood on foot or by bicycle in my quest to locate her. what i would have given back then for an electronic tracking device and matching ankle bracelet. (anyone who knows my sister knows how much she loves to accessorize.) i’d discover her a few doors down, then a few blocks, then a mile. like Monopoly and Scrabble, this game became one of our family rituals. i imagine we were a lot like other siblings: the youngest would break something and look innocently and adorably at the parents with wide eyes and say the eldest had done it. uh-huh.

we got older. my sister’s hair got darker. and our lives went in entirely different directions. eventually, she matured—mostly—and found her own true north. now, we talk often, and look fondly and wistfully back on our childhoods. i’ve almost forgiven her for bobbing all my dolls’ hair. but not quite. former little blondie, this one’s for you.

Blondies
from a Cook’s Illustrated recipe

the blondies are an easy-to-make, rich, sweet treat. delightful with a cup of tea. or for my dear Seattle friends, a robust cup of freshly brewed coffee.

per the recipe’s instructions, be very careful not to overbake; blondies dry out easily and will turn hard (ack). begin to check the oven several minutes before the bars are supposed to be done (mine baked in 20 minutes).

INGREDIENTS

1 cup pecans or walnuts
1 1/2 cups unbleached organic flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 ounces white chocolate bar (1 cup), chopped or 3 ounces each white chocolate (e.g., El Rey Icoa/White) and semisweet chocolate (e.g., Scharffen Berger) bars, chopped

DIRECTIONS

  1. adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350F.
  2. spread nuts on large rimmed baking sheet, and bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  3. transfer nuts to cutting board to cool; chop and set aside.
    (i followed this guidance, but after tasting the blondies, i would have preferred not to toast the nuts; clearly a personal choice.)
  4. while the nuts toast, line a 13 by 9-inch pan with non-stick foil (more complex directions available from Cook’s Illustrated), so the blondies can be lifted out of the pan after they’re baked.
  5. whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  6. whisk melted butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl until combined.
  7. add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  8. using a rubber spatula, fold dry ingredients into egg mixture until just combined. be careful not to overmix.
  9. fold in chocolate and nuts.
  10. turn batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with spatula.
  11. bake until top is shiny, cracked and a light golden brown, about 22 – 25 minutes.
    (would like to reiterate that mine came out perfectly after 20 minutes.)
  12. cool on wire rack to room temperature.
  13. remove from pan by lifting foil overhang and transfer to cutting board.
  14. cut into 2-inch squares and serve!

is there really one perfect macaroni and cheese?

11 October 2009

dj

Northwest Mac and Cheese

as a nine year old, i thought my macaroni and cheese casserole reigned supreme. a recipe from the tattered pages of my mother’s Better Homes and Gardens Casserole Cookbook, Best-Ever Macaroni and Cheese took Velveeta to previously unattained heights. my family piled on the praise when i served it. or was that because none of them had to cook that night? and over the years, it’s become the most-requested comfort food of family and friends.

about a week ago, as i strolled through the isles of the local organic market, i spied a display of cheese piled high. unable to resist, i made a beeline for the stack, where i discovered Beecher’s Flagship Reserve. crafted by artisan cheesemakers at Pike Place Market in Seattle, the buttery, award-winning Flagship Reserve is pure heaven. i suddenly had an epiphany: to create the supreme northwest macaroni and cheese dish, with the Flagship Reserve as the star ingredient. when i excitedly told my friend Amy about my new cheese discovery, she said, “oh, yeah, i think Beecher’s has a recipe for mac and cheese using Flagship Reserve.” of course they do. Amy found the recipe for me online, and i couldn’t wait for the weekend to get cooking!

my mom and i drove down to Pike Place Market and picked up the cheese at Beecher’s. tPike Market mascothen we went back to the grocery store to complete our shopping. we first maneuvered through the produce section, and nearly bypassed the seafood counter, UNTIL something pretty and pink caught my eye. cropped crabs legsoh, my gosh. are those fresh Alaskan King Crab Legs? just flown in this morning, said our cheery seafood specialist. i looked at my mom and said with some trepidation, let’s splurge. we got a two-pound cluster and headed for the checkout, before there was any further collateral damage. oh, the price of comfort food.

your macaroni and cheese true north may be filled with gooey Velveeta and topped with seasoned bread crumbs, cherry tomatoes and paprika. or your heart may call you to fulfill your mac-and-cheese destiny with some yet unarticulated recipe. for me, both ways are just about perfect.

i can only describe the following recipe as creamy, rich and deliciously decadent. hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Perfect Northwest Macaroni and Cheese
a variation based on a recipe from Pure Flavor (i’d invite you to review the original recipe as the spice blend differs from my approach.)

INGREDIENTS
12 ounces penne pasta

for sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup unbleached, organic flour
3 cups whole milk
14 ounces grated Beecher’s Flagship Reserve cheese (0r cheddar cheese); about 3 1/2 cups
2 ounces grated Beecher’s Just Jack cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

for topping
2 ounces grated cheddar cheese
2 ounces grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs

optional
fresh Alaskan King Crab legs (of the 2-pound cluster purchased, i used half of the actual crab meat in the casserole)

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. butter a 3-quart baking casserole dish. (original recipe recommends a 13-by-9-inch pan. i used a 2-quart casserole and ended up with leftover sauce.)
  3. melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat.
  4. whisk in the flour and continue to whisk for 2 minutes.
  5. slowly add the milk, whisking constantly.
  6. continue to stir, and cook until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
  7. remove saucepan from heat.
  8. stir in the cheeses and spices, until all the cheese has melted, and ingredients are incorporated (about 3 minutes).
  9. cook the penne pasta  until al dente; drain the water, and place pasta in a large bowl.
  10. pour the sauce over the pasta, add the crab, and mix carefully but thoroughly.
  11. scrape the pasta into the baking dish.
  12. sprinkle the topping cheeses over the pasta.
  13. sprinkle the bread crumbs over the topping cheeses.
  14. bake uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden.
  15. let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

premature for pumpkin? never!

6 October 2009

dj

pumpkin bread pudding servingto most children (and retailers), the pumpkin crop serves as Halloween’s welcome-wagon representative and precursor to candy booty. due to this year’s extraordinarily warm weather, Washington state pumpkins arrived  prematurely, triggering unprecedented, mid-September Halloween excitement. my friends who are parents formulated strategies to delay trips to local pumpkin patches, or at minimum, to postpone carving, so that the orange fruits would survive until the end of October.

to be honest, Halloween has always been my least-favorite holiday. at our house, it felt like an extravaganza. no, my parents didn’t create a scary haunted house for all the neighborhood kids to frequent (thank goodness). but my mom decorated our front porch with crepe paper and other Hallmark paraphernalia, including a giant honeycomb skull that enveloped one of our lampshades. and mom would put one of those little disks at the base of the light bulb to make it flash off and on. sporting an enormous witch’s hat, she greeted everyone at the front door, oohing over their costumes and tossing handfuls of candy into their goodie bags. to preserve our pumpkins, she’d artfully paint their faces in oils, then place them on the front stoop.

painfully shy, i loathed going door to door to trick or treat. and, unlike my extroverted little sister, i didn’t like dressing up as someone (or something) other than myself. until one Halloween, when my parents felt moved to throw a party for me and a group of my friends. mom and dad transformed our basement playroom into a hip, happening party scene. mom made me a costume that matched the outfit of my Mattel Scooba-do talking doll—a scat-singing, long-black-haired beatnik. at the party, we all bobbed for apples. danced to groovy music from The Monkees. and chowed down on never-ending party snacks. even with my sister underfoot, the party rocked. and i’ll always cherish the memory.

clearly for me, the best part of the upcoming holiday is the pumpkins. you’ll find my first recipe of the season here.

an endnote: c’mon, sis – did Scooba-do or any of my other Mattel toys, like my red-headed, bubblecut Barbie, really need haircuts?

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
a variation based on a recipe from everyday FOOD

INGREDIENTS

1 baguette (8 ounces), sliced 1/2 thick (i actually cut the slices into more bite-size pieces)
4 large eggs
4 cups half-and-half
2 cups fresh pumpkin puree, extracted from one good-size sugar pie pumpkin (or 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried tart dried cherries or dried cranberries

DIRECTIONS

  1. preheat oven to 350F.
  2. remove stem from pumpkin, and cut in half.
  3. scoop out seeds. (here are a few neat ideas for toasting the seeds as snacks.)
  4. brush surface of each half with sunflower oil.
  5. cover cookie sheet with non-stick foil, and place pumpkin on the cookie sheet pulp side down.
  6. bake for about 1 hour, 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft.
  7. after the pumpkin has cooled, remove pulp and transfer into a food processor.
  8. puree the pumpkin, and set aside.
  9. butter a 2-quaret shallow or 8-inch square baking dish; set aside.
  10. toast bread on baking sheet at 300F, turning occasionally, until lightly browned (20 – 25 minutes). note: instead of this approach, i just use a stale baguette.
  11. in a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, pumpkin puree, vanilla, brown sugar, spices and salt.
  12. add the bread to the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture.
  13. place a plate small enough to fit inside bowl on top of plastic wrap, then weight down with a can. this ensures the bread will soak up the custard and results in a velvety consistency.
  14. place in fridge, and let the mixture soak until saturated, about 25 minutes.
  15. if you haven’t used the oven yet, preheat to 300F.
  16. transfer mixture to prepared baking dish, spreading evenly.
  17. sprinkle the dried fruit over the mixture, allowing some to sink in.
  18. bake on a rimmed baking sheet until firm, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 60 – 70 minutes.

serve this comforting, sweetly spiced autumn pudding warm or at room temperature, dusted with confectioners’ sugar and/or top with whipped cream. or a splash of half-and-half. of course, appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner.