Monday, December 14, 2009

Call Your Cardiologist

Unlike my last post, this one is for about something that is most definitely not good for your heart. Or your waistline. But here it is nonetheless:

A Buche de Noel!!!

Erik has been wanting to make one of these for a while now, and so we used his office's holiday party as an excuse to try this baby out. I will admit I had low expectations, because of all the steps and because you have to roll it, the prospect of which scared me just a bit. But I guess our success is a testament to the excellent recipes we used that it all turned out well. (Well, except for the first attempt at buttercream frosting...) In fact, the hardest part of this whole thing was finding the right sized cookie sheet! But we did, and so we proceeded.

Because all the recipes are already online, and because it's late, I will just post the links.

For the cake and filling we used this Jacques Pepin recipe.

I started following the buttercream frosting recipe, which is sort of a classic French buttercream, and I'm not quite sure what I did, but something went wrong and my eggs fell out of emulsion, and so I had runny egg yolks and clumps of butter that would not blend. I didn't really want to try the same recipe again lest it fail a second time, so I turned to Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa for her chocolate buttercream recipe, which I just happened to see her make on her show the other day while I was elliptical-ing away. (Finding decadent recipes while on the elliptical seems to be my new thing these days). Anyway, the recipe worked like a charm and holy cow, but it is
delicious! If you use this recipe though, cut it down to just a third, because that will make more than enough icing for a yule log.

Ina Garten's AMAZING Chocolate Buttercream

(I also just noticed when I posted this link that I inadvertently used only half the amount of chocolate that I was supposed to, but to no ill effect....oh well!)

Next time I might attempt meringue mushrooms and save some frosting to make green leaves, but on this our first attempt we did basic. But I think it is going to mm mm good tomorrow!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Beans, Beans, They're Good For Your Heart...

Diet & lifestyle books are a dime a dozen, and sometimes you have to take what they say with a grain of salt. (I'm on a cliche roll here, any more I can throw in?). This past January my mom got into South Beach, and when she came to visit me over the winter she bragged that she hadn't had a piece of fruit since the New Year. I mean....okay, but is that even healthy? Meanwhile she was eating eggs, peanuts, and more red meat in a sitting than I eat in a week. I guess I shouldn't knock South Beach since I have never read the book. But no fruit? I live for fruit! So instead I will talk about a food guru that I have read and respect: Mark Bittman. Bittman's book Food Matters, which I mentioned briefly in my sweet potato soup entry, basically posits that both the planet and our bodies could be much healthier if we ate less meat and more fruits and veggies. He wasn't the first person to make either of these claims, but his was the first book that I read and took to heart, and it has changed the way I eat (plus it has about 75 recipes!). For example, I've only bought soda once or twice since January! (Apparently soda takes a lot of energy to produce). More to Bittman's point, however, I've gone from eating meat at nearly every lunch and dinner to eating meat only about half the days of the week (because meat industry = polution & high energy consumption). Sometimes it takes me a few more minutes to think of a balanced vegetarian meal instead of using the meat-vegetable-starch formula that I was raised on. (Or, when carbs went out of fashion, meat-vegetable-vegetable model). However, after nearly a year of less-meat cooking I have collected a few go-to veg recipes. In particular, I've really gotten into making my own bean burgers, which I think are tastier than many brands from the freezer section. The one I am going to share with you tonight is Black Eyed Pea Cakes, courtesy of Cooking Light (September 2008). This is also a recipe that uses chilis in adobo, and tonight will be using the same chilis in adobo that have been kicking around since I blogged about Radloff Salad With A Twist in September. I'm telling you people, I need more ideas for how to use that stuff up! But without further ado, the recipe:

Black Eyed Pea Cakes with Adobo Cream (Cooking Light, September 2008)

* 1/4 cup fat-free sour cream
* 1 teaspoon adobo sauce
* 1 15 ounce can no-salt-added black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
* 1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion

* 1/2 teaspoon bottled minced garlic
* 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
* 1 large egg, lightly beaten
* 1 large egg white, lightly beaten (if things are dry--I usually skip it)
* 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

* 1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1. Combine sour cream and adobo sauce in a small bowl, set aside.
2. Place beans in a medium bowl; partially mash beans with a fork. Stir in the breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, and egg. With clean hands, divide pea mixture into 4 equal portions, shaping each portion into a 1/2-inch-thick patty.
3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add patties to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden and thoroughly heated. Remove from pan; top each cake with 1 tablespoon cheese. Serve with sour cream mixture.

Check out that healthy pile of veg

Cooking Light suggests serving this with rice and tomato wedges dressed with vinaigrette. I like to make a more jazzed up salad based on a relish from In The Kennedy Kitchen, which incorporates finely diced red onion, avocado, tomato, and cucumber dressed with a simple balsamic, EVOO, chives and basil, salt & pepper. For a bigger meal cornbread (with or without jalapenos) can round things out nicely.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Walnut Bread: The Best Bread I've Ever Made

The use of the word "best" in the subtitle of this post has 2 meanings:

1. This is the most successful bread I've ever made--I didn't let it rise too long, causing it to collapse into a dense, flat disc, as I tend to do when making bread.

2. This is the
best bread I've ever made, as in delicious. Soooo good.

I saw this beautiful braided loaf in last month's Cooking Light as part of the Thanksgiving special. A massive storm today kept me at home, so at last I had a chance to try it, and I'm so glad I did. All of the ingredients are things I keep in my pantry, (no shopping, hooray!) and it didn't have too many complicated rising/resting intervals, which are often my downfall.

The crash of pans from the kitchen soothes Erik to sleep

The only tricky thing was that the recipe formulated for a stand mixer with a dough hook which sadly I do not have (Santa?), so I kneaded it by hand for a good long while, which seemed to do the trick. The only suggestion I will make before giving you the recipe is that if you also have to knead by hand like me, add the walnuts in at the same time as the flour, because once the dough is elastic-y I didn't have the easiest time working them into the dough. I will also note that I have been completely unable to find whole wheat pastry flour, which it calls for, so I used plain old King Arthur whole wheat flour and I am completely satisfied with the results, so don't let that little detail deter you! And without further ado, I present you:

Braided Walnut Loaves (Cooking Light, November 2009)
2 loaves, 16 servings per loaf

* 1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
* 1 cup boiling water
* 1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
* 1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)

* 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
* 6 tablespoons honey
* 3 tablespoons canola oil
* 20.25 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 cups), divided
* 9 ounces whole-wheat pastry flour (about 2 cups)

* 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
* Cooking spray (or sil-mat or parchment paper)

1. Place oats in a food processor; pulse 8 times or until coarsely chopped. Combine chopped oats and 1 cup boiling water in a medium bowl; let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer; let stand 5 minutes.

3. Add buttermilk to oat mixture, stirring to combine. Stir in honey and oil. Add the oat mixture to yeast mixture; mix with dough hook attachment until combined.
4. Weigh or lightly spoon 13.5 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 cups) and whole-wheat pastry flour in dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours with salt. Add flour mixture to buttermilk mixture. Mix dough at medium speed 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding remaining all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to sides of bowl. Add walnuts; mix at medium speed just until combined.
5. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.)
6. Preheat oven to 400°

7. Punch dough down; divide in half. Divide each half into 3 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time (cover remaining dough to keep from drying), shape each portion into a 14-inch rope. Place 3 ropes lengthwise on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray (do not stretch). Pinch ends together at one end to seal. Braid ropes, and pinch loose ends together to seal. Repeat procedure with remaining dough to form another braid. Cover and let rise 30 minutes or until doubled in size. 
My oven is a little...smaller...than most. Takes some creative positioning to fit 2 pans at once.
8. Spritz top and sides of loaves lightly with water from a spray bottle. Bake on center rack of oven at 400° for 28 minutes or until deep golden brown. Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.

Mince Pies That Will Make You Swoon

I know, you're skeptical already. But it's true. I just made them, and they are delicious. I've never actually eaten mince before--I have only once been confronted with one mincemeat pie in my life time, and I'm not going to lie...I steered clear. It was at the annual Nantucket Historical Association Christmas party, which is done potluck-style. One employee spouse brought a massive, lasagna-sized mince meat pie beautifully with pastry spelling "NHA" on top. Points for creativity, but I couldn't tell if it was the kind of mincemeat with actual meat, the idea of which kind of creeps me out, so I didn't eat it.

However, my attitude towards mince changed last Sunday morning when I was elliptical-ling away at the gym while watching Nigella's Christmas Kitchen. Honestly, that woman can make dirty socks sound appetizing, and soon I found myself drooling over these adorable mini mincepies that she was making. Plus, cooking shows make everything look so easy, so immediately I thought, "I can
do that!" The key to Nigella's mincepies is that she doesn't use meat. Her filling is fruity and boozy, and honestly, what better combination can you find? It's basically a glorified cranberry sauce spiked with port, brandy, and lots of spices and dried fruit. The crust, which was easy (and this is coming from a complete crust novice), is amazingly flaky, so these pies are in instant winner in my book. The only tricky part was tracking down the recipe online, and discovering that the whole thing is in ounces. F***ing ounces. Since Santa hasn't brought me a food scale yet (it's at the top of my list, though), I had to do a little bit of educated-guessing based on what I know from Cooking Light (which often gives weights & measurements for baked goods), and some internet conversions. However, internet conversions don't take food density into account, so I had to fudge things a little. But, given my delight with this recipe, I guess I didn't do too badly. I will give the BBC links for both recipes so that you readers who are food scale-equipped can just go to town, and I will also write out my measurement guesstimates. Prepare to be stunned by the deliciousness of these mincepies!

Nigella Lawson's Mincepies
Makes 36 pies


* Something just shy of 2 cups of all purpose flour (8 oz)
* 1/2 stick of unsalted butter (2 oz)
* 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening, aka Crisco, (2 oz)
* Juice of 1 orange (or some Tropicana...whatever ;) (about 1/4 cup)
* Pinch of salt

Special equipment:
* Mini muffin tins (About 1.75 inches in diameter and .75 inches deep)
* Fluted biscuit cutter 2.25 inches in diameter 
* Star cookie cutter 1.5 inches in diameter

1. Sift the flour into a shallow freezer-proof bowl.
2. Pinch off bits of vegetable shortening and add to the fl
our. Dice the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Toss to coat the fats.

3. Put flour mixture in freezer for 20 minutes.
4. Mix the OJ and salt in a measuring cup and place in the fridge.
5. After 20 minutes, place the chilled flour and fats into the bowl of a food processor. (If you only have a mini prep, like me, do this in 2 batches). Pulse a few times until the flour is in "porridge-like crumbs." Slowly dribble
in the oj/salt mixture, still pulsing, until the dough just starts to come together. This step may not need all the OJ. However, if you need more liquid, use ice water.
6. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using your hands, bring the dough together. Divide into 3 equal pieces and wrap each one in saran wrap and place in fridge for 20 minutes.
7. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough on a floured surface and using a floured rolling pin. Roll the dough so that it is thin but still sturdy enough to hold the filling--let's call it about 1/8 of an inch thick. Using a fluted pastry cutter 2 1/4 inches in diameter
, cut out rounds of dough. Place rounds in mini muffin tins and gently press the dough into the cups, without stretching it.
8. Place about a teaspoon of mince mixture into the dough cups.
9. Roll out the dough scraps to a similar thickness and using a tiny star cookie cutter, cut out stars and place over the mince mixture.  (See the special equipment list for where to order the right size cookie cutters, if you can't find them locally)

10. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until crust starts to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on these, because they don't take long to cook.
11. Remove from pans immediately and let cool on a wire r
ack. Allow pans to cool completely before starting another batch.

12. Dust with confectioner's sugar & enjoy!

Mince Filling

* 2.5 oz dark brown sugar (a scant 1/3 cup)
* 2 fl oz ruby port (1/4 cup)
* 10.5 oz cranberries, fresh or frozen (about 2.5 cups)
* 1 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1 tsp ground ginger
* 1/2 tsp ground cloves
* 2.5 oz raisins (a scant 1/3 cup)
* 2.5 oz currants (a scant 1/3 cup)
* 1 oz dried cranberries (a scant 1/8 cup)
* the zest and juice of 1 clementine
* 1 fl oz brandy (2 TBS)
* a few drops of almond extract
* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
* 2 TBS honey

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the brown sugar in the ruby port.
2. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the cranberries, spices, raisins, currants, cranberries, and clementine juice and zest, and stir.
3. Bring the mixture to a simmer (medium-low heat) and cook about 20 minutes or until the cranberries are quite soft and the fruit has broken down and absorbed the liquid.
4. Allow mixture to cool slightly, and then stir in brandy, almond and vanilla extracts, and honey. Stir well with a wooden spoon to make a thick paste.
5. If you are not using the mince filling right away, put in sterilized jars and once cool, store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Obviously I made these before I got my hands on the right size cookie cutters, but still, if these things aren't the best little morsels you've ever tried, then all I can say is you're a Christmas Grinch!