Tuesday, March 31, 2009

{TWD} "You Put the Lime in the Coconut" Thins

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe is Coconut Butter Thins, made with lime and macadamia nuts. Raise your hand if that recipe made you think of the Harry Nilssen song "Coconuts." Yeah, me too! Especially the Kermit version:

(or listen to the audio file)

I had Nilssen's song running through my head the whole time I was baking these cookies!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I baked this recipe strictly by the book. (Well, I did use vanilla paste instead of extract, but I hardly think that counts as a change in the recipe.)

- Rolling dough inside a zipper bag is such a fun tecnique! I have used it before - it works great for freezing dough. Then you can pull out a frozen sheet of cookie dough and shape and bake.

- I figured there might be some really cool way to bake these in a different shape or in a pan or something, but I was in directions-following mode. I introduced some artistic tension by lining up my fork tines like dominos for some of the cookies and on the diagonal for others. That's right. I live dangerously. (I just realized that I could have made an "X" with the tines. Maybe next time.)

Check out the different tine patterns! These two cookies didn't spread very much.
- I baked the cookies at 315 degrees for 8 minutes, then turned the cookie sheet and baked them for another 8 minutes.

- I baked the first cookie sheet right after cutting the cookies. Some of the cookies spread pretty much.

- I refrigerated the other cookie sheet after cutting the cookies, to see if I could reduce the amount that the cookies spread. But the 2nd batch spread just as much. Or more. On each sheet, some cookies spread and some didn't. The spreading seemed pretty random, really.

See how much these spread?
the verdict:
Warm from the oven, these cookies were delicious: chewy, yet melt-in-your-mouth rich. The coconut didn't stand out but gave the cookies a great chewy texture. Every so often I could notice a piece of nut.

With their copious amounts of butter the cookies were a great Fat Tuesday indulgence (this was the last of my pre-Lenten baking). I tasted one. . . well, ok, three. Then I popped them right into freezer for later. I'll have to say that I'm glad I made no changes to the recipe - the recipe is pretty fantastic just as Dorie wrote it.

The cookies chilled in the freezer about a month before I pulled them out to serve to our book group. One of the guys, JT, an avowed coconut hater, was deeply suspicious of the cookies. But he could not detect the coconut (although he tried) and actually thought the cookies were pretty good. His wife AT was the only member of the book group who didn't care for the cookies. She said she'd rather have shortbread OR a coconut cookie, but not a hybrid. (I know just where she's coming from. That's exactly how I felt about the Chocolate Gingerbread. and the Twofer pie.)

The other tasters thought the cookies were yummy. I have to confess to eating a corner of one, and I can report that they are definitely not as good after being frozen. The chewiness seemed more pronounced, and the melt-in-the-mouth butteriness was less evident.

I also shared them with my mother and brothers and my two daughters (who happened to be home last weekend.) Reactions tended to be positive, if brief (my brothers: "good," said B. "nice," agreed M.) (my daughters: "understated," said A.L.E. "subtle," agreed J.D.E.) (my mom: "delicious," then added, "rave review")

Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch will have the recipe for Coconut Butter Thins on her blog, or you can find it on page 145 of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours. You can see lots of other cookies by visiting the TWD blogroll and clicking on each baker's blog.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

CI's Coq Au Vin

This was another joint cooking effort with my husband on a Sunday afternoon. A few days earlier he had been paging through my impulse-buy Cook's Illustrated Winter 2009 Soups and Stews issue and stopped at page 46. "I love Coq au Vin," he said, "Let's make this recipe." When Sunday rolled around, that's just what we did.
[general recipe at end of this post]

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Here's what this recipe claims:
"Put together and on the table far faster than I would have thought (in about one hour, give or take), this coq au vin proves that classic French, cooking can fit into any schedule."
A word to the wise: don't rely on this promise. You can immediately disprove it by reading through the recipe, at which point you will see that the the times specified for the individual steps add up to nearly 2 hours, without even counting time for chopping and prep. This recipe took us 2.5 - 3 hours, start to eating (one step, reducing the sauce, took us double the estimated time).

- This is a classic braised dish: brown chicken and set aside, saute vegetables in the same pan, add liquid and simmer chicken + vegetables until chicken is tender. Then reduce/thicken the sauce before serving all together.

- We used just over 4 lbs chicken - 2 large breasts and 6 small thighs.

- I had just 7 oz of mushrooms, so we were a bit short.

- 2 cups of pearl onions weighed 8 oz or more, not the 5 oz. the recipe says. We used the 8 oz. This would have been too many onions if we'd had the proper amount of mushrooms.

- Because of the size of our chicken pieces, we put the light meat and dark meat in at the same time, and it was all cooked in about 35 minutes of simmering.

- Reducing the sauce took a really long time. I don't think I'd reduce the sauce quite so much next time - 2 cups of sauce for 8 pieces of chicken means just 1/4 cup per piece - not much to cover a piece of chicken and some noodles! It would also be nice to have less time standing at the stove!

- We served the chicken with Light 'n Fluffy Extra Wide Egg Noodles - which are the noodles that are the highest rated by the Cook's Illustrated tasters (along with Black Forest Girl brand).

- For once, I think the number of servings in the recipe was too low - this would serve 6 people rather than 4 (at 4 servings, that would be a pound of chicken per person).

the verdict:

The end result was well worth the time and effort! The sauce was rich and brown and the layers of flavors and aromas were fantastic. Even though the chicken was nice and tender my husband said he'd simmer the chicken longer next time so it would be falling off the bones. The thigh meat was far better than the breast - we would do all dark meat in the future.

Goodness knows I'm not one to shy away from bacon, but we actually thought the bacon garnish detracted from the other flavors. Next time I'd skip the bacon and just use some reserved bacon fat from my freezer for browning the chicken.

The noodles were great with this dish.

This recipe is a serious contender for being our favorite "Fairly Complicated Chicken Recipe." We spent a bit of time debating whether it was more delicious than the Country Captain that we made a few weeks ago, and then finally realized it was like trying to choose a favorite child! (note to our children: although you are very different, you are equally wonderful and we love you both the same!) OK, Coq au Vin when you need a special "chicken + noodles" dish and Country Captain when you need that wonderful "chicken + rice". . .

I'm sending this over to Ruth for this week's Presto Pasta Night roundup (#107). Head over there on Friday to see a wonderful variety of noodle-y dishes.

the recipe:

Coq au Vin
Here are the ingredients:

6 oz thick-cut bacon, chopped medium (I used 4 oz of Benton's bacon)
4 lb. bone-in skin-on chicken pieces (CI says to use at least half dark meat for maximum flavor)
10 oz. white mushrooms (I used 5 oz white + 2 oz wild mushrooms)
5 oz frozen pearl onions, thawed (c. 2 cups)
1 T. tomato paste
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
3 T. unbleached flour
1 bottle - 750 ml - red wine (medium body)
2.5 cups chicken broth
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves (1/4 tsp dried)
2 bay leaves
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. minced fresh parsley leaves

... And summarized directions:

First cook the bacon, remove it, then brown the chicken pieces in two batches, removing them to a plate when cooked.

Pour off most of the fat. Brown the mushrooms and onions, then add garlic and tomato paste, cook briefly, then add the flour for a minute.

Add the wine, broth, thyme and bay leaves to the pot, then the chicken. Cover and simmered until the chicken is fully cooked and tender - about an hour for the dark meat. (White meat cooks faster, so should be added after the dark has cooked for a while. We judged this based on the size of our pieces of chicken.)

Remove the cooked chicken and let it rest while the sauce reduces to around 2 cups (the recipe says 20 minutes, but it was well over 40 minutes. I wouldn't reduce it so much - the extra sauce will not go to waste!) Then stir in the butter and season the sauce. Pour over the chicken pieces, garnish with bacon and parsley.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

March m.o.m. - Boston Brown Bread muffins

Earlier in the month I baked some molasses yeast bread (which, in the crazy logic of my blog, should be posted within the next week or so) and the flavor hinted at Boston Brown Bread to me. That set me to wondering if I could find a muffin recipe which would capture the BBB flavor. A quick Google search turned up many sites, most featuring the exact same recipe [see below]. It looked promising, so I baked it up for my mother's Muffin of the Month (m.o.m.) for March.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I made a double batch of these muffins, which yielded 19 muffins in my silicone muffin pans and individual muffin molds.

- Because of food allergies of my muffin recipients, I omitted the raisins and used some soured Lactaid milk instead of buttermilk (or yogurt). I put lemon juice in the bottom of a measuring cup and filled it with the milk. Stir, and wait a few minutes - you'll have "clabbered" milk.

- All of my ingredient substitutions are noted in the recipe below.

- For the first time, I used a disher to portion the batter into the cups. It really does make filling muffin cups a whole lot easier - neater and more even in batter quantity.

the verdict:

The muffins were just sweet enough, with a little crunch in the texture from the cornmeal. They tasted the best when served warm with butter (but what doesn't, really?) I think that raisins or other dried fruit would be really good in these muffins. It was great to get the Boston brown bread flavor without having to steam a batch of bread.

I'm submitting these muffins to Bread Baking Day - this month (#18) the theme is "quick breads," and the host is Fun and Food Blog. Head over there next week to check out the roundup!

the recipe:

I found the identical recipe on several sites, none of which credited the original source.

Boston Brown Bread Muffins

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour [I used white whole wheat]
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal [I used blue cornmeal]
1/4 cup sugar [I used light brown sugar]
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup low fat buttermilk [I soured some nonfat Lactaid milk with lemon juice]
1/3 cup vegetable oil [I used mild olive oil]
1/3 cup molasses
1 lightly beaten egg
1 cup raisins [I omitted]

1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees. Place 10 paper bake cups in a muffin pan.

2. In a bowl combine the flours, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt.

3. In another bowl stir together the buttermilk, oil, molasses and egg until blended.

4. Add the dry mix to the wet mix; stir until just combined. Stir in the raisins.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until done.

Yields: 10 muffins.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

{Adventures in Yeast} #9 - 100% Whole Wheat Raisin Loaf

One day I was meandering unsuspectingly around the foodienet and suddenly I was ambushed by this bread on Jude's gorgeous site Apple Pie, Patis & Pate. I just HAD to try some. And since Jude was not around to make it for me, that left me to bake it.

The recipe was a giant step in complexity above any yeast recipe I'd yet attempted. Up until this point, all of my yeast experiments had been with direct rise recipes, but this one used an indirect method, relying on both a biga and a soaker. These are types of pre-ferments, which contribute to better flavor and structure of the finished bread. As far as I can understand it, during the resting stage of these predoughs enzymes break down the sugars within the grains, thus releasing the flavor.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I made a little chart to figure out the times to make each component of the dough and when to make the final dough.

- Mixing the biga and the soaker went very smoothly. One went in the fridge, one on the counter.

- When it came time to make up the dough, the biga and the soaker are combined with additional ingredients, then kneaded, etc.

- Taking one ball of dough (cut into 12 pieces) and another ball of dough (also in 12 pieces) and adding only dry ingredients (I re-read the recipe umpteen times: no additional wet ingredients) did not produce a "shaggy dough." In fact I couldn't get it to come together at all. Not with a spoon, and pretty much not with my hands. I had to knead it in the bowl before I could even get it to the bench to knead it. Using a hindsight as I sit here a month after baking this bread, I'm pretty sure I should have added a bit of water as I was kneading the dough.

- As I kneaded the raisins would not stay in - they kept popping out.

- Back when I made this bread Jude's recipe had an error in the quantity of walnuts (he has since fixed it, thanks!) I finally ended up using 30 grams (1/4 cup). I didn't think I could incorporate any more nuts while also trying to corral the renegade raisins that jumped out at every turn. Literally.

- The bulk rise was really slow; it was supposed to be around 45 minutes, but at that point the dough had only risen from 3 to just under 4 cups. At 1 hr 45 min, it had risen a smidge more. My husband made a nice warm bath for the dough bowl:

- The dough did respond, and began to rise! Finally it was at 1.5 the original size.

- Then I turned it out onto the counter, formed a rectangle, added cinnamon sugar and shaped the loaf:

- For the proofing, we went back to more sloooow rising. The dough was supposed to reach 1.5 of the shaped size (and the recipe said around 45 minutes). After an agonizingly long amount of time (very late at night) the dough seemed to stall. It was risen a bit but not as much as it probably should have been. I gave up, called it "risen" and popped it in the oven.

- This bread smelled incredible - of yeast and cinnamon - as it baked. I checked the bread regularly. It was in the oven for longer than the recipe's time range, but it never did get above 190 on the thermometer I was using (the recipe specifies 195). At 1 hour and 18 minutes total I called it "done".

the verdict:

This was no refined wimpy raisin pastry! This is bread with some heft. It was very very dense, but it was quite nice toasted. And it really needed butter. The bread wasn't particularly sweet; the vein of intense cinnamon was a great counterpoint to the plain whole wheat/raisin crumb. You'd need to be a fan of the taste of hearty whole grain bread to have a positive view of this bread. I do so I did! Thanks, Jude, for introducing me to this recipe.

My very own copy of Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book arrived in yesterday's mail! I want to take my time reading it, because he has wonderful explanations, tips, and guidelines on every page. After a bit more practice I plan to bake this bread again. I already know that I will mix the dough earlier in the day so that I'm not waiting for a slow rise in the wee hours of the night!

[update: After reading the original recipe in the Whole Grain book, I realized a few things that would have helped my loaf: Adding a few tablespoons of honey when making the final dough, and kneading the dough with wet hands.]

I'm sending this to Susan at YeastSpotting, a wonderful roundup of all things bready. Head over there and check out all of the breads that folks have baked up this week.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

{TWD} A Tale of Two Crumb Cakes

My favorite crumb cake of all time is a whole grain Maple Huckleberry Coffeecake with crumb topping about a mile deep that Heidi Swanson posted on her blog 101 Cookbooks about 6 months ago. I've lost track of how many times I've baked it; even though it is a bit more complicated than most quick breads, it's totally worth the extra effort. In fact, I have a loaf in the freezer right now. We don't get huckleberries in these parts, so I made my first one with blackberries and loved it so much I haven't veered from that path, although I keep telling myself to try it with blueberries (mmm, or even cranberries).

When I saw that Dorie's blueberry crumb cake was this week's TWD recipe, I was interested in seeing how it would compare with my now-standard coffeecake.

The blackberries gave my crumb cake an odd purplish cast!
n.o.e.'s notes:

- The first decision was what kind of berry to use. Big fat sweet cultivated blueberries, which are what is in my local produce section at the moment, don't do much for me - I much prefer the small tart intensely flavored wild blueberries. There is a bag of wild blueberries in my freezer, which I almost used for the recipe, but I had some blackberries in my fridge that needed to be used up. Who am I to turn away needy blackberries?

- I made this one almost totally "by the book", resisting all temptations to substitute whole grains and reduce fat. This was partly because I wanted to experience Dorie's recipe as written, and partly because my other coffee cake recipe is already healthified and whole grained. If I were to make changes, I'd end up turning Dorie's recipe into Heidi's!

- Remember those duck eggs that I used in the cup custards? I baked this cake several weeks ago, at the same time as I made the custards. I'd read that duck eggs are wonderful for muffins and breads so I set aside a medium one to bake a half recipe of this cake. The egg was just a bit bigger than a large chicken egg. I figured the extra bit of egg would just make the cake that much fluffier (no math skills needed!)

- I baked a half recipe - in a square pan that's about half the area of an 8x8.

- The blackberries were a week or two old and looked a tiny bit dry, so I figured they'd be perfect in the cake. But after washing, patting dry, cutting to blueberry size, gingerly stirring with flour, and folding gently into the batter, they were soft, juicy, and disintegrated into bits, leaving the batter purplish.

- I used 1/2 tsp of lime zest, because I had some already grated in the freezer.

- 340 degrees for 45 minutes.

the verdict:

The crumb cake was light and fluffy and delicious. The walnuts toasted in the topping as they cooked, and paired nicely with the blackberries. (Pecans would also be good.) It's been fun experimenting with the duck eggs. I haven't been able to get any more, but I will keep trying.

So, how do the two cakes compare? The recipes are very similar, except that Heidi's incorporates some finely chopped herbs and maple, has a much higher percentage of zest, vanilla, and crumb topping, and of course whole grains (oats and whole wheat flour). Dorie's would win a prize for "Best White Flour Crumb Cake" (my fellow bakers raved about this recipe on this week's p&q post). But I'd give the blue ribbon to Heidi's cake!

Thanks, Sihan, for choosing such a delicious and versatile recipe this week. If you'd like to make this crumb cake for yourself, you can find the recipe on page 192-193 of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours, or on Sihan's blog post. You can see lots of other lovely crumb cake variations (I've heard rumors of cranberry ones and apple ones) by visiting the TWD blogroll and clicking on each baker's blog.

Note to my fellow food bloggers - In addition to giving up sweets for Lent I've also given up Google Reader and general surfing of other cooking blogs. So that's the reason that you've seen fewer of my comments lately. I've been following the maxim"speak when spoken to;" if you comment on my blog, I'll likely visit you and return the favor.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ultimate "Grilled Cheese" Sandwich

The sandwich cooled when I was first photographing it, so I popped it in the microwave for a few seconds. It was warm and melty after that!
As my children - and some of their friends - can testify, I make a mean grilled cheese sandwich. It's not rocket science, really: just use a variety of sliced cheeses, spread the bread with a thin layer of butter, and cook the sandwiches low and slow in a covered frying pan (helps melt the cheese inside).

On the "Ultimate Rainy Day" episode of Tyler's Ultimate on the Food Network, Tyler cooked up an "ultimate grilled cheese" sandwich to accompany "ultimate chicken noodle soup." Now each to his or her respective own, but when I pair soup + sandwich, it's tomato soup + grilled cheese. But I do love chicken soup, so I tried Tyler's version of chicken noodle a few weeks ago. Now it was time for the sandwich.

When you watch the episode or read the recipe for Tyler's Ultimate Grilled Cheese sandwich you can see what a creative mood Tyler was in on that particular rainy day. His sandwich bears as much resemblance to a normal grilled cheese as his chicken meatball tortellini soup bears to regular chicken noodle soup. It is a grilled sandwich, true. And it has cheese inside. But imo when you add things like pesto and sliced tomatoes it veers out of the boundaries of Grilled Cheese Land. No matter, the sandwich sounded great so I prepared it for a meatless dinner on a Friday in Lent, accompanied by a big salad.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I keep a stash of pesto in my freezer, made with last summer's basil. My pesto recipe is a bit different from the one Tyler features; his has some parsley in addition to basil. If I hadn't been lazy - and if I'd thought about it - I could have stirred some chopped parsley into my pesto before spreading it on the bread.

- I used pre-sliced mozarella cheese because I had some in my fridge.

- I added some sliced gruyere cheese - isn't everything better with a little sharp melty cheese?

- For bread, I used ciabiatta rather than sourdough.

- The olive oil gave a nice crisp toasted edge to the bread.

the verdict:

This sandwich filled the bill for a melty, toasty, savory sandwich. I love how the basil and tomatoes combined with the melty cheese and crusty bread. Olive oil completed the Mediterranean flavor theme.

Would I call this the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich? Truth be told, not really. It is a delicious sandwich which makes a great addition to the repertory. But it doesn't replace the good old grilled cheese that says "comfort" to me.

I'm submitting this sandwich to Tyler Florence Fridays, which is an online group dedicated to cooking Tyler's recipes. If you want to see some truly delicious food, hop on over to the roundup on Friday and check out what each blogger has cooked up.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brownie Bliss

We've just passed the halfway mark of Lent (24 days down, 22 days to go) and it seems like the perfect time to share my very own pre-Lenten Fat Tuesday indulgence: I baked a whole pan of brownies for no reason other than I wanted to eat really good brownies before my 6.5 weeks without sweets of any kind.

I have to confess that when it comes to brownies, I'd always been a Duncan Hines girl. Or Ghiradelli mix from Costco, which has the double benefit of being yummy AND cheap! Once I began food blogging - and the attendant food site surfing - I started bookmarking brownie recipes, but I've never taken the opportunity to try them other than Dorie Greenspan's Quintuple Chocolate Brownies. Honestly, the Tuesdays With Dorie weekly assignments take up most of my sweets-baking time, energy, and calorie allotment, so I haven't made much of a dent in the ever growing mountain of brownie recipes. Luckily there are a few people who are making a project of baking through brownie recipes, so I can happily ride on their testing coattails!

When Fat Tuesday rolled around I decided that what I really really craved (yes, aside from the Chocolate Grand Marnier cake and the Caramel Crunch bars, and the four other TWD selections that I baked that week!) was a great brownie.

I'll spare you the ponderings and indecision of the recipe selection process (I printed off several recipes, sure that they would be The One that I'd bake). In the end I baked the "BAKED" brownie recipe. And boy was it delicious!!

n.o.e.'s notes

- I used up a bunch of different odds and ends of dark chocolate (60-70% cocoa) in my baking drawer.

- Even though this was my Fat Tuesday indulgence I couldn't bring myself to put in 5 eggs. so I used 3 whole eggs and the equivalent of 1.5 eggs in egg substitute - that's all I had. I figured the scant measure on the eggs would make for a fudgier brownie.

- After adding the sugars, the mixture was really grainy.

- I typically have the worst time with doneness testing of brownies. This time I used the King Arthur "divot" method and it worked! My brownies were perfectly baked.

the verdict:

These are intensely chocolaty and very moist, but with that nice thin crackly crust on the top. I cut big generous servings - none of that brownie bite stuff this time!

And the taste? These were the best brownies I've ever eaten, much less made. This brownie recipe is a keeper! And luckily, so were most of the brownies. After demolishing a respectable percentage of the brownie pan's acreage, I packed the rest up in the freezer.

I pulled them out of the freezer to serve to book group, and I can tell you that the brownies caused quite the sensation. My chocolate-allergic husband was absent that evening, and H and I had given them up for Lent, but the other 5 members just dove in. Many brownies and a few crumbs later, the general consensus was that these brownies were chocolate heaven!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fettuccine with Sausage, Garlic, and Mushrooms

A couple of years ago when I was browsing the Costco book tables - honestly those stacks of books can be a veritable treasure-trove - I picked up the Williams Sonoma cookbook Meats & Poultry in the series "The Best of the Kitchen Library." Every single recipe that I've tried from the book has been absolutely great (so good that I have now aquired several more titles in the same W-S series, also at Costco). So when I chose the Fettucine with Sausage, Garlic, and Mushrooms I figured it would be at least a decent plate of pasta. And I'm happy to report that WS came through again! [recipe at the end of this post]

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I ran out of white wine so I splashed in a bit of red too.

- I sliced up some Aidell's Chicken Andouille for the sausage

- When cooking the garlic, I added a shake of red pepper flakes.

- The pasta was a garlic and parsley flavored fettucine, made by Al Dente. I love this brand of pasta; the flavors are good and it cooks very quickly (2-3 minutes). [update: I've found this pasta at Whole Foods and also at our local Publix supermarket. The company's website is here]

the verdict:

This pasta recipe is excellent! My husband liked it so much that he went back for seconds when his first serving was only half gone! The garlic and the mushroom liquid combine for a fantastic earthy flavor. I think it could be just as good with chicken stock and a touch of vinegar as with the wine. We enjoyed the little kick from the spicy sausage and the red pepper.

I love that this pasta recipe is neither tomato-based nor dairy-based - makes for a nice variety.

I can also report that the leftovers were great from the freezer!

I'm submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights , a wonderful roundup of noodle-based dishes. This week's hostess is Pam of Sidewalk Shoes , so stop over there on Friday to check out all the delicious pasta dishes!

the recipe:

Fettucine with Sausage, Garlic, and Mushrooms

3/4 lb cooked low-fat smoked chicken sausages
1 T olive oil
2 lg cloves garlic, minced
1 lb white or cremini mushrooms, brushed clean and thinly sliced
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb dried fettucine

1. Slice the sausages into rounds about 1/4 inch thick.

2. In a large nonstick frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. When it is hot, add the sausage slices. Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and mushrooms and stir until the mushrooms have softened and released some of their liquid, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the wine, bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. While the sauce is cooking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettucine, stir well, and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes, or according to the package directions.

6. Drain the fettucine and place in a warmed shallow serving bowl. Pour the sauce over the top and toss briefly to combine. Serve at once (stopping just long enough to photograph, of course!)

serves 6

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

{TWD} French Riviera Cake, two ways

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie assignment is the French Yogurt Cake. I have had my eyes on this recipe for a while, so I was excited to get the chance to bake it. The basic cake is an oil- and yogurt-based cake that can be made in just two bowls. After the Chocolate Grand Marnier Cake of a few weeks ago, this was a welcome respite from a sink filled with dishes!

When I read through the recipe, I was immediately drawn to one of the variations. The Riviera Yogurt Cake uses strained (Greek) yogurt, olive oil, and chopped rosemary. I love using savory herbs in my sweets (see last week's Bay Custard Cups), so this sounded perfect to me!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I love the subtle contribution that thyme and rosemary make to my very favorite coffee cake recipe, so I used both herbs in this cake. I chopped some fresh thyme and rosemary leaves very very fine, and rubbed 1/2 tsp of the combination into the sugar with the lemon zest.

- I used ground almonds. Sometimes I have Trader Joe's almond meal on hand, which is very finely ground, but this time I ground some almonds in my food processor, which produced a coarser grind.

- For yogurt, I stirred some lowfat and nonfat Greek yogurts together (mostly nonfat).

- I used regular extra virgin olive oil, but I later remembered that I had some wonderful Italian lemon olive that I should have used! For Christmas last year, my daughters adopted an olive tree for my husband and me. We received shipments of oil from "our" tree; the last shipment contained three different flavored oils - including lemon. I always forget to use them!

- In lieu of the 3 eggs in the recipe, I substituted 3/4 cup Egg Beaters. With the mono-unsaturated olive oil, the mostly-nonfat yogurt, and the egg subsitute, this cake was actually pretty low in fat, and the Greek yogurt and almonds increased the protein content. Practically a health food! Next time I might throw in some white whole wheat flour.

- In keeping with the Riviera theme, I left the cake topless.

- Truth be told, I completely ran out of steam when it came time to contemplate a topping glaze. I knew I didn't have lemon marmalade. I also knew that I was not going to purchase lemon marmalade, given my vast jam holdings (which by the way, grew by several jars over the holidays). The final thing I knew is that I wasn't going to get creative and devise an alternate topping. This cake was going to have to stand on its own without the help of a glaze.

- I sliced up half and served it to my book group plain, and popped the leftover half loaf in the freezer. [more about that second half, below]

the verdict:

The cake is sturdy, dense, and moist. And very good! And very easy!!

In the Riveriera variation, the almonds and olive oil each lent their subtle flavor, the herbs gave just the slightest woody hint, and the sunny lemon shone through everything.

I will make this cake again (and again) in this Riviera version - the recipe is so easy, moist, healthy, and good.

I'd also like to make the regular version of this recipe as a layer cake with a simple frosting, perhaps cocoa buttercream.

I love this cake!

...read on....

Riviera cake 2.0:

I initially baked this cake the very day that the recipe was selected (as part of my marathon Pre-Lenten baking frenzy) and served it that evening. I can now report that this cake freezes and thaws beautifully. Last Thursday I served the second half of the cake (also to my book group) but this time I decided to give it a proper covering. I made a glaze of 1/4 c. grapefruit marmalade (which I had in my fridge), which I thinned with about a teaspoon of Meyer lemon juice, then heated in a small saucepan with 1/2 tsp of chopped thyme. I strained it directly onto the cake top.

The citrus glaze was a fantastic complement to the basic cake. I think everyone liked the glazed cake, although they had really enjoyed the cake plain at the previous meeting.

Another time I'd like to experiment with a fig and thyme glaze.

I need to thank Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction for choosing the French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze. If you'd like to try this recipe, it's on pages 224-225 of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours, or check out Liliana's post where you will find it online.

P.S. Happy St. Patrick's Day!! I had fond hopes of baking up a wonderful Irish Soda Bread, and even had a recipe all printed out, but it just didn't happen. I did, however, use Irish cheddar cheese this past weekend in my macaroni and cheese and in my scrambled eggs (they were not green, Sam-I-Am)!

Note to my fellow food bloggers - In addition to giving up sweets for Lent I've also given up Google Reader and general surfing of other cooking blogs. So that's the reason that you've seen fewer of my comments lately. I've been following the maxim"speak when spoken to;" if you comment on my blog, I'll likely visit you and return the favor.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

{Adventures in Yeast} #6 - Exploring Kugelhopf

I will always, always have a fond spot in my heart for kugelhopf, a raisin-studded sweet bread, originally from Austria. It was the first yeasted thing that I've ever baked, and when it turned out beautifully risen, I was smitten. The delicate and delicious taste just added to the love-fest. My husband was so enamored of this sweet bread that I decided to buy him some proper kugelhopf molds for Christmas, accompanied by the promise that I'd bake more for him. I'd made the kugelhopf for TWD, and Dorie Greenspan's recipe calls for an 8 cup mold; the molds that I liked the best in my online mold shopping were 6-cup and 10-cup (this one was Nordicware from Sur la Table). I figured I could make a double batch of Dorie's recipe and use both molds.

my encounter with kugelhopf in its native habitat

In the meanwhile I traveled to Germany in December to visit my younger daughter (and take in some German Christmas markets). I'll have to say that I took lots of pictures and lots of notes about the food on this trip, with an eye towards posting my experiences on this blog, but when I got back it was three days before Christmas, and, well, I was pretty busy. I have a bunch of draft posts on different aspects of the trip; at some point I hope to have them finished - by then it will probably be summer and who is going to want to read Christmas posts then?

After I tooled around in Dusseldorf, Aachen and Cologne, I headed to Berlin for 5 days. I'd been there several times previously (we love that city) and have a few favorite haunts. One is a destination of just about every other tourist who visits Berlin: the KaDeWe department store. This store is impressive on a normal day, but it really pulled out the stops for Christmas.

After wandering enchantedly through the winter woodland themed decorations on the main level, I bought some lovely paper napkins and a wonderful kitchen apron. Then it was time for the 6th floor: the largest department store food hall in the world! We've bought various things there over the years (tea, coffee, chocolates, kirschwasser) but we always stop at the pastry case.

The KaDeWe bakers make some of the best tortes in existence! I stood there in December, admiring the beautiful and colorful Yule logs, when suddenly - what did I see?
Could it be kugelhopf? Yes, it was (only they call it "gugelhopf" in Germany; no matter, it's the same thing) And, yes, I could buy it by the slice. Which I did, packed up to go so that I could enjoy it in my hotel after dinner. Check out the cross section in the photo below - can you believe how TALL that kugelhopf is?

I'll have to say that it tasted good, but really not as good as the one I baked at home using Dorie's recipe. It had a soft delicate texture and a lovely flavor, but I didn't care for the raw alcohol taste of the rum that was brushed on the outside before the powdered sugar was dusted (dumped?) on. It was also a bit drier and not as soft as Dorie's. All the same, I savored every morsel.

Baking my second kugelhopf

Valentine's Day seemed like the perfect opportunity to make kugelhopf for my husband (yup, I'm just a little behind on my yeast postings!) I even toyed with the thought of using dried cherries - to keep with the seasonal color theme - but Jim really likes raisins much better, so I kept to the traditional fruit choice.

Although we adored Dorie's recipe for kugelhopf, I figured I'd see how a new recipe compared. I had a bunch of contenders and finally chose the one in the Fannie Farmer Baking Book. [recipe at the end of this post]

As an aside, although Dorie's book indicates that kugelhopf is best eaten right away or stale the next day as toast, some of the other cookbooks I consulted were a bit more optimistic about the longevity of the bread. According to Fannie Farmer, "Europeans like Kugelhopf a day for two old, when it's slightly dry - it makes delicious toast. If you want it to remain fresh, freeze what you won't eat within a couple of days."

Nearly all the recipes called for a 10" pan, including the one I'd selected. Most 10" pans have a 12 cup capacity, including most bundt pans; my larger kugelhopf pan holds 10 cups. I didn't want to overflow the pan, so I scaled the recipe to 80% for the key ingredients. For the stir-ins I roughly estimated a heaping 3/4 of the recipe's amount.

Once I had scaled the recipe and measured out the ingredients, I unwrapped my new kugelhopf mold and saw that there was a recipe right on the inside of the wrapper - scaled, of course, for the capacity of the mold! I might make that next time...

n.o.e. notes:

- For some of the flour I used KA organic all purpose. For the rest of the flour, I dipped into my stash of original White Lily flour, which is reputed to make soft and tender baked goods. (Last summer, White Lily stopped making flour in its long-time Tennessee plant; production is now in the Midwest and White Lily devotees believe they can taste a difference. I made sure to buy a bag before the switch was made.)

-Instead of dry yeast, I used instant yeast (added with the flour)

- For fruit, I used a mix of currants and golden raisins. I chopped the golden raisins to make them roughly the same size as the currants. The recipe called for rum. Before adding the rum to the dough, I first heated it and macerated the fruit in the warm rum. Then I drained the fruit and measured the remaining rum, making up the difference in milk.

- The recipe called for lining the pan with almonds. I didn't want to obscure the beautiful lines of my mold, so I used less than 1/4 cup of sliced almonds. I also omitted chopped almonds in the bread itself.

- The dough was
I started with the dough in a spot that was average room temperature, but then I moved it to warmer and warmer spots. It finally doubled in about 4 hours. I've since purchased a package of SAF Gold label yeast, which is purportedly better for rich, sweet doughs, so we'll see with the next loaf...

- Unlike Dorie's recipe, this involved no overnight rest for the dough (although I'm sure I could have added that step). As it was, I put the dough in the pan and moved it into cool garage while we went to dinner. Back inside, in a warm spot, it filled the pan in a total time of 2.5 - 3 hours. Because I scaled the recipe for the pan, I was confident that the amounts were correct, so I could wait (patiently) for the dough to rise and fill the pan.
- The kitchen was filled with warm subtle wonderful smells while this was baking.

- I struggled a bit with the baking time/temperature. The recipe called for a hot oven for part of the time, then a reduced heat for the remainder. I tried to estimate the times for a smaller pan, and came up with:
-- 400 for 8 minutes
-- 350 for 15 minutes
-- then tented the pan and baked at 340 for 8 or 10 more minutes.
At this point the kugelhopf was golden brown and had puffed up above the rim of the pan. So beautiful!!

- It cooled for just a minute or two. The cake popped right out of the pan.

- I sifted a bit of confectioner's sugar over the top, but just a little because I wanted to see the pretty shape of the mold.

the verdict:

We didn't eat it right from the oven, but cut into it for breakfast about 12 hrs later. Sadly we found that it was a bit dry. But the flavors were very very good and it made really great toast. I think that because the pan is so tall the bread is narrow, so it cooked very quickly. Next time, I will have to pay even closer attention to the bread as it bakes, and adjust the temperatures and times. I will probably experiment with a different recipe, just for fun.

[update: After I baked this kugelhopf, I came across some other recipes that look quite intriguing:
David Lebovitz makes Nick Malgieri's recipe
Peter Reinhardt's recipe as posted at My Kitchen in Half Cups]

I'm also submittng this bread to Susan at YeastSpotting, a weekly compilation of wonderful yeast creations.

the recipe:

from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book
for 10" mold [approximately 12 cup capacity - such as a bundt pan]

1 pkg dry yeast
1/2 cup milk, warmed
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
5 eggs
1/4 cup rum or 1/4 cupadditional milk, warmed
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 T grated orange zest
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 T butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup sliced almonds

1. Stir the yeast into the warm milk (use 3/4 cup milk if you are omitting the rum) and let stand to dissolve.

2. Combine the sugar, salt, and eggs in a large bowl, andbeat well, then add the rum (if you are using it), vanilla, and orange zest, mixing well. Stir in the dissolved yeast.

3. Add 2 cups of the flour, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter, and beat until the batter is smooth and well blended.

4. Add the remaining flour, the chopped almonds and raisins, and beat again until smooth. The batter will be heavy and sticky.

5. Cover the bowl and let rise until double in bulk - maybe 3 hours or more.

6. Grease the Kugelhopf or tube pan thoroughly. Punch the dough down and place it in the pan, punching and patting it into place to fit evenly. Cover the bowl and let rise until double in bulk. Press on the top the sliced almonds.

7. Bake the bread in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees and continue baking for about 40 minutes. If the top becomes brown, cover loosely with foil for the last 20 minutes or so.

8. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, the turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

{TWD} Bay Custard Cups (Duck Egg)

This week's recipe was a lot of fun for me to play with. I got to: (a) be inspired by another recipe, (b) use a new ingredient, and (c) do lots of math!!

(a) Another recipe for inspiration:
I'd been planning to make Dan Lepard's Bay Custard Tarts for my book group. I measured all of the dry ingredients and was all ready to bake them up on the day of our meeting. But on Book Group Morning I learned that Dorie's French Yogurt Cake had been chosen as one of the March TWD recipes, and I immediately baked that instead (will be posted next week). I was on a mission to bake all of the March recipes in the few days before Lent began so that I could sample them, so the TWD recipes took baking priority.

A couple of days later the rest of the March recipes were announced and one was for a Lemon Cup Custard. Seeing as I had just made the lemon yogurt cake 2 days earlier I wasn't really in the mood for more lemon so I decided to take Dorie's permission and play around with the flavors. I cooked Dorie's custards with the bay flavor of Dan's recipe.
(b) A new ingredient:
I was lucky enough to get 1/2 dozen duck eggs through my farm box folks. They are not always offered and they sell out quickly, so I was pretty excited to experiment with this new-to-me ingredient. When I opened the carton I saw that the eggs were of wildly varying sizes. I used the two biggest ones for scrambled eggs (yummy, btw!). The two smallest eggs weighed in at 65 grams each - just a bit bigger than my 61 gram large chicken eggs. I used these small ones to make 1/2 recipe of custard (plus a little bit).
(c) An opportunity for quick math:
Although I was pretty sure I could just substitute the larger duck eggs for the chicken eggs, I thought I'd try an easy scaling of the recipe. There are only 3 ingredients, so it was pretty simple with the digital scale: I first measured the sugar and the milk, then for every 60 grams of weight, I increased the ingredient by 4 grams. There, that wasn't so painful, right?

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I didn't have whole milk, so I used approximately 3/4 of 2% milk and 1/4 half-and-half.

- Once the milk was hot, I steeped three dried bay leaves and a corner of a fresh one. I couldn't really tell whether Dan's recipe contemplated fresh or dried, so I went with dried since they were supposed to be "crumbled."

- My small glass custard cups were 1/2 cup each, which was perfect for 4 custards with the half recipe. (Dorie's recipe calls for 3/4 cup ramekins)

- The duck eggs had really large yolks. I figured this would be a good thing, since Dan's bay custard recipe was a yolk-only custard.

- I managed to temper the eggs without curdling them (a minor victory when considering my luck with a few previous TWD recipes).

- I grated fresh nutmeg over the tops and floated a fresh bay leaf on the surface.

- The water bath went off without a hitch. Unlike last time.

- I baked these at 315 degrees, which is lower than the recipe specifies. I did expect my smaller ramekins to cook a bit faster, but I was pretty surprised when I happened to check after 15 minutes and they were done! In fact, past done - they were firm and not jiggly at all. I grabbed them out of the oven, and then promptly forgot to take them out of the water bath, so they stayed there for a while, cooking even longer.

the verdict:

Luckily - miraculously? - the custards were not overcooked, or at least they were not rubbery. Or eggy. The custard had a rich silky texture - almost pudding-like. There was no danger of it falling off the spoon (as Dorie warns); it clung to the spoon lovingly. Some of that texture was no doubt from the duck eggs, with their extra rich flavor and large yolks. And I don't really know if my 2%/half+half mixture had more butterfat than whole milk or not. That was one equation I decided not to calculate.

The bay/nutmeg flavor was unusual and good. My husband liked these even more than I did; he thought the bay leaves gave the custards a "clean" taste. I could have used just a smidge less bay - maybe if I'd not put the fresh bay leaf on the top while it baked. But all in all, this is a nice dessert with a sophisticated flavor. I do want to try Dan Lepard's recipe to see what his tarts would taste like (I still have the dry ingredients all measured out). And I'd like to experiment with some of the custard flavor combinations that Dorie lists in the recipe, such as the lemon-clove or the orange-star anise.

This lovely recipe was chosen by Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles. Judging from the P&Q post, the TWD bakers have had mixed success with this one. You can check out their experiences by visiting the TWD blogroll and clicking on each baker's blog. If you'd like to make this custard for yourself, you can find the recipe on page 387 of Dorie Greenspan's book Baking From My Home to Yours, or on Bridget's post.