Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Roulade with Ginger Buttercream

I feel like I’m holding tryouts for Thanksgiving dessert. I love planning the Thanksgiving menu every year, and there are always about fifty desserts I want to make. And, that means that every year several things I really want to bake get lost in the shuffle. So I thought, why not try a few things in advance to increase the number of autumnal desserts I get to taste this year? The only problem will be if everything turns out as good as this dessert, I’ll still have a hard time picking one, or two, for the big day. This cake is from Ina Garten, and it appears both in Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics and on the Food Network site. I learned awhile ago that roulades are much easier than they look, and they tend to store really well. This tender, sponge cake has pumpkin puree and spices, and the filling is made with mascarpone and crystallized ginger. It’s everything you could want in a dessert for fall, and you can make it the day before you plant to serve it.

The thin cake is made in a big sheet pan lined with parchment that is buttered and floured. Flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt were sifted together. Eggs and granulated sugar were mixed in a stand mixer, and pumpkin puree was added. You can use canned pumpkin puree or homemade. I had just brought home a cute, pie pumpkin which I roasted and used for a few different recipes. After the pumpkin is mixed into the eggs, the flour mixture was slowly added until just incorporated. A spatula was used to finish folding the flour into the batter. It’s always a good idea to fold a batter with a spatula few times after taking the bowl off the mixer to be sure there are no unmixed, dry ingredients at the bottom of the bowl. The cake was baked for a mere ten minutes, and then it was turned out onto a towel dusted with confectioner’s sugar. It’s a scary moment to just plop the hot cake right out of the pan, but don’t even worry. With the parchment, it comes right out. The parchment was peeled off, and the warm cake was rolled with the towel rolled into it, into a spiral starting at a short end. If the edges look uneven, they can be trimmed later. Rolled into the towel, the cake was left to cool completely on a rack. The filling was made with mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, and heavy cream. Once those ingredients were well-mixed, finely chopped crystallized ginger was added. To finish the cake, it was unrolled, the filling was spread over the top, and then it was rolled back into a spiral without the towel this time of course. The edges were trimmed, it was placed on a platter, and it was dusted with more confectioners’ sugar.

This pumpkin roulade will be a serious contender for a spot on the menu this year. I have a few more weeks to keep testing desserts which is starting to seem like not enough time. There are so many great things to make with pumpkin, and then there are cranberries to consider. Do you try new desserts every year for Thanksgiving, or do you have favorites that are expected on the menu?

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Monday, October 29, 2012

Homemade Udon and Vegetarian Dipping Sauce

Knowing about growing seasons and what ingredients are at their best right now is the first step to making great food. In Japanese Farm Food, of which I received a review copy, Nancy Hachisu writes: “Touching vegetables while they are living is something every cook should do… Learning to trust your instincts in cooking is the only way to get beyond the recipe, and the more you touch farm vegetables, or the more you observe the seasonal fish available, the more you will be able to do this.” Hachisu visited Japan in 1988 intending to return to the US for graduate school. Instead, she met and fell for an organic egg farmer, married him the following year, and has since lived on a farm in Saitama prefecture. With fresh vegetables from the farm and other carefully chosen artisanal ingredients made nearby, she has developed her own take on traditional Japanese farm cooking over the years. Since many of the dishes tend to be made with very few ingredients, she urges you to find the best version of each one of them. By tasting different types of soy sauce, sesame oil, and canola oil, you can then choose ones with the flavors you like most. The book includes pre-meal bites, soups, egg dishes, noodle and rice dishes, vegetables, seafood, meat, and desserts. There are wonderfully simple things like raw zucchini with toasted sesame seeds, a relish made of salt-massaged napa cabbage with citrus zest, and quick-pickled daikon and carrots. Other dishes I want to try are the Miso Soup with Small Clams, the Egg Custard Pots with Asparagus and Peas, the Stir-Fried Celery and Red Pepper with Soy Sauce, the Citrus and Vinegar-Marinated Halibut, and the Tangerine Ice Cream.

First, I had to try making homemade udon. The Hachisus use home-grown wheat for their udon dough, but I made do with store-bought cake flour and whole wheat pastry flour. The dough consists of salt dissolved in water that’s added to flour. That’s it. It’s a very firm dough, and it takes some work to knead it into a cohesive state. Once the dough forms a ball, it’s placed in a plastic bag so you can step on it. That might seem weird, but trust me, it’s a lot more fun than kneading by hand. You just step on the dough to flatten it in the bag. Then, remove the dough, fold it in thirds, place back in the bag, and repeat a few times. After being stepped on a few times, the dough becomes much more pliable. It's then easy to flatten it into a shape to run through a pasta machine. It was left thicker than spaghetti at about one-eighth inch, and it was cut on the thin linguine cutters at lengths of about one foot. The noodles were tossed with a little flour to prevent sticking. The quickly boiled noodles were served with a dipping sauce and garnishes. For the dipping sauce, rather than making the traditional sauce with dashi as suggested in the book, I made a vegetarian dashi with konbu, wakame, and dried shitakes. The dashi was combined with kaeshi which is a mix of mirin, sugar, and soy sauce. For garnishes, I used citrus zest, sliced green onions, and slivered chiles.

The texture of the noodles was light and springy, and the whole wheat flavor of the flour came through. It must be incredible to make them with your own home-grown wheat. And, that’s really what this book teaches. By taking care in choosing your ingredients and by cooking thoughtfully, you’ll be making the most simply delicious meals.

Udon Noodles Teuchi Udon
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Japanese Farm Food, by Nancy Singleton Hachisu, Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC

Serves 6

Tadaaki was always the noodle maker in our house. When I developed this recipe for an article I wrote a few years ago, I had Christopher roll out the noodles because I was busy (and a bit intimidated). I promised him he only had to roll enough for us to shoot the photo for the article, so he obliged. But at the end of the shoot, I was left with the rest of the dough and no Christopher. He showed me how to adjust the pasta machine, and I discovered how simple making noodles is. And my noodles turned out to have the perfect thickness.

1/2 tablespoon salt
31/3 cups (500 g) organic, unbleached cake or pastry flour
12/3 cups/400 cc Noodle Dipping Sauce (see below)
Garnishes (suggestions follow)

Dissolve the salt in 2/3 cup (160 cc) water. Measure the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the salt water and mix until the dough holds together. Knead until smooth and pliable, then transfer to a heavy plastic bag. Pat the dough out to a 2-inch (4-cm) thick rectangle and knead further by rhythmically and firmly treading on the dough. Remove the dough from the bag, fold in thirds, and repeat the treading process a few times. (Or process with a metal blade in a food processor until the dough is crumbly and knead by hand.) Udon dough, like pasta dough, is dense and semidry, otherwise it will stick when rolled. Roll out with a pasta machine, making rectangles about 2 feet (60 cm) long by 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick. Cut the noodles on the thin linguine setting and cut in half horizontally for 1-foot (30-cm) lengths. Flour the cut noodles as you finish each batch so they will not stick together.

Alternatively, roll out into a rough oblong shape on a counter surface with a 30-inch (75-cm) long dowel 1 1/2 inches (3 cm) in diameter. Roll from the center out, periodically rolling the dough around the dowel to keep from sticking on the counter. When the dough has reached the desired thickness, roll it around the dowel, slide the dowel out, and gently flatten the roll of dough to cut. Slice into 1/8-inch (3-mm) wide strips with a broad-bladed, razor-sharp knife.

Fill a large stockpot with hot water and bring to a boil. Set a large mixing bowl in the kitchen sink and fill with cold water. Scoop up half of the raw udon and boil for 2 to 3 minutes, depending on thickness. The noodles should be softer than pasta but not mushy. Plunge the noodles into the bowl of cold water and refresh under cold running tap water. Shake off and swirl the small bunches into 3 attractive piles arranged on a dinner plate. Cook the rest of the udon in the same fashion.

Dip the udon noodles in a small bowl of dipping sauce (tsuyu) with flavor garnishes (yakumi). Slurping is de rigueur in Japan.

Flavor Garnishes Yakumi: Use finely slivered citrus peel, finely chopped fresh green chile, slivered fresh ginger, torn sansho leaves, a chiffonade of shiso leaves, or finely chopped scallion or chives. Each diner sprinkles the desired garnishes into a small bowl of dipping sauce.

Noodle Dipping Sauce Mori Tsuyu

Makes about 1 2/3 cups (400 cc)

This “sauce” (which is more like a soup) can be served hot or cold, depending on the season. Good for dunking udon, soba, and somen noodles.

1 1/3 cups (300 cc) Dashi (recipe follows)
6 tablespoons Kaeshi (recipe follows)

Flavor the dashi with the kaeshi and use at room temperature, cold, or slightly warm, depending on your mood or the season.

Ratio: dashi : kaeshi—3.3 : 1 ***


Makes about 2 2/3 cups (600 cc)

Kaeshi is an ingenious concoction that flavors dashi when making dipping sauces for noodles and tempura, or a hot broth for a noodle soup. While not the farm kitchen method, I was beguiled with how kaeshi relates to the dashi as a building block and could not leave it out of the book. Andrew, who works at our friend’s soba restaurants, was kind enough to walk me through the process (and approve of the results).

1/2 cup (125 cc) hon mirin
1 1/8 cup (125 g) organic sugar
2 cups (500 cc) organic soy sauce

Bring hon mirin to a simmer over high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until you no longer smell alcohol (3 to 5 minutes). Stir in the sugar and continue cooking (and stirring) until the sugar granules have dissolved. Add the soy sauce and watch as the kaeshi heats up and comes almost to a boil. You will see tiny bubbles form on the perimeter—remove the pan from the heat as soon as the entire surface of the kaeshi becomes a creamy tan from minute bubbles. Store for up to a year in the fridge.

Ratio: soy sauce : mirin : sugar—4 cc : 1 cc : 1 g ***


Makes about 1 1/3 cups (300 cc)

Dashi is probably the most important building block in Japanese cooking. Many chefs (especially those from Kyoto) wax poetic about the special methods they employ to draw out the natural umami of the konbu and katsuobushi when making dashi. Even the water must come from the Kyoto area. Our dashi is a bit more straightforward and quite tasty, despite our more laissez-faire attitude and lack of Kyoto water. We use well water from our family well, and it works just fine. I’m sure the water wherever you live will work just as well. The important thing to remember here is that dashi—or for that matter any food—should not become an obsessive chore. If you start with great ingredients, your food will taste good.

1 (6-inch/15-cm) length of konbu
Handful of dried bonito shavings (katsuobushi)

Place the konbu in a medium saucepan containing 2 cups (500 cc) of cold water. Bring almost to a boil (you will see minute bubbles form on the edges of the konbu) and remove the konbu. Throw in the dried bonito shavings and simmer friskily, but not crazily, for 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand 8 minutes. Set a small fine-mesh strainer over a 1-quart (1-liter) measuring cup and pour the dashi through the strainer to remove the dried bonito shavings. You should have 1 1/4 cups (300 cc) dashi. If you do not, add water (pouring through the strainer holding the strained katsuobushi) to make the amount of liquid needed. Use within a day or so, if kept chilled in the fridge.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Poppy Seed Dressing

Long, long ago, in a time before I made most things from scratch, my favorite salad dressing was Briannas brand Poppy Seed Dressing. Kurt would occasionally grab a bottle of the Blush Wine Vinaigrette of the same brand, but if I got to the shelf first, it was Poppy Seed that landed in the shopping cart. For years, I’ve been whipping up all sorts of homemade vinaigrettes, creamy parmesan dressings, Caesar salad dressings, and whathaveyou, and I had all but forgotten about my old favorite poppy seed. Then, along came a story about poppy seeds in the April issue Saveur magazine. Included in that story was the recipe for Poppy Seed Dressing which was first made popular in the 1950s by Helen Corbitt. Poppy seed dressing is sweet, tangy, and somewhat creamy without being too thick. It’s perfect with butter lettuce, and it's a great match for cucumber and tomato.

Although it took me a few months to get around to making this dressing, it ended up being worth the wait. In August, our friends who live in Dublin were visiting Austin for a week. They brought us beautiful food gifts of Irish, cold pressed, extra virgin rapeseed oil and rapeseed oil with chile. This plain rapeseed oil, which is another name for canola oil, has a rich, nutty flavor, and it made the homemade poppy seed dressing extra flavorful. To make the dressing, poppy seeds were cooked for a few minutes until toasted, and then sugar, white wine vinegar, dry mustard powder, salt, pepper, and grated onion with the juice were added. The mix was cooked just until it came to a simmer, and then it was poured into the blender pitcher. Rapeseed oil and olive oil were added, and the dressing was pureed until smooth. You can store the dressing in the refrigerator for about five days. It may need a quick stir before using.

I always loved that poppy seed dressing from the grocery store, but this homemade version was better by far. The flavors were so fresh and bright. With locally grown, just-picked vegetables and homemade dressing, this simple salad was unbelievably good. I’m glad to have reconnected with my old favorite type of salad dressing, and now I’ll be making my own often.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

What’s the Best Meal You’ve Ever Had?

Have you ever been asked “what’s the best meal you’ve ever had?” And, did an answer come to mind immediately, or did you have to think about it? We spent a week in Spain with some friends and ate many, very delicious things. There were pintxos that I’ll never forget like the foie gras with cranberry from Cafe Bar Bilbao; the Gildas that appeared everywhere which are made with a guindilla chile and an olive with an anchovy fillet draped between them, all skewered on a pick; and the little, sandwich-like pintxo at Bar Martinez made up of squares of toasted bread layered with tuna, mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato salad, and topped with a shrimp. The wedges of tortilla seen wherever pintxos were offered made simply with eggs, potatoes and onion, although there were options with added mushrooms or chorizo as well, were so, so good. There were croissants from Galparsoro bakery, cheeses like Idiazabal and Cabrales made nearby and sold at the local market, and fresh mushroom varieties that I never see at home. And, the food was always accompanied by a lovely, local wine like Txakoli, Rioja, or Albarino. During this week of incredible food, there were two meals that I have to describe in more detail. One of them has become my answer to the above question, and when asked, I won’t need to think about it.

I’ve posted a few more photos from our trip on my Facebook page. First, we spent a day in Bilbao, and we visited that beautiful museum that I’ve read about since before it was even built.

Then, we drove to San Sebastian where we spent a week in an apartment on Paseo de Ramon Maria Lili. It was situated right between the two bridges that cross the River Urumea as it empties into the Bay of Biscay. It was an easy walk to the Parte Vieja, La Concha beach, and bars, cafes, shops, and markets.

The first meal I want to talk about was lunch at Asador Etxebarri in Atxondo-Bizkaia which is about an hour away from San Sebastian by car. Other than the use of grills, wood ovens, and specifically chosen wood for cooking at Etxebarri, the other thing I repeatedly read about this restaurant was that everyone gets lost on their way there. We did too. Our little detour only made us 20 minutes late, and we were still greeted warmly. The restaurant is in an historic building with a backdrop of mountains and a winding country road. The bar is on the first floor with the dining room above.

We tasted several things since I ordered some dishes a la carte, and everyone else ordered the lunch tasting menu. Surprisingly, the flavor of smoke wasn’t evident in every dish. I started with a very generous serving of decadent goose liver terrine served with thinly sliced pieces of toasted cornbread and a pear sauce. There were prawns that were perfectly cooked over wood fire, and those did offer a subtle hint of smoke that somehow didn’t overwhelm the flavor of the prawns. They were perfectly, just cooked through. I loved the lobster salad which was simpler in execution that I thought it might be, but the flavors were outstanding. The vegetable course was a smoky eggplant puree topped with porcini caps. One of the favorite items we tasted was the hake with leeks. Some of the things I didn’t manage to photograph were grilled bread topped with a grilled anchovy that made us want to raid the kitchen to demand more, and the steak that was the defining dish of cooking over a wood fire. Desserts included a delicious ice cream made with reduced cream and served with “red fruits” as it was explained on the menu, and a white chocolate souffle that had a toasty, crispy surface that contrasted nicely with the sweet, melted interior. This was a leisurely, long lunch, but the service felt slow and the flow of flavors from one course to the next got lost in the waiting. Although we loved everything we tasted, we can’t describe the experience without some quibbling.

A couple of days later, we visited Arzak, listed as the eighth best restaurant in the world, for dinner. I didn’t bring my camera for this meal. I just wanted to enjoy it without documenting each bite at the same time. The photos shown here were provided by Arzak. We took a taxi, and as the car stopped in front of the restaurant, the front door opened and we were welcomed and shown inside. Our umbrellas were taken and stored for us, and we were immediately shown to our comfortable table.

The sommelier guided us through the wine list and helped us choose a couple of very nice wines from nearby regions. Then, without further ado, we were each poured a glass of the house Txakoli, which was fantastic, to go with a parade of amuse-bouches. There were long picks holding shrimp wrapped in crunchy kataifi that projected off a vertical support; an unbelievably good corn soup with morcilla; an upside-down crushed Schweppes can that served as the plate for a tiny, chorizo mousse-filled, delicate pastry called “Chorizo with Tonic;” and there were sardines with strawberry which was an uncommonly good combination. I think I’m forgetting one or two other amuse-bouches. I was too delighted to keep track of them all.

We all chose the dinner tasting menu, and there were options for all but one course. I was thrilled to be able to choose dishes with no red meat for the entire meal. The first course, shown in the top photo of this post and above, was a crispy cone made of manioc and filled with a foie gras mousse with huitlacoche. We were instructed to use our spoons to pick up the cones and keep the filling inside and then to bite into them. They were rich, delicious, lovely things, and Kurt suggested I learn to make them and serve them for dinner at home every Tuesday. I’d love to. The meal progressed with perfect timing and impeccable service. One course included a “dusted” sous vide egg with shrimp powder and a plump, little mussel. There was a tapioca salad with citrus and a course of white tuna with prickly pear and figs. I ordered the pigeon which was served with tender slices of breast meat, on which the skin had been crisped, sitting on a purple “anthocyanin” sauce topped with long pieces of chives. The pigeon legs were served on a separate, little plate with hibiscus pudding. Every single flavor complemented the others, and I’ve never been so happy with a course of fowl.

There were two desserts per person, and the males received different desserts than the females did. Each was a plate made up of components with a dish of a ice cream or sorbet on the side. After a chocolate column filled with a fruity pastry cream, toasted garlic slices, and edible flowers held in place with tiny dots of more pastry cream among other little chocolate confections on the dessert plate, my palate was cleansed by a basil sorbet. My next dessert was served on a clear, glass, rectangular plate that was set on top of a same-sized rectangle of colorful art. There were more little components across the plate including a bright, red, jellied ladybug that burst with a creme fraiche-like filling. The passionfruit and banana sorbet with that dessert course was fantastic. Last, our check came with a silver platter of chocolates molded into shapes of nuts and bolts.

Both Elena and Juan Mari Arzak came out to talk with us at different points in the meal. They were both extremely friendly and kind. As we were leaving, the chefs were saying goodbye to diners and happily taking photos with groups. The two of them were so approachable and sweet, we forgot for a moment what incredible talents they both are in the culinary world. Before we stepped out the door that was being held open for us, our umbrellas were returned as we were thanked and told buenas noches. And, that, undoubtedly, was the best meal I’ve ever had.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Purple Hull Pea Salad and Butternut Squash Galettes

It’s going to take a bit of explaining to tell you how this dish came to be. First, some beautiful, fresh things like purple hull peas, a butternut squash, cucumbers, sweet peppers, and cherry tomatoes had just arrived from Farmhouse Delivery. If you’ve never tried purple hull peas, they’re similar to black-eyed peas with a slightly milder flavor. When they’re freshly picked, they cook to a nice state of tenderness in about twenty minutes. I’d been holding onto a recipe from Saveur magazine just waiting for some fresh field peas to come into season so I could try it. That recipe was from a story about Senegalese cooking that included dishes made with black-eyed peas, okra, and hot chiles. The recipes were perfectly suited to what grows well here. So, from that story, I wanted to try the Saladu Nebbe which is a black-eyed pea salad with lime juice, parsley, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, and habanero. I made it with purple hull peas rather than black-eyed peas. On a completely different topic, I’d also been looking longingly at some little potato galettes from an old issue of Living magazine. I believe the page for these galettes was cut from a 2003 issue and the exact recipe isn’t online, but they’re simple, small rounds made up of very thin slices of potato. I got a crazy idea to try making the same thing with butternut squash instead of potato and then imagined the big flavors of the purple hull pea salad would marry well with a sweet, crispy galette. And, just like that, the dish you see here was created.

I admit the galettes would be easier to make with potato than with butternut squash. The squash slices didn’t stick together while cooking quite as well as potato slices would. After flipping each galette, I did have to push a few squash slices back into place to keep the round shape. I started by peeling a butternut squash and cutting off the straight section. That straight part was cut in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced on a Benriner. Olive oil and butter were heated in a large skillet, and a round galette was formed by layering the squash slices in a circle in the skillet. Each galette was made up of two layers of squash slices. The galette was seasoned with salt and pepper, and a smaller skillet was set on top of the galette to keep it very flat. After a few minutes, the galette was flipped, a few squash slices that slid out of position were pushed back into place, it was seasoned with salt and pepper again, and the small skillet went back on top. For the salad, the purple hull peas were cooked in water for about twenty minutes and then drained and set aside. The dressing was made by whisking chopped parsley and lime juice while drizzling in canola oil. Then, chopped green onion, sweet peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, and a seeded, finely chopped habanero were combined in a big bowl. The dressing was added, and the salad was seasoned with salt and pepper. After tossing to combine, the salad was left to sit at room temperature for about an hour so the flavors could get acquainted.

This dish might have come about in a less than obvious way, but I was happy with the result. The finished galettes were crispy on the edges, tender in the middle, sweet, and buttery all at once. And, the fresh, bright, and spicy flavors of the salad were a good match. I always find good ideas in my recipe files, and who knows what they'll inspire next.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Malted Madeleines

I’ve still never visited the Baked bakery, but I’ve had a lot of fun baking from the owners’ books. Now, there’s a brand new one. Baked Elements: Our 10 Favorite Ingredients highlights Matt and Renato’s ten favorite ingredients with a chapter of recipes for each one, and I received a review copy of the book. Those top ten ingredients are: Peanut Butter, Lemon and Lime, Caramel, Booze, Pumpkin, Malted Milk Powder, Cinnamon, Cheese, Chocolate, and Banana. They chose well. And, they’ve used those ingredients in tarts, cakes, cookies, muffins, milkshakes, pies, bars, buns, and breads. Everything in the book fits the Baked style of classic American treats made from scratch, and in some cases, given a new twist. I was sure the Caramel chapter would be my favorite with Caramel Coconut Cluster Bars and the Easy Candy Bar Tart, but then I got distracted by the Pumpkin chapter with the Pumpkin Almond Cake and Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars. Then, there are Banana Mousse Parfaits and Honey Banana Poppy Seed Bread in the last chapter. I may need to throw a dessert party sometime soon. To jump in and start baking, I chose the Malted Madeleines from the Malted Milk Powder chapter. I wasn’t hosting a dessert party that day, and madeleines make a nice, small-sized treat. When cake sounds delicious, but you really just want something the size of a cookie, a madeleine is the way to go. Malted milk powder is also one of my favorite ingredients, but I don’t get enough opportunities to bake with it. The authors point out that the flavor is subtle and you might not notice it right away, but you’d miss the malt flavor if it wasn’t there.

Luckily, I took a moment to read the recipe all the way through the day before I was going to bake these. The batter needs to rest for one hour after it’s mixed, so I knew to plan for that. Flour, malted milk powder, cocoa powder, and baking powder were sifted together and set aside. Then, in a stand mixer, eggs, sugar, and salt were whisked until frothy. The dry ingredients were then sifted onto the frothy egg mixture and folded in. The bowl was covered with a towel and left to sit for one hour. The oven was pre-heated, and the batter was given a quick stir before spooning it into the prepared madeleine pans. I’m never sure what three-quarters full should look like in madeleine cups and mine were probably over that level, but it worked out fine. They baked for about twelve minutes and were left to cool. Some additional cocoa powder and malted milk powder were stirred together and then sifted over the madeleines after removing them from the pans.

I have a feeling that from now on, I’ll be using a lot more malted milk powder. In any recipe that involves cocoa powder, you can add two or three tablespoons of malted milk powder and reduce the cocoa powder by the same amount. You’ll get a slightly softer edge to the cocoa flavor and faint maltiness, and with more malted milk powder sifted on top, your nose will get a hint of what’s to come from the malt aroma. I can’t wait to find out what tips I’ll learn about using all the other favorite ingredients in the book.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Roasted Ratatouille Tart

When it’s late summer or early fall and eggplant, sweet peppers, and zucchini are still everywhere you look, ratatouille is an obvious choice. Obvious or not, on its own, ratatouille isn’t always very exciting. However, when the vegetables are chopped and oven-roasted and then nestled into the middle of buttery, flaky pastry, it becomes something very worth talking about. This is from The Fresh & Green Table which continues to deliver one great dish after another as I cook through it. When I first saw this in the book, I knew I’d be making it before eggplant season ended. As the vegetables are roasting, you can decide how far you want to take them depending on whether you want a completely tender ratatouille or one with some texture. But, I have to say, once they’re in the tart along with the goat cheese and parmesan, they’ll be delicious no matter how they’re cooked.

After chopping eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers, and red onion and halving some cherry tomatoes, everything was tossed with olive oil, seasoned, and roasted for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the pastry was made and left to chill, and it could be made in advance and refrigerated for a couple of days. The dough was rolled into big circle, but it doesn’t need to be precise. Some shredded parmigiano reggiano was strewn about in the center and topped with some of the roasted vegetables. Chopped mint was suggested, but I used basil intead, and some was layered on top of the vegetables. Next, crumbled goat cheese and more parmesan were added followed by another layer of vegetables and more basil. The dough was folded up and over the edges and brushed with egg wash. The top of the tart was sprinkled with more parmesan, and I added a pinch or two of flaked sea salt before popping it in the oven.

This was one of those crusts that shatters in the loveliest way as a knife slices into it. It was rich and crisp and golden and made an excellent vehicle for the ratatouille. So, if you’re like me and feel ratatouille lacks pizzazz all by itself, you should definitely consider using it as a filling for a savory tart.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Irish Coffee Bars

I admit that I’m fickle when it comes to cookies. One of my favorite cookies in the world is a basic sugar cookie that my Mom taught me how to make when I was little, but I have trouble choosing a top five and sticking to it. I’ll forget about a favorite cookie after awhile, or a new cookie will come along and be my favorite thing for a few months until I discover something else. There were those Gingerbread White Chocolate Blondies that I fell pretty hard for, those Ganache-Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies that took me by surprise, the Lemon Wreath Cookies that I’ll be making every holiday season, and of course, the Homemade Thin Mint Cookies can’t be forgotten. And, there are probably twenty others that deserve a mention too. However, I can say with absolute certainty, this Irish Coffee Bar is currently, definitely one of my favorite cookies. They’re from the March issue of Living magazine. With a bar cookie, I usually prefer the middle pieces to the ones with crunchy edges, but as proof of just how good these were, I wanted to eat every bar from every region of the pan. The crunchy parts were great, the middles were great, the coffee flavor was aromatic and lovely, the sliced almonds on top added nice texture, and the whiskey glaze was sweet and ever so slightly boozy. They were also just as good after sitting for a couple of days as they were the day they were made.

This is one of those delightful cookie recipes that doesn’t require a mixer. The dry ingredients including flour, baking powder, and baking soda were sifted and set aside. In a mixing bowl, melted butter, brown sugar, ground espresso, and salt were combined. Eggs and vanilla were whisked into the mix, and the dry ingredients were stirred in next. The batter was poured into a parchment-lined nine-inch by thirteen-inch pan, and it was topped with sliced almonds. It baked for about half an hour, and the pan was left to cool. The glaze was made with melted butter, some whiskey, and confectioners’ sugar. You could drizzle the glaze from a spoon, or place it in a bag and pipe it on the cooled bars. I opted to spoon the glaze into a plastic bag, snip the corner, and make diagonal lines of glaze. When the glaze had set, the cookie bars were cut.

So, yes, I like a lot of cookies and sometimes get distracted and forget which ones I said were my favorites in the past, but these Irish Coffee Bars have captured my full attention. Now, I just need another excuse, or occasion, to bake these again soon.

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