Thursday, May 22, 2014

Animal Cookies

Yes, I do a lot of baking. I go through quite a lot of all-purpose flour and granulated sugar, but I also love getting to experiment with various whole grains and less refined, natural sweeteners. Now, there’s a book devoted entirely to that latter category of baking. It’s Honey and Oats by Jennifer Katzinger, and I received a review copy. Every recipe in the book, which covers Scones and Muffins, Cookies and Bars, Quick Breads, Yeasted Breads and Crackers, Pies and Tarts, and Cakes and Frostings, is made with whole grain flours and sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, and sucanat. I learned that minimally processed honey contains antioxidants and beneficial microbial properties; maple syrup contains manganese and zinc along with other trace minerals and vitamins; coconut palm sugar contains B vitamins and amino acids with minerals and enzymes that slow its absorption into the bloodstream making it lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners; and sucanat, the least refined sweetener made from cane sugar, has iron, calcium, potassium, and vitamin B6 that remain after its minimal processing. I want to start using more of these in place of refined, granulated sugar, and this book makes it easy. As soon as our local, fresh figs appear this year, I’ll be turning back to the Fresh Fig Almond Scones made with buckwheat and spelt flours and honey. I also have the page marked for the Date Bars made with spelt and einkorn flours, oats, and coconut palm sugar. The Chocolate Pistachio Bars are also calling out to me, and there are instructions in the book for making Maple-Sweetened Chocolate to use on them. The Triple-Layer Chocolate Sour Cream Cake is made with barley flour and is sweetened with maple syrup, and the Honey Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Honey Frosting is a beauty as it’s shown with five layers but can also be baked in a Bundt pan. 

I have a collection of little, animal shaped cutters that had been waiting patiently for far too long to be used, so I jumped at the chance to make the Animal Cookies. The dough is surprisingly easy to work with, and it doesn’t spread much while baking. It’s made with canola oil, maple syrup, almond butter, and vanilla extract. After mixing those ingredients, whole wheat pastry flour, cinnamon, sea salt, and baking soda were added. The dough was easily rolled on a floured surface and cut into shapes. I tested baking some of the cut cookies immediately and chilling some before baking. It was barely noticeable that the cookies that were baked immediately had spread just slightly more than those that were chilled first. They bake into crunchy, delightful, little cookies that keep well for several days. They’re sweet and nutty from the maple syrup and almond butter, and right away, they became an addictive snack. 

There’s an art to eating animal cookies. You can start by biting off the head and work your way around the cookie to the legs. With these, we had a little fun trying guess what each animal was supposed to be. The cutters I have are cute, but a few of the shapes are a little difficult to identify. There are fish and ducks and what I think are bunnies. One shape I interpreted as a pony and another as a puppy. The kitty cat shape didn’t work so well as it baked into a blob, but the fox shape was fun since you can bite off the tail. Mostly, these cookies were a delight because of the flavors of maple, cinnamon, and almond butter. And, now I can’t wait to try more recipes with whole grains and natural sweeteners. 

Animal Cookies 
Recipe reprinted from Honey and Oats with permission from Sasquatch Books. 

These cookies are rich sans the butter. The dough is soft, pliable, and easy for kids to roll out. Be sure to have enough flour on your work surface so you can lift the cut-out cookies.

1/2 cup canola oil
1⁄2 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup 
1⁄4 cup nut butter (choose your favorite) 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour, or 1 cup einkorn flour and 1 cup whole- wheat pastry 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl using an electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the oil, maple syrup, nut butter, and vanilla until smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. In a separate medium bowl, mix the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. With the mixer on the lowest speed, slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until a soft dough is formed. 

Roll the dough out on a well-floured work surface to a1⁄4-inch thickness. Using animal-shaped cutters, cut cookies and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are golden and firm to touch, 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. Cool the cookies on the sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks or flattened paper bags to cool completely. 

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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Grilled Sesame-Ginger Asparagus and Portobello Salad

I’ve gotten used to and enjoy the surprise of what we receive from our CSA. There was a time when I dreaded one more bunch of greens, but now I look forward to using every last leaf when they’re in season. Another item that I previously found challenging to use was red cabbage. I prefer it raw rather than cooked, and I’ve finally amassed enough salad and slaw options that I love finding a dark purple head of it sitting our Farmhouse Delivery box. Lately, I’ve come to especially like Asian flavors mixed into a salad or slaw with red cabbage. I usually just wing it and start mixing ginger, garlic, lime juice, sesame oil, and a little vegetable oil for dressing the chopped cabbage. But, for this most recent salad, I turned to The Fresh and Green Table by Susie Middleton. I always find great ideas for all seasons in that book, and it has yet to disappoint. In the book, this salad is shown with grilled asparagus and portobello slices on top of a salad made with Napa cabbage and spinach. I switched it up by using red cabbage with spinach instead and loved the mix of dark purpley reds, several shades of green, the whites of the green onions, and the dark browns and blacks of the mushrooms. 

The marinade for the mushrooms was made first. Peanut oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, minced garlic, and minced ginger were whisked together. A few tablespoons of the dressing were set aside, and the rest was poured over the mushroom caps in a baking dish. They were left to marinate for about 30 minutes. Just before cooking, the asparagus spears were added to the baking dish and turned in the marinade. I used a grill pan inside to grill the vegetables, and the portobellos were sliced after coming off the grill pan. In a big mixing bowl, thinly sliced red cabbage, torn spinach leaves, some sliced green onions, and cilantro leaves were combined. The spinach and green onions were also from our CSA, and the cilantro was from my herb garden. To the bit of reserved marinade, lime juice and some soy sauce were added, and most of that was poured over the raw vegetables. It was tossed with the cabbage and spinach mixture before transferring the salad to a serving platter. The grilled asparagus was set on top followed by slices of the grilled portobellos. The remaining dressing was drizzled over top, and more cilantro leaves, sliced green onions, and sesame seeds were added for garnish. 

The flavors were as good as I knew they would be, and I loved that the mushrooms and asparagus made this a meal of a salad. There was a great mix of textures and temperatures between the crunchy, cool, raw vegetables at the base and the warm, grilled top layer. I’m not sure if we’ll see another head of red cabbage in our CSA box this season, but if we do, I’ll be delighted. 

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Bittersweet Chocolate and Strawberry Tart

After attending culinary school in Brittany, Greg Marchand worked in London with David Nicholls at the Mandarin Oriental before being transferred to the location in Hong Kong to work at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vong. He returned to London, then moved on to a restaurant in Andalusia, then another, and eventually returned to London where he become head chef at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. From there, he was off to New York where he worked at Gramercy Tavern with Michael Anthony. All of this led up to returning to France and creating his own “place that was the sum of all (his) best experiences.” That place is Frenchie on the rue du Nil in Paris. I seem to keep hearing great things about this chef and this bistro, and I couldn’t wait to read the new English version of his book. The book is Frenchie: New Bistro Cooking, and I received a review copy. The dishes are seasonal and made special with added touches. The Wild Garlic Broth with Fresh Crabmeat is a soup garnished with sourdough croutons, olives, thinly sliced spring onions, herbs, and lemon. For the Watermelon, Ricotta Salata, Mint, and Pine Nut Salad, in the restaurant, the watermelon is compressed sous vide to make the texture more dense resulting in a deeper shade of red. Of course, at home, fresh, cubed watermelon can be used instead. I want to attempt the Brined Chicken with Roasted Zucchini and Tapenade and the Fresh Tagliatelle with Chanterelles and Lemon Zest. But while our local strawberries are in season, I had to try the Bittersweet Chocolate and Strawberry Tart first. The other day, Kurt asked me if we’ve been eating a lot of strawberries lately. I might have gone a little crazy with how many I’ve brought home in a few short weeks, but I can’t get enough of them when they’re in season. 

In the book, fraises des bois are suggested for the berries, but sadly, they don’t grow here so far as I know. Our local strawberries are smaller than the grocery store variety, and far more flavorful. I brought home the smallest, reddest, local strawberries I could find. Making the tarts requires a few separate steps which can be spaced out as needed. First, the pastry dough was made with all-purpose flour, cake flour, and almond flour whisked with confectioners’ sugar and some salt. Cold butter was worked into the dough by hand, and then an egg was stirred in before the dough was flattened, wrapped, and chilled for a couple of hours. The dough was then rolled out and gently pressed into a tart pan, and it was chilled in the pan while the oven pre-heated. The tart shell was blind baked with pie weights in parchment, then with the pie weights and parchment removed, and last with a brushing of egg wash. As the tart shell cooled, the filling was made with warmed cream, milk, and sugar that was poured over dark chocolate pieces. The mixture was whisked until smooth and cooled, and an egg was added and mixed into the chocolate. The filling was poured into the tart shell, and the tart baked again until just set. Once at room temperature, the tart was topped with strawberries, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. 

This was a dreamy chocolate-covered strawberry in the form of a tart. The creamy, dark, bittersweet chocolate filling with the sweet crunchy crust and juicy, berries was a perfect combination. The olive oil and salt nicely pointed up all the flavors. The only caveat with this tart is that it’s best on the day it’s made. The filling is best at room temperature, and if left to sit too long, the strawberries would begin to give up their juices. If you need to store it overnight, you could try refrigerating the chocolate tart with no toppings. Then, bring it to room temperature, and add the strawberries, olive oil, and salt to each piece before serving. It does make for a delicious way to celebrate strawberry season, and I can’t wait to celebrate with more things from the book. 

Bittersweet Chocolate and Wild Strawberry Tart 
Excerpted with publisher's permission from Frenchie: New Bistro Cooking by Greg Marchand (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Djamel Dine Zitout. 

8 servings / Wine pairing: Red Pineau des Charentes; Domaine Ch√Ęteau de Beaulon, or a good sherry 

Wild strawberries, fraises des bois, are a rare delicacy that form a magical alliance with the intensity of bittersweet chocolate. If you cannot find them, choose the smallest, most fragrant strawberries at your farmers’ market. 

A 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom 
Dried beans or pie weights 

For the Sweet Tart Dough 
8 tablespoons (1 stick/113 grams) cold unsalted butter 
1 1/4 cups plus 5 tablespoons (175 grams) all-purpose flour 
1/2 cup (66 grams) pastry or cake flour 
2 1/2 tablespoons (25 grams) almond flour (finely ground almonds) 
3/4 cup (72 grams) confectioners’ sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt 
1 large egg, at room temperature 
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash 

For the Chocolate Filling 
6 ounces (170 grams) 70% bittersweet chocolate 
1 cup (237 ml.) heavy cream 
1/2 cup (118 ml.) whole milk 
2 tablespoons granulated sugar 
1 small egg 

For the Garnish 
8 ounces (225 grams) wild strawberries (see the headnote) 
Fleur de sel 
Olive oil 

The Dough 
Cut the butter into small pieces. Whisk the flours, almond flour, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl. With your fingertips, work in the butter until the texture is sandy. Quickly beat the egg with a fork in a small bowl, then add to the butter mixture and mix with your hands until the dough just comes together. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours. 

Put the dough on a large sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper, cover it with another sheet, and roll it into a 12-inch circle. Lift off the top sheet of plastic wrap and carefully invert the dough into the tart pan. Lift off the second sheet and gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan, then cut off the excess by running the rolling pin over the edge. (The dough is fragile, but any tears can be patched easily.) Chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour. 

The Tart Shell 
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Cut out a parchment paper circle (see the photos on page 74) and line the tart shell with the parchment. Fill with dried beans or pie weights and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and paper and bake for 5 more minutes. 

Brush the tart shell all over with the egg wash. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes longer, until golden brown. Let cool to room temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. 

The Chocolate Filling 
Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a bowl. Combine the cream, milk, and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the boiling liquid over the chopped chocolate and let stand for 30 seconds, then mix with a rubber spatula until the mixture is smooth. Let cool to lukewarm, then mix in the egg. 

Pour the filling into the baked tart shell and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The tart is done when the filling is just set. If you shake the pan gently, the chocolate mass should move in one block. Let the tart cool to room temperature on a rack. Do not put it in the refrigerator! This tart should be served at room temperature on the day it is made. 

Finishing Touches 
Unmold the tart. Arrange the strawberries on top of the tart (if using bigger strawberries, cut them into halves or quarters). Sprinkle with fleur de sel and add a dash of olive oil. 

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