Thursday, March 31, 2016

Poppy Seed Danishes with Cherry-Cream Cheese Filling

One of my favorite things about Easter is choosing a sweet bread or pastry to bake for the occasion. Over the years, I’ve made various coffee cakes and filled, yeasted breads. I’ve made hot cross buns and other sweet rolls. And, this year, I pulled out a recipe that had been waiting in the files for a few years. The recipe for these danishes is from the May 2011 issue of Living magazine. I do love finding a gem like this in the files. Of course, the day couldn’t be about sweets alone even after weeks of Lent with no sugar. I also revisited a quiche recipe I made a couple of years ago and this time served slices of it with roasted asparagus. It’s a tall, grand quiche with a light and fluffy texture. I feel like it deserves a special occasion but would enjoy it on the menu regularly. But, back to the danishes. They were just rich and indulgent enough. The pastry dough is easy to shape, and the cut and folded corners were to make each one look like a flower with curved petals. They’re made with two fillings. First, a cream cheese-poppy seed filling was spread in the center and then a little dollop of cherry preserves was added on top of that. I found some cherry preserves made with apple juice rather than sugar and that helped keep the overall sweetness in check. 

The dough was started with warm milk, butter, and sugar. Yeast, flour, and salt were added, and the dough was mixed with a dough hook in a stand mixer. Eggs were added, one at a time, followed by more flour. After kneading the dough a bit more by hand and forming a ball, it was left to rise for an hour. The first filling was made by mixing room temperature cream cheese with confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. An egg yolk and poppy seeds were added and mixed to combine. The dough was then rolled into a big square and trimmed to 15 inches on each side. That square was cut into nine smaller squares. Each square of dough was then cut with a two-inch line from each corner toward the center. The cream cheese filling was spread on the center of each, a spoonful of cherry preserves was added on top of the filling, and the corners were folded up and into the center of each. The folded dough was brushed with egg wash, and the danishes were baked for about 18 minutes. After cooling for a few minutes, they were drizzled with a confectioners’ sugar glaze. 

The cream cheese filling with the spoonful of cherry preserves made these irresistible. And, the tender pastry dough bakes into a golden, puffy, light, delightful treat. This is going to be a hard one to beat next Easter. I might have to start repeating myself rather than trying something new each year. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mixed Dal, Marwari-Style

Over the last year or two, I’ve been craving Indian food more and more often. When I heard about the new title from Madhur Jaffrey, Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking, I was excited to add more Indian dishes to my rotation. By the time I arrived at page 15 of my review copy, I had already marked four recipes I wanted to try immediately. In this book, Jaffrey explores all of India and shares regionally distinct dishes from homes, cafes, and special occasions. I was interested to learn about the tradition of mushroom foraging in Coorg and how those wild mushrooms are cooked over a fire and dressed with chopped green chiles, lime juice, and salt. There’s also an introduction to the Marwari community made up of strict vegetarians with a revered cuisine that makes ample use of ghee. Jaffrey also writes about specific ingredients that she hadn’t included in previous books because they were difficult to find. Now, there are more Indian markets and online sources available to make including these items possible. One of those is poha or flattened rice, and it can be eaten with milk or yogurt or crisped and combined with peas and potatoes. It’s also sometimes made into a risotto-like dish called upma. It was a delight to learn more about this varied cuisine, and it inspired me to do a quick ingredient search at a local Indian market to get me cooking from the book as soon as possible. Two of the pages I marked right away were the one with Cabbage Fritters because of the crispy, frilly-looking patties made with strands of cabbage, chickpea flour, spices, peanuts, cilantro, and curry leaves and the page for Spiced Potato-Ball Fritters. There are also several okra recipes I want to try as soon its season arrives. I love the thought of tangy amchoor powder sprinkled on fried okra. The Eggs in a Hyderabadi Tomato Sauce looks delicious with the spicy sauce of tomato puree and tamarind concentrate. There are appetizers, dals, rice and other grain dishes, breads, chutneys and relishes, and drinks and dessert. First though, I had to try something from the Dals chapter, and I found most of what I needed on my shopping trip. 

The Mixed Dal, Marwari-Style recipe includes four types of dal. I always have chanda dal on hand since I use it often for a different dish. And, I found split urad dal and split mung beans at the Indian grocery store. I wasn’t able to locate plain toovar dal, so I used a little more of each of the other types. The dals were rinsed and then left to soak for a couple of hours. Then, they were drained and placed in a large pot with water and brought to a boil. I took Jaffrey’s advice to place the bay leaves, cloves, and cardamom pods in a piece of cheesecloth and tied it closed. That made it easy to remove after the dal was cooked. Turmeric was also added at the beginning of the cooking time. Once the dal was tender and most of the water had been cooked off, salt was added and the dal was mashed with a potato masher. Last, the dal was flavored with a tarka which in this case was heated ghee with asafetida, cumin seeds, and dried red chile. The spice and ghee mixture was poured over the dal, the pot was covered, and the flavors were left to mingle. Before serving, the dal was stirred and fresh cilantro was added. A yogurt relish was suggested as an accompaniment, and I went with the Fresh Cilantro and Yogurt Chutney. I also made the Puffed Fried Leavened Breads. This thick dal is perfect for scooping onto breads as you eat it. 

I’m still not completely confident about choosing and mixing spices for Indian dishes without a recipe to guide me, but I love learning more all the time. And, dals are becoming a favorite comfort food for me. So, it’s great to have more recipes to try. I’ll definitely be trying more breads from the book too. My only disappointment is that there isn’t a recipe for naan in the book, but there are plenty of others to keep me busy. I predict I’ll be using this book frequently. 

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Shrimp Pot Stickers

A few years have gone by since I first made dumplings from scratch with Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen. It’s such a great book. The instructions guide you so well through each step of making the dough, portioning, flattening, filling, and shaping. The pot stickers were in the back of my mind since I first read the book. It was one of those recipes that I was a little anxious about and imagined all the ways I could end up with a failure. Would they hold their shape while frying and steaming? Would the dumplings stick to the bottom of the pan and not come loose? Would the texture and thickness of the dough turn out right? I wanted to wait until I was in my new kitchen with plenty of space for rolling and filling lots of dumplings. And so, at last, I gave it a go and couldn’t have been happier with the process. I’ve realized that working with dough and seeing the transformation from mixture to final product, whether dumplings, pastry, or bread, is always fun for me. I haven’t met a dough I didn’t like. The Basic Dumpling Dough used for these is a simple one made with all-purpose flour and just boiled water, and it was easy to roll into little circles to be filled. In the book, the filling is a mixture of pork and shrimp with finely chopped cabbage and seasonings, but I chose to use only shrimp with the cabbage and other ingredients. A vegetarian filling would have been a great option too. 

I started with the dough because it needs to rest after kneading and can sit at room temperature for a couple of hours. Two cups of all-purpose flour were placed in the food processor while water was brought to a boil. Three-quarters of a cup of boiled water was measured and poured into the food processor through the feed tube with the machine running. In a few seconds, the dough formed a ball on the blade and was done. The water cools enough during that time to be able to handle the dough. Next, the dough was kneaded on a work surface until smooth, and then it was placed in a plastic bag to rest. For the filling, I cleaned and chopped some shrimp, finely chopped some savoy cabbage, chopped some homegrown Chinese chives, and minced garlic and ginger. Black pepper, soy sauce, and sesame oil were also included in the mixture. The cabbage was lightly salted and set aside in a colander to drain for 15 minutes before being rinsed, drained, and squeezed to remove moisture. Then, all of those filling ingredients were combined and mashed together. The rested dough was divided in half. One half was portioned into 16 pieces. Each of those was flattened with a tortilla press and then rolled with a small dowel to flatten the edges more until each circle measured about three and one-quarter inch across. A tablespoon of filling was placed on each dough circle, and then they were closed and crimped. I went with the pleated pattern at the top of each dumpling. The filled dumplings were placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and the process was repeated with the second half of the dough. To cook them, two tablespoons of canola oil was added to a large skillet over medium-high heat. The dumplings were set into the hot oil, sealed edges up, and were left to fry for a couple of minutes. The next step is a little scary because water needs to be poured into the skillet with the oil. There’s a great tip in the book for holding the skillet lid close to the top of the pan while pouring the water to prevent it from spattering out too much. One-third cup of water was added, the skillet was covered, and the dumplings steamed until the water mostly bubbled away for about eight minutes. The lid was removed, and the dumplings continued cooking for another minute or two. They were served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and chile oil. 

The dumpling dough really was surprisingly easy to work with, and rolling the edges a little thinner made closing and sealing each dumpling a breeze. I followed the suggestion in the book and had a small wood dowel cut to about twelve inches long to use for rolling the little pieces of dough. The end result from the crisp bottoms to the steamed tops turned out great, and there were no problems with them sticking in the pan or falling apart. Now I’m ready to face my fears with another new-to-me dough recipe. 

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Speaking of my new kitchen, here's another look at it now that more details have been completed. The wood on the bar, island front, and kitchen desk side was saved from our old house and whitewashed. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Black Bean Cakes with Guacamole, Salsa, and Fried Shallots

I love a good cocktail party, of course, for the cocktails themselves but maybe even more for the little servings of food that go so well with a drink. Cocktail party food is always fun food, and that certainly applies to the offerings you’ll find in Mary Guiliani’s new book The Cocktail Party. I received a review copy. She shares stories from her years of catering along with ideas for parties for every season of the year and every time of day. I caught the episode of Barefoot Contessa when she showed Ina how to make her mini grilled cheese sandwiches which is one of her signature party menu items. After cooking, the sandwiches are cut into cute, bite-size, tiny triangles. There are several versions found throughout the book for different themes. The Mini Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese and the Mini Sausage and Egg Grilled Cheese were two of my favorite ideas. Another one of her popular menu items is pigs in a blanket, and there are multiple versions of it as well. I need to find a good chicken or seafood version of a mini sausage to try wrapped in puff pastry. The book is organized by party theme, and there are menus and planning ideas for each of them. In addition to a basic party menu, there are also suggested “Snacktivities” for each party, and these are actually buffet options for guests to build their own snacks. I loved the idea of a Mozzarella Bar with fresh ricotta, burrata, and mozzarella along with breads, and toppings like eggplant caponata, roasted peppers, roasted tomatoes, and olive tapenade. Some other party dishes and tips that caught my eye were Mini Banana Pancakes with chocolate chips for a breakfast party; the bottles of tequila hanging on strings from a tree branch for a tasting event; the deviled egg bar with various spices and toppings for sprinkling on top; and the big bowl of Buddha Punch made with wine, champagne, orange juice, lemon juice, rum, and club soda. In some cases, the photos are styled a little differently than the recipes or ideas are described in the text, but that leads you to more ideas for making your party your own. Also, there are suggestions for which items can be purchased rather than made from scratch to let you decide how much time to spend on each part of an event. The first dish I tried was the mini Black Bean Cakes from the Cinco de Mayo party theme. 

These are little, crispy, vegetarian cakes that can be formed in advanced and cooked just before serving. Optionally, they could be cooked in advance as well and reheated in the oven before serving. The cakes are made by pureeing rinsed and drained black beans in a food processor with salsa, cumin, and coriander. That mixture was transferred to a mixing bowl, and panko breadcrumbs, finely chopped green onions, cilantro, and salt were added. You should consider the texture at this point. The salsa I used was a bit runny, so I added some extra breadcrumbs to bring the mixture together better. Next, a baking sheet was lined with parchment, and little cakes were formed by using a mini ice cream scoop. I flattened out the cakes by hand. The sheet of black bean cakes should be refrigerated for about 30 minutes before cooking to firm them up a bit. They were cooked in olive oil in a big skillet for a few minutes per side. I made some guacamole for topping, and I opted to fry shallot rings rather than garnish with store-bought fried onions. 

At this size, each bean cake worked perfectly as one bite which is just what you want when you have a cocktail in one hand. In the head note in the book, it’s pointed out that these bean cakes would also be great as vegan sliders on mini buns. With all the great ideas I’ve just learned here, I need to get to work on a guest list and pick some dates for parties. 

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