Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Daring Cooks November 2012: Brining

Audax of Audax Artifax was our November 2012 Daring Cooks’ host. Audax has brought us into the world of brining and roasting, where we brined meat and vegetables and roasted them afterwards for a delicious meal!

I have brined chicken before, so I knew that this was going to be a delicious challenge but I wanted to do something a little different. I did a little research and decided to do a maple-brined pork chop. Anytime anything is titled "maple" anything, I'm in. Especially in November when you're just starting to realize that those 60 degree days aren't coming back for a long while. To me, maple just says comfort like sitting cuddled up in a blanket in front of the fireplace.

The added bonus of this recipe is that the brining solution called for Juniper berries. My dad (who is the king of unique ingredients) bought me some Juniper Berries to use and I just haven't had a chance to use them until now. If you're lucky enough to have a Penzey's (yes again...) they do have them there. Juniper berries can be used to flavor any type of game or something as simple as pork.

The roasted portion of our meal was a recipe that accompanied the maple brined pork chop recipe that I knew we had to have. The words "Roasted Pear Chutney" should just make your mouth water. The pears smelled unbelievable while they roasted in the oven, and the combination of that sweet, caramelized flavor with the vinaigrette is pretty cool.

Now I've done a lot of talking up of this recipe. On paper, I think it looks to die for. In execution, I'm not so sure. The pork came out just ultra salty and I was not a big fan of the chutney. Dave loved the chutney and was so-so on the pork. Perhaps my measurements were a bit off or something, but it doesn't mean the end of brining for us.

Maple-Brined Pork Chops (slightly adapted from Epicurious)

1 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons juniper berries
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
12 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger

8 cups water
4 center-cut loin pork chops, 1 1/2 inches thick
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Mix all of the brine ingredients together in a nonreactive pot and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and stir the brine to ensure that the salt, sugar, and maple syrup have dissolved. Let the brine cool, then put it in a large nonreactive container and add the pork chops. Cover and refrigerate for no more than 12 hours.

2. Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry (without rinsing). Season with pepper (no salt- they've already been brined!)

3. Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a large skillet over medium high-heat. Sear the chops, about 2 minutes on each side. Watch carefully, as soon as they are browned flip them. Lower the heat and cover the pan. Allow to cook for a few more minutes on each side, until the chops register at least 145 on your meat thermometer. Remove from pan and allow to sit a few minutes before serving.

Roasted Pear Chutney (Epicurious)

2 ripe Bosc pears, peeled and cut in half
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons golden raisins
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Toss the pears with the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the cinnamon, and cloves. Coat a sheet pan with half the vegetable oil. Set the pears cut side down on the pan. Brush the pears with the remaining oil. Roast until caramelized and tender, 40 to 50 minutes, depending on the degree of ripeness. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
3. While the pears are roasting, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
4. Using a small spoon or a melon baller, scoop out the cores of the cooked pears. Cut the pears into 1/2-inch slices.
5. Combine the pears and the onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Daring Bakers October 2012: Mille Feuille

Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

I almost didn't make this month's challenge, but I sure am glad I did! My kitchen helper (Bingley the adorable dog) decided that he was going to do a quality control check of the ingredients before I got started and ate three sticks of butter and at least 2 oz of bakers chocolate. So instead of making the puff pastry dough, I spent an afternoon/evening trying to make sure that my kitchen helper (Bingley the still adorable but slightly naughty dog) didn't have any adverse reactions to said ingredients. He's got a stomach of steel and I was probably more traumatized by the whole event than he was. Lesson learned, do not leave butter out to soften where the dog can reach. 

My in-laws came over this past weekend to help us do a little bit of work around the house. My mother in law and I made cheese ravioli from scratch while my husband and father in law ran speaker wires through the walls and under the floor. I think I had the better job of the two. We had a delicious dinner of the cheese ravioli, homemade (family recipe! yum!) pasta sauce and finished it all off with the Mille Feuille. 

I couldn't resist adding a picture of our delicious dinner!
I had never made puff pastry from scratch before, but I will no longer be paying the nice people at Pepperidge Farm or any other company to make it for me. This was not a difficult laminated dough (I thought it was much easier to work with than the croissant dough, and I really enjoy making croissants) and if you've got a few hours where you can do a little bit and go do something else for a half hour, I say make the puff pastry yourself! 

Pâte feuilletée /Puff Pastry

Servings: Makes 8-10 mille-feuille (yields: 675g pastry)

1¾ cup (250g) plain/all-purpose flour
Scant ¼ cup (55 ml) (1¾ oz)(50g) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
1 teaspoon (5ml) (6 gm) salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (5/8 cup)(150 ml) cold water

14 tablespoons (210 ml) (7 oz) (200g) butter (for the beurrage), room temperature
3½ tablespoons (55ml) (30g) plain flour (for the beurrage)

Additional flour for rolling/turning


1. Cut the larger quantity of butter into smallish pieces and set aside at room temperature.
2. Put the larger quantity of flour into a bowl with the salt and the cold, cubed butter.
3. Lightly rub the butter and flour between your fingertips until it forms a mealy breadcrumb texture.

4. Add the cold water and bring together with a fork or spoon until the mixture starts to cohere and come away from the sides of the bowl.
5. As the dough begins to come together, you can use your hands to start kneading and incorporating all the remaining loose bits. If the dough’s a little dry, you can add a touch more water.
6. Knead for three minutes on a floured surface until the dough is smooth.
7. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
8. While the dough is chilling, take your room temperature butter and mix with the smaller amount of plain flour until it forms a paste.
9. Place the butter paste between two sheets of clingfilm, and either with a rolling pin or your hands (I found hands easiest) shape it into a 4.5”/12cm square. You can use a ruler (or similar) to neaten the edges.
10. Refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes so the butter firms up slightly. If it’s still soft, leave it a bit longer. If it’s too hard and inflexible, leave it out to soften a touch. You want it to be solid but still malleable.
11. Once the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured surface into a 6”/15cm square. Place the square of butter in the middle, with each corner touching the centre of the square’s sides.
12. Fold each corner of dough over the butter so they meet the centre (you might have to stretch them a little) and it resembles an envelope, and seal up the edges with your fingers. You’ll be left with a little square parcel.
13. Turn the dough parcel over and tap the length of it with your rolling pan to flatten it slightly.
14. Keeping the work surface well floured, roll the dough carefully into a rectangle ¼ inch /6 mm in thickness.
15. With the longest side facing you, fold one third (on the right) inwards, so it’s covering the middle section, and ensure that it is lined up.
16. Then, fold the remaining flap of dough (on the left) inwards, so you’re left with a narrow three-layered strip.
17. Repeat steps 14, 15, 16.
18. Wrap up in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
19. Repeat steps 14, 15, 16 twice.
20. Wrap up in clingfilm and chill again for at least 30 minutes.
21. Repeat steps 14, 15, 16 two final times.
22. Wrap up in clingfilm and refrigerate until needed. The dough keeps a couple of days in the fridge.

Pastry Cream / Crème Pâtissière:

(full batch; makes enough for 8-10 mille-feuille)

2 cups (450ml) whole milk
¼ cup (1¼ oz)(35 gm) cornflour/cornstarch
1 cup less 1 tablespoon (200gm) (7 oz) caster sugar
4 large egg yolks (if you’re making the royal icing, reserve two egg whites)
2 large eggs
¼ cup (2 oz) (60gm) unsalted butter, cubed
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla essence

1. Mix the cornflour/cornstarch with ½ cup of milk and stir until dissolved.
2. Heat the remaining milk in a saucepan with the sugar, dissolving the sugar and bringing the milk to the boil. Remove from heat.
3. Beat the whole eggs into the cornflour/milk mixture. Then beat in the egg yolks. Pour in 1/3 of the hot milk, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from cooking.
4. Now, bring the remaining milk back to the boil, and add the eggy mixture, whisking as your pour. Keep whisking (don’t stop or it’ll solidify) on a medium heat until the mixture starts to thicken.
5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and thoroughly whisk the pastry cream. At this stage the pastry cream can look slightly lumpy, but a good whisking soon makes it smoother.
(N.B. If you’re worried about the pastry cream continuing to cook off the heat, you can transfer it to a stainless steel/ceramic bowl.)
6. Beat in the butter and vanilla until fully incorporated.
7. If you haven’t already, pour the pastry cream into a stainless steel or ceramic bowl, and then place clingfilm over the surface to stop a skin forming.
8. Refrigerate overnight to give the pastry cream time to further thicken.

Mille-Feuille/ Napoleon/ Custard Slice

Servings: Makes 8- 10

1 x batch pâte feuilletée/puff pastry (see above)
1 x batch crème pâtissière/pastry cream (see above)

2 ¾ cups (660 ml) (12⅓oz) (350gm) icing sugar
2 teaspoons (10 ml) lemon juice
2 large egg whites
½ cup (2¾ oz) (80gm) dark chocolate


1. Preheat oven to moderately hot 200 °C /400°F/gas mark 6.
2. Lightly dust your work space with flour and remove your dough from the fridge.
3. Roll into a large rectangle, the thickness of cardboard. The recipe I followed specified no other dimensions, but I rolled mine to about 12”/30cm x 18”/46cm.
4. Cut into three equal pieces and place on a baking tray. If you don’t have space for all three, you can bake them separately.
5. Prick the pastry sheets all over with a fork.
6. Place another sheet of greaseproof paper over the top and then a heavy baking tray. This will prevent the layers from puffing up too much.
7. Bake each sheet for about 25 minutes in a moderately hot oven 200 °C /400°F/gas mark 6, removing the top layer of greaseproof paper/tray 10 minutes before the end for the tops to brown. Keep an eye on them and lower the temperature if you think they’re browning too much.
8. Remove the baked sheets from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool.
9. Once the pastry has cooled, you’re ready to assemble your mille-feuille. Get a sturdy flat board, your pastry and the chilled crème pâtissière from the fridge.
10. Lay one sheet on the board and spread half the crème patisserie evenly over the top.
11. Take the second sheet and place it on top, pressing down lightly with your hands to ensure that it sticks to the filling.
12. Spread the remaining crème pâtissière and place the last sheet of pastry on top, pressing down again. (Don’t worry if there’s some oozing at the sides. That can be neatened later.)
13. Pop in the fridge while you prepare the icing / chocolate.
14. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie, stirring periodically. Once melted, transfer to a piping bag (or plastic bag with end snipped), resting nozzle side down in a glass or other tall container.
15. To make the icing, whisk 2 egg whites with 2 teaspoons lemon juice until lightly frothy.
16. Whisk in about (2 cups) 300gm of the icing sugar on a low setting until smooth and combined. The mixture should be thick enough to leave trails on the surface. If it’s too thin, whisk in a bit more icing sugar.
17. Once ready, immediately pour over the top of the mille-feuille and spread evenly. I found that I didn’t quite need all of the icing.
18. Still working quickly, pipe a row of thin chocolate lines along the widest length of your pastry sheet. You can make them as far apart/close together as you like.
19. STILL working quickly (phew), take a sharp knife and lightly draw it down (from top to bottom) through the rows of chocolate. A centimeter (½ inch) or so further across, draw the knife up the way this time, from bottom to top. Move along, draw it down again. Then up. And so on, moving along the rows of chocolate until the top is covered in a pretty swirly pattern.
20. Once you’ve decorated your mille-feuille (no doubt far more beautifully than I did), with a clean knife mark out where you’re going to cut your slices, depending on how big you want them to be and leaving space to trim the edges. I got ten out of mine – two rows of five.
21. Chill for a couple of hours to give the icing (etc.) time to set.
22. With a sharp knife, trim the edges and cut your slices.
23. Dig in!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Daring Cooks October 2012: Brazilian food!

Rachel Dana was our October 2012 Daring Cooks' Challenge hostess! Rachel brought Brazil into our lives by challenging us to make Feijoada and Farofa along with some other yummy side dishes traditionally served with Feijoada, which is a delicious black bean and pork stew.

This was a delicious Brazilian dish that was perfect for the cooler weather we've been having. Of course, after it looked like it was finally transitioning into a real fall, last week had temperatures forecast of 70℉.  I really enjoyed getting to sample quite a few different foods with this challenge. A real winner! 

We didn't care too much for the collard greens, but I don't think it was because of this specific preparation, I don't think we like collard greens in general. Everything else was really tasty. 

Bottom: Feijoada. Top left: Farofa. Top right: Collard Greens

Vinagrete (I forgot to put it on the plate and take a pic, so this is what you get)
Here is the Daring Cooks page with the recipe for Feijoada, Farofa, Vinagrete, Collard Greens and the Onion-Garlic base that was the flavoring that tied much of the meal together. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autumn Dessert: Butternut Squash & Pear Crisp

I'm really enjoying the cool weather and yummy fall foods that we've been having lately. I love that fall weather actually encourages you to be outside and be comfortable while you're there, unlike summer where you're sweating and sticky the whole time. The air feels nice and crisp and the leaves are beginning to burst into color. Autumn is my favorite season, hands down.

I also love the puppy cuddles that come with cool mornings and evenings, even if they are just using you for warmth.

I was in the mood last weekend for a crisp of some kind and went sleuthing for something other than just your run of the mill apple crisp. When I stumbled upon a Bon Appetit recipe for pumpkin and pear crisp, I knew I had found the one. I substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin, and pecans for the walnuts because that's what I had. This was a delicious dessert that we enjoyed for a few days. I especially appreciated that you bake the crisp in ramekins. It made my weekday post dinner ritual that much easier. 

Butternut Squash and Pear Crisp (adapted from Bon Appetit)
Streusel Ingredients:
¼ cup old fashioned oats
¼ cup pecans
1 large egg white
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½" cubes
3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
½teaspoon ground cinnamon

Compote Ingredients:
2 cups ¼" cubes peeled, seeded butternut squash (about ½lb)
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 ½ cup water
3 large pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4" cubes 
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Streusel Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375℉. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until crumble forms. 
2. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden and crispy, occasionally breaking up clumps, 18-20 minutes. Let cool. 

Compote Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375℉. Bring first 8 ingredients to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cover and simmer until squash is just tender, about 7 minutes. 

2. Add pears and vanilla; cook uncovered, stirring often, until pears are tender, about 10 minutes. 

3. Transfer pumpkin and fruit mixture to a medium bowl. Simmer syrup in pan until reduced to ½ cup, 3-5 minutes. 

4. Arrange 8 6 oz. ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet. Divide compote among ramekins. Drizzle each with 1 tablespoon reserved syrup.

5. Bake until filling is bubbling at edges, 25-30 minutes. Top with streusel and serve. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Daring Bakers September 2012: Empanadas

Patri of the blog, Asi Son Los Cosas, was our September 2012 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she decided to tempt us with one of her family’s favorite recipes for Empanadas! We were given two dough recipes to choose from and encouraged to fill our Empanadas as creatively as we wished!

I know, I know. I'm two days late in posting. Blame my job or my procrastination, either way I'm late. One of my goals now that school has been happening for a full month is to do a better job blogging. Right now that means two specific things: posting on time for challenges and taking the time to take better photos. Hold me to those things, people! Please!

This was a delicious recipe that was perfect for the cooler weather we've been having lately. Something about meat and veggies baked in dough just screams autumn comfort food. We had the inaugural fire in the fireplace in our house and enjoyed the feeling of bellies full of yummy empanada as we relaxed last weekend.

I'd made dessert empanadas before (okay, I mostly cheated with canned apple pie filling and probably store-bought dough) and was looking forward to trying the savory kind. I could have made this a little easier on myself by buying a rotisserie chicken instead of roasting my own, but with whole chickens under a dollar a pound I couldn't really justify not doing the whole recipe from scratch.

Chicken and Bell Pepper Empanadas

Dough Ingredients:
5-1/3 cups (1280 ml) (750 gm) bread flour

2 cups (480 ml) of lukewarm water (about 85°F/30oC)
1 satchel (1 tablespoon) (15 gm) dry yeast or (1 oz) (30 gm) fresh yeast

2 teaspoons (10 ml) (11 gm) salt

4 tablespoons (60 ml) oil (you can use oil from the pan where you have cooked the filling)
1 large egg, for egg wash

For the filling:
1 3-pound chicken
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 medium Spanish onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 ripe plum tomatoes
1 fresh thyme sprig
2 bay leaves
½ cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons sweet pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)

Dough Directions:
1. Measure out all the ingredients. Sift the flour into a big bowl and make a well in the middle. Rub the yeast in with your fingers.

2. In a small bowl, mix the water and the salt.  Using your fingers or a wooden spoon, start adding the water and mixing it with the 
flour-yeast mixture. Keep on working with your fingers or spoon until you have added 
enough water and all the flour has been incorporated and you have a messy ball of dough.

3. On a clean counter top, knead the dough for approximately 10 minutes
(You could do all the above using a stand mixer, in that case mix the ingredients with the 
paddle attachment until mixed and then switch to a dough hook and knead on low for about 6 

4.Clean and oil the big bowl you used for mixing and place the kneaded dough in it. Cover it 
with a napkin or piece of linen and keep it in a warm, draught-free place for approximately 40 to 50 minutes.

5. Once risen, turn the dough back into a floured counter and cut it in half. Cover one half with the napkin to prevent drying.

6. Spread the other half of the dough using a rolling pin. You can use a piece of wax paper over the counter, it will make it easier to move the dough around. Depending on the shape of your oven pan or cookie sheet, you will make a rectangle or a round.

7. Now, the thinness of the dough will depend on your choice of filling and how much bread you like in every bite. For your first time, make it about 3mm thin (about 1/10th of an inch) and then adjust from that in the next ones you make.

Filling Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 375℉

2. Season the chicken, inside and out, with salt and pepper and place on a rack set on top of a baking sheet. Roast the chicken for 45 minutes and let cool. Remove all of the meat from the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Shred the meat and set aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the peppers, onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and peppers are tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes in half. Place a grater over a mixing bowl. Rub the cut surface of the tomatoes over the grater until all of the flesh is grated. Set the pulp aside and discard the skins.

5. Add the thyme and bay leaves to the onions and peppers and continue to cook until the mixture turns brown, about 5 minutes more. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates.

6. Stir in the tomato pulp and pimentón, reduce the heat to medium and cook slowly until the oil separates from the mixture and the tomato becomes dark brown in color, about 20 minutes more.

7. Add the shredded chicken and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat, season to taste with salt. Transfer the mixture to a strainer set over a mixing bowl to drain and let cool. Discard liquid.

To Assemble:
1. Turn a 13x18 inch baking sheet over on a work surface and brush the back of the pan with olive oil. Transfer one rectangle of dough to the baking sheet.

2. Spoon the filling into the center of the dough and spread to about 1 inch from the edge. Beat the egg in a small bowl with a little water and brush the egg wash along the edge of the dough.

3. Place the second rectangle of the dough on top of the filling. Fold the dough over, crimping the edges to seal. Brush the top of the dough with the remaining egg wash and prick the dough with a fork to allow the steam to escape.

4. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow the empanada to come to room temperature before slicing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Daring Cooks September 2012: Paella

I know, I'm a little late in this posting, but better late than never, right? I swear, now that school has started I'm lucky to remember my name at the end of the day much less how to cook.

Our Daring Cooks’ September 2012 hostess was Inma of la Galletika. Inma brought us a taste of Spain and challenged us to make our very own delicious Paella!

I was so excited when this challenge was posted, paella is a dish I love to eat, love to make, and I have fond memories of my trip in Spain every time I eat it. The first time I ate paella I was a little nervous when the waiter put the plate down in front of me- there were crawfish placed around the lip of the plate just staring at me. I avoided the crawfish and their creepy eyes, but as soon as I had my first mouthful I was enamored.

When I got back from the trip my first request for a birthday present was a paella pan. Since then I've made the dish quite a few times but always when I know I'm going to be feeding quite a few people. This time around we invited friends over and planned a night of sangria, paella and Monopoly. One of our guests is not a big fan of seafood so I adjusted the recipe to accommodate his tastes as well as those of us who love shrimp. I am saving the recipe that Inma gave us for another time, I'm very interested to try another very authentic recipe.

I have one very yellow photo of this dish because I was too busy cooking and talking and drinking sangria to take more. But this is really a beautiful dish and wonderful to eat!

Paella (adapted from Williams Sonoma)

½ tsp saffron threads
1lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
¼ cup olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup roughly chopped canned peeled tomatoes
2-3 lbs chicken pieces (I used thighs because that's what I had this time, I've also done it with a whole chicken that I broke down into pieces)
2 cups short grain rice
2 tsp smoked paprika
½ cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
½ cup water
½ cup red bell pepper strips, 1/4 inch wide
½ cup thawed frozen peas
2 lemons, each cut into 8 wedges

1. Preheat oven to 350℉.
2. In a paella pan (or large skillet) over medium heat, cook chicken pieces in 1-2 Tbs olive oil for 15 minutes, turning from time to time. Remove and keep warm.
3. Toast saffron in paella pan, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl, let cool and crumble with fingers, set aside.
4. In another bowl, combine the shrimp, 2 Tbs of olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
5. In the paella pan over medium heat, warm 2 Tbs olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes have darkened slightly, 6-7 minutes.
6. Add the rice, saffron, and paprika and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are evenly coated with the tomato mixture, about 2 minutes. Add the wine, chicken broth, and water and season with salt and pepper. Spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
7. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and transfer to the oven. Cook until rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven.
8. Arrange the chicken evenly around the pan and press into the rice. Place the shrimp on top. Lay the bell pepper strips over the seafood and scatter the peas on top. Re-cover the pan with the foil and return the pan to the oven. Cook until the shrimp are opaque and the chicken is cooked through, 17-20 minutes, removing the foil during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
9. To create a brown crust on the bottom of the rice, set the pan over medium-high heat and cook, turning the pan occasionally so the bottom browns evenly, 4-6 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve the paella with lemon wedges alongside.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Daring Bakers August 2012: Pate a choux Swans

Kat of The Bobwhites was our August 2012 Daring Baker hostess who inspired us to have fun in creating pate a choux shapes, filled with crème patisserie or Chantilly cream. We were encouraged to create swans or any shape we wanted and to go crazy with filling flavors allowing our creativity to go wild!

I knew as soon as I saw this challenge that I would be using this to introduce my neighbors to my baking obsession. I could have made a half batch that would have still been too much for just me and my husband, but when you can take something like this over to the neighbors, what an introduction! They all looked at me kind of strange and asked "you just did this.... for no reason?" and I had to explain about the monthly challenges I do with the assurance that this would be the first of many food presents.

Bingley would like a swan, please.

I have never done pate a choux before, and looking at other bakers' pictures I think mine was a little runny. It didn't take too much time and wasn't all that difficult so I'm not too intimidated to give this another try. I think that these would be so much fun for baby showers or similar events.

Pate a choux
½ cup (120 ml) (115 gm) (4 oz) butter
1 cup (240 ml) water
¼ teaspoon (1½ gm) salt
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm) (5 oz) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

Line at least two baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper, or grease pans well.
Preheat oven to moderately hot 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5 .
In a small saucepot, combine butter, water, and salt. Heat over until butter melts, then remove from stove.
Add flour all at once and beat, beat, beat the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.
Add one egg, and beat until well combined. Add remaining eggs individually, beating vigorously after each addition. Resulting mixture should be somewhat glossy, very smooth, and somewhat thick.
Using a ¼” (6 mm) tip on a pastry bag, pipe out about 36 swan heads. You’re aiming for something between a numeral 2 and a question mark, with a little beak if you’re skilled and/or lucky.
Remove the tip from the bag and pipe out 36 swan bodies. These will be about 1.5” (40 mm) long, and about 1” (25 mm) wide. One end should be a bit narrower than the other.
Bake the heads and bodies until golden and puffy. The heads will be done a few minutes before the bodies, so keep a close eye on the baking process.
Remove the pastries to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before filling.

Take a swan body and use a very sharp knife to cut off the top 1/3rd to ½.
Cut the removed top down the center to make two wings.
Dollop a bit of filling into the body, insert head, and then add wings.

Vanilla Crème Patissiere

(Half Batch)

1 cup (225 ml.) whole milk
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
6 Tbsp. (100 g.) sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. (30 g.) unsalted butter
1 Tsp. Vanilla

Dissolve cornstarch in ¼ cup of milk. Combine the remaining milk with the sugar in a saucepan; bring to boil; remove from heat.
Beat the whole egg, then the yolks into the cornstarch mixture. Pour 1/3 of boiling milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly so that the eggs do not begin to cook.
Return the remaining milk to boil. Pour in the hot egg mixture in a stream, continuing whisking.
Continue whisking (this is important – you do not want the eggs to solidify/cook) until the cream thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat and beat in the butter and vanilla.
Pour cream into a stainless steel/ceramic bowl. Press plastic wrap firmly against the surface. Chill immediately and until ready to use.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Help us decide...

Okay, so this is a non-food related post. My husband and I are trying to decide on colors for the last two areas to be painted in our new house. We are planning on doing a painting extravaganza over Labor Day Weekend but are having a hard time agreeing on color choices.

Because he and I are stubborn and will just sit here and continue liking the color we like, I am enlisting your help. Here are two shots of the room (you'll have to excuse the iPhone photography and light sources.)

This is the front room/living room/ Music Room (so titled because that is where Dave teaches lessons). I do have to admit that he will have to look at this room more than me because he teaches in there and I just have to walk past it when coming downstairs. The room tends to be a bit dark because while it has nice sized windows, right outside is a porch with an overhang that blocks some of the outside light. 

The accent wall color would be going on the wall behind the couch. I made sure to get the colors of the dining room in the photo because I want to make sure that the color schemes help the rooms flow well together.

Here are the color schemes we are looking to use. I won't tell you which I prefer (unless you saw what I posted on Facebook yesterday) in the interest of avoiding "the wife is always right" contributions. Just honest opinions on what you think works better. Like I said, we are both stubborn and will just continue thinking our color scheme is the better of the two until someone comes up with a reason why one works better than the other. If you think they would both be fine, that's cool too, we just need some input.

Color Scheme 1:

Accent Wall Color: Behr Sequoia Dusk

Main wall color: Behr Peanut Butter

Color Scheme #2:

Accent Wall: Behr Plum Shadow
Main Wall Color: Behr Pebbled Courtyard

I like both schemes, I just think for this room one is probably a better fit. So, let me know either in the comments here or on Facebook, if you know me there. Thanks for the help! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Daring Cooks August 2012: Cooking with Cornmeal!

Rachael of pizzarossa was our August 2012 Daring Cook hostess and she challenged us to broaden our knowledge of cornmeal! Rachael provided us with some amazing recipes and encouraged us to hunt down other cornmeal recipes that we’d never tried before – opening our eyes to literally 100s of cuisines and 1000s of new-to-us recipes!

Lots of colors in summer veggies.

We have been doing quite a bit of traveling this month and keeping busy getting ready for the next school year. I've done a couple weeks of beginning band camps- starting a room full of beginners on any instrument is always a fun time. We also added a dog to our little family. His name is Bingley (yes, after the character in Pride and Prejudice.) Bingley is about 2 years old and is just the biggest sweetheart. He is my new helper in the kitchen, stays by my side the whole time I'm in there, although I suspect he is hoping that I'll drop something as much as he is enjoying being near me. 

My new kitchen assistant. Love this dog!

I knew almost immediately after reading this month's challenge that I was going to use the cornmeal for a savory tart with summer veggies. It just sounded too good to pass up the chance to make! This was delicious, although the crust didn't work out exactly how I thought it would. The crust slid down the sides of the pan, but it still turned out okay. I'm glad that the challenge was cooking with cornmeal because I hadn't really ever thought about using cornmeal. My mom always used it when she made fried chicken, but I was not aware of the multitude of recipe options with cornmeal. I'll definitely be using it again!

Doesn't look like much on the plate, but it sure tasted delicious!

Savory Summer Tart
(adapted from Williams Sonoma)

Cornmeal crust:
1 cup flour
¼ cup cornmeal
½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
8 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
3 Tbs ice water, plus more as needed

1. In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and pulse until combined (4-6 pulses). Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the ice water and pulse 4-5 times. The dough should hold together but not be too sticky, if it is crumbly or not fully combined add more water, 1 tsp at a time, pulsing twice after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape into disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

2. Preheat oven to 425℉. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 13 inch round. Transfer to a 10 inch cast iron pan, pressing the dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. Fold under the overhanging dough and flute the edges. Prick the sides and bottom of dough, refrigerate for 10 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake 12 minutes, pricking the pastry with a fork if it puffs up. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. 

Tart Filling:
4 bacon slices, diced, cooked and fat reserved
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into ¼ inch strips
2 ears of corn, kernels cut off cobs
4 oz green beans cut into ½ inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch chard, ribs removed and leaves cut into strips
1 ¼ cups half and half
3 eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

3. Reduce oven heat to 375℉. To make filling, in a large skillet over medium high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat. Add the onion, bell pepper and corn kernels and cook until the vegetables are just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the green beans, salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. 

4. Warm 1 teaspoon of bacon fat in the pan. Add the chard and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the onion mixture. 

5. Whisk together the half and half, eggs and salt and pepper. Stir in the bacon, cheese and vegetable mixture and pour into the crust. Transfer to the oven and bake until a knife inserted into the center of the tart comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Daring Bakers July 2012: Crisp, crunchy crackers!

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

I'm sitting at my mom's house in Iowa, bemoaning my (once again) procrastination. I fully intended to write up this blog weeks ago after I baked the crackers. But (as usual) I kept telling myself there was time. Well, now I'm in Iowa and the recipes I thought were stored on my computer are not. There are back-up printouts that I actually used to bake the crackers, but they are in a drawer in Wisconsin. So you'll have to wait to see those until I get back on Sunday. But for now, enjoy the pictures! 

I made 4 different kinds of crackers, homemade Wheat Thins, Parmesan and Flax , Rosemary and Parmesan Icebox Crackers, and Carta di Musica (How could I not?!), a crisp Italian cracker. We had them with the obligatory cheese and meat tray at a birthday get together at our new house. Interesting results on what people liked: my husband, who I thought would like them, did not like the flax crackers at all. My father in law, who is quite selective in what he enjoys loved the flax crackers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Daring Cooks July 2012: Cooking En Papillote

Our July 2012 Daring Cooks’ host was Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie! Sarah challenges us to learn a new cooking technique called “Cooking En Papillote” which is French and translates to “cooking in parchment”.

I have been wanting to try this cooking method for a while now and as usual, I am so glad to be a "Daring Cook" to give me a little push towards actually doing it! I was interested in trying this out because it is a healthy way to prepare a delicious dinner and wanted to see if the time to make these little individual parchment packets was really worth it.

I found that making the parchment packets was not even time consuming. It added no more than a few seconds, honestly chopping all the veggies (which you would do anyway) was the longest part of the preparation. I also really liked how each parchment packet was a serving.

The verdict on cooking en papillote? Super easy, perfect for fish, and after doing a little research, I really want to try different ingredients (did you know you can do fruit?! It looks ridiculously good.)

I made tilapia and lots of summer veggies, but if you do a little thinking about how everything will cook, making sure it will take the same amount of time, I think the possibilities are numerous for combinations.

Tilapia En Papillote
(two servings)

2 Tilapia filets
1 red pepper, cut in thin strips
1 small Summer squash, cut in rounds
1 small zucchini, cut in rounds
1 bunch asparagus (you don't have to use the whole thing, but I did)
your favorite seasoning mix
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
2 pieces parchment paper, cut in 24 inch diameter

1. Preheat oven to 375℉. Fold parchment in half, place tilapia against the fold and cover with veggies. Sprinkle with seasoning mix and wine. Dot with butter.

2. Fold parchment paper over itself and twist edges closed. Place on a baking tray and bake for 20-25 minutes. Parchment will be puffed and slightly browned when the dish is finished.

You can open the parchment packets at the table if you want to "wow" everyone, or simply plate it before serving. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Daring Bakers June 2012: Battenberg Cake

So I feel like this could be the most ridiculous post ever, simply because there is so much to tell about! I got to break in the new kitchen with this awesome challenge recipe, we went to California for our honeymoon/anniversary trip. We got to do a wine tasting in this castle. Really. Probably the coolest thing we did on our trip! If you are ever in the Calistoga area, make sure you check out Castello di Amorosa.

We also checked out the sights of San Francisco and brought home enough wine that we won't need to buy more for quite a while. It was a really fantastic trip, I'm so glad we waited for a year to do our honeymoon and took a big trip! Then we came home to boxes to unpack. Every day the house looks more and more like people actually live here.

I feel like I'm always coming in under the wire on these challenges and making excuses for why the pictures suck and everything looks rushed. I think I just need to finally admit that I'm a procrastinator. These cakes were inspired by the Royal Jubilee, but I made mine with another anniversary in mind. One year ago I married the love of my life (insert sappy "aww" here) with my very best friends by my side. It was a really beautiful day and a year later I am still incredibly happy.

A traditional Battenberg is almond flavored with a marzipan covering and has pink and yellow squares. I'm a little wary of marzipan and wanted to try something a little different. In searching for different recipes I found a chocolate version and was immediately interested. As I've said before, when given the option to do a non-traditional recipe that involves chocolate, you add the chocolate! The chocolate plastique instead of the marzipan was just the... uh, icing on the cake?

Mandy of What the Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry's techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease.

Dark Chocolate Plastique/Modelling Chocolate

200 gm/7oz good quality Dark Chocolate
¼ cup light corn syrup

1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water, stir occasionally.

2. Once completely melted, remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.

3. Stir in corn syrup, it will seize up almost immediately, just keep stirring until mixed and it comes away from the sides of the bowl.

4. Transfer chocolate into a sealable bag, spread the chocolate out and then seal the bag.

5. Leave overnight or refrigerate for about 2 hours until completely firm.

6. Turn out from the bag and knead on a surface dusted with powdered sugar (or a silpat), at first it will just break, but as you knead, it will warm up and start to become pliable.

7. Knead until it's pliable enough to mould, 5-10 minutes. When ready to use, roll out on silpat to a 10x13 rectangle then use to cover the assembled cake.

Chocolate Battenberg (adapted from Jamie Oliver Magazine)
3 sticks butter, plus extra for greasing
1¾ cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
2¼ cups self-rising flour
⅓ cup ground almonds
⅓ cup cocoa
raspberry jam 
1 recipe chocolate plastique (above)

1. Preheat oven to 350℉ and grease 2 small loaf tins.

2. Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time until combined. Fold in the flour.

3. Divide the batter evenly into two bowls. In one bowl, fold in the vanilla and one tablespoon of the milk. In the other fold in the almonds, cocoa and remaining tablespoon of milk.

4. Spoon batter into each of the tins. Bake both for 30-40 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

5. To assemble, warm the jam. Level off the tops and sides of the cakes with a knife so each cake is a rectangle and the same size. Cut in half lengthways  so you have two long strips of each.

6. Join the 4 cake strips with the jam between the layers so that you have a checkerboard pattern. Trim any uneven sides. Wrap with the chocolate plastique. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Daring Cooks June 2012: Cannelloni!

Manu from Manu's Menu was our Daring Cooks lovely June hostess and has challenged us to make traditional Italian cannelloni from scratch! We were taught how to make the pasta, filling, and sauces shared with us from her own and her family's treasured recipes!

You'll have to excuse the paper plate. I already packed the dishes.
My husband and I are now home owners!! We are so excited and slightly nervous about the reality of not having a landlord anymore. At the moment you are reading this, I am probably knee deep in boxes, trying to figure out where everything goes in our new house. I actually waited until sort of the last minute to make this month's challenge (that has been happening a lot lately...) because I was hoping to have this be the inaugural meal made in my new kitchen. Unfortunately that didn't happen. Instead, I held off packing anything in the kitchen until the day before the move so I could do this challenge as the last glorious send off of the old kitchen.

When I read about this month's challenge I texted my husband immediately and told him about it. He is (as I have mentioned before) Italian and his family has their own tried and true recipes for delicious sauce and Italian dishes. I was excited to try making pasta from scratch, even though I knew that without a pasta maker I was in for a lot of rolling pin work.

Fast forward to this past Sunday. The school year finished on Friday, we had just found out that we would in fact be closing on the house on the 12th, and oh yeah, we are leaving for our honeymoon trip to Napa, Sonoma, and San Francisco on the 17th. I had just finished packing up about 50% of what needs to be packed, moved lots of heavy boxes and now I'm rolling out egg noodles. Stress levels in our house were high, but the smell of sautéing onions, and homemade tomato sauce helps with that. So does wine :)

I'll just say one more thing: homemade pasta is worth it. Yes it is slightly time consuming, but not too bad. My mom always told me that a pasta maker is just an appliance that takes up room in your cabinet, but I am beginning to think that I need one. Until then, I'll continue rolling it out by hand.

Fresh Egg Pasta
What you need to know about egg pasta is that it is simple. All you need: a proportional amount of egg to flour, one egg to every 100 grams of flour.

Ingredients (to make 4 servings of cannelloni)
100 grams (⅔ cup plus 2 teaspoons) all purpose flour
1 large egg

Directions (for rolling by hand)
1. Put the flour and egg into a food processor and mix. When the dough looks like crumbs, pour it onto a countertop sprinkled with flour. Knead well by hand until you obtain a smooth dough. Make it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.

2. Cut out a piece of egg pasta dough and flatten it into a rectangular shape with your hands. Roll dough flat and thin, about 1mm thick. Cut into rectangular sheets for cannelloni (4"x6").

Béchamel Sauce
Ingredients (enough for the 4 serving Cannelloni dish)
2 cups milk, hot
3½ tablespoons butter
⅓ cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 pinch nutmeg

1. Put the butter in a non-stick pot and let it melt. Add the flour and whisk constantly until well incorporated: this is the "roux". Let it cook for a minute or two.

2. Now start adding hot milk little by little, while mixing continuously until the milk is well incorporated. Do not add more milk unless it is well incorporated. Keep doing so until all the milk is incorporated.

3. Add salt and nutmeg and cook on a low flame for 10 minutes or until it thickens.

4. When ready, cover it to prevent a film to appear on the surface.

Cannelloni di carne

Meat filling ingredients
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons white wine
1½ cups Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
¾ cups of the béchamel sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Tomato sauce
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2¾ cups tomato purée
a few basil leaves
salt and pepper to taste

To assemble
The remaining béchamel sauce
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated

1. Start by cooking the meat for the filling. Put the 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a pan with the chopped onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Now add the meat and bay leaf and stir well with a wooden spoon making sure you remove all the lumps. Brown the meat well. Add the white wine and raise the fire to burn off the alcohol. Cook for 10 minutes on medium heat and then keep it aside to cool down. (At this point, I actually drained the meat even though it wasn't in the recipe.)

2. Now prepare the tomato sauce. Place the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot with the chopped onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Now add the tomato purée, salt, pepper and basil. Cover and cook on low for 20 minutes. Then keep it aside to cool down.

3. To make the filling, mix the cooked meat with ¾ cup of béchamel sauce and 1½ cups of Parmigiano Reggiano. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

4. Put a large pot with salty water on the stove and bring to a boil. I used a large shallow pan to make the noodles more manageable. Cook the pasta sheets in the water for 1 minute. Do in batches and place on a clean tea towel to cool.

5. Now take one sheet of cooked pasta and put 1/8 of the filling along the long side of the rectangle. Roll it over to make a cannellone. Do so for the remaining rectangles of pasta.

6. Take a big enough dish to fit all our cannelloni tightly. Spray it with some cooking oil (or melted butter) and pour some tomato sauce on the bottom. Spread it well, especially in the corners. Put the cannelloni in the oven dish on 1 layer.

7. Cover the cannelloni with the remaining tomato sauce and 1¼ cup béchamel sauce and sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano.

8. Bake in a pre-heated 350℉ oven for 20 minutes. Then broil them at 400℉ for another 5 minutes. Serve immediately.