Friday, February 27, 2009

King Cake

Oh, King Cake, how I love you in all your Mardi Gras gaudiness.

In the days leading up to Fat Tuesday, I like to complain a lot about making King Cakes because...well, it's a little bit of a pain and seeing that I always make it for Fat TUESDAY, that means I'm baking on a Monday night. (I know, the problems I have are probably bringing a tear to your eye as you read this.)

Nevertheless, there I was this past Monday baking away and it would be disingenuous to pretend that I wasn't quite pleased with how perfect this year's cake turned out. I only ever do what Emeril tells me to, but this time I did well with the uniformity of the colored sugar and the roundness of the cake.

King Cake, really, is a sweetened yeast bread. I love it's lemon-scented doughy simplicity. The trifecta of bold sugars is nothing but fun and yes, the colors mean something: Purple for Justice, Gold for Power, and Green for Faith.

The other special thing about the King Cake is the little trinket that gets hidden inside. This can range from a little plastic baby (I know, weird), a coin, a dried bean, or a pecan. The first time I ever made this, I proudly presented it to The Chef and after he stared at it, looking intently at every angle for an annoying amount of time, he cut the first piece and got the coin. Great.

For Emeril's recipe, click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Whole Wheat Cranberry Pecan Bread

If there is some pent-up aggression that needs working out, this bread is the perfect thing to bake. Don't underestimate the amount of sheer force it will take to incorporate the chopped cranberries and pecans into the dough. I found myself on the verge of a sweat at one point.

This bread was my first foray into using a sponge starter, which is just a mixture of flour, yeast and water. It is set aside for many hours and provides the loaf with a richer flavor.

For the sponge:
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup water

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside for 12-24 hours. I set my bowl on the radiator which has become my essential kitchen tool lately. It won't look like much of anything but a rough floury dough at first, but the next day, it will be foamy with a few bubbles on the surface.

For one large, rustic lovely loaf:

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon King Arthur Whole-Grain Bread Improver
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cranberry juice
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped (I used my food processor)
  • 1 tablespoon turbinado sugar
In the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment, whisk together the yeast, flours cinnamon, salt, and the Whole Grain Bread Improver. Beat in the sponge, oil, agave nectar, water and juice until well combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead it for about 5 minutes, adding a bit of flour if the dough is sticking to the bowl.

Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Place the risen dough on a lightly greased surface and press it into a flat circle. Sprinkle half the cranberries and half the pecans over the surface and roll up into a cylinder. Knead away, not becoming too worried when the dough takes on an alarming magenta color. Once the first bit is worked in fairly well, keep adding the cranberries and pecans until they are all kneaded in. Form into a 6-inch ball and place on a greased baking sheet, covered loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap. Set aside for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the loaf and bake for 45 minutes, covering loosely with foil after 20 minutes to prevent too much darkening. Let cool on a wire rack.

Friday, February 20, 2009

French Lentil, Beet & Asparagus Salad

Straight away, I must be forgiven for eating out of season asparagus. I am so yearning for the spring months and am in denial about the dark days of February.

I love French green lentils, sometimes called Lentils de Puy, particularly in salads. They are quite sturdy and hold up to most any dressing. A couple roasted, cubed beets add lovely color and a sprinkling of salty pepitas and piquant minced preserved lemon infuses this faux-spring salad with some zip. I’m trying to eat more beets and pepitas since the New York Times tells me I should, along with all the other superingredients. This salad is a good start.

For four servings:

  • 1 cup French green lentils
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 beets
  • 1 cup pencil thin asparagus, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 2-3 wedges preserved lemon, well rinsed, pulp discarded, rind minced
  • 3 tablespoons roasted and salted pepitas
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

  • For white wine vinaigrette:

  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 10-12 fresh mint leaves
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

  • Up to 2 days before, roast the beets: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim off the ends and place the beets on a large sheet of foil. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Make a sealed packet, and place in the oven. Roast for 45-60 minutes. Let cool, peel, and cube. Refrigerate until ready to use.

    Add the lentils to a pot, cover with salted water, add the carrots and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes. Drain and set aside. In another pot, bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes, just until tender. Drain, place in an ice-water bath to cool and set aside.

    In a large bowl, add the cooked lentil/carrot mixture, the cubed beets, the asparagus, the preserved lemon and the pepitas. Combine thoroughly.

    In a blender add all the vinaigrette ingredients and blend until thoroughly emulsified. Add the vinaigrette to the lentil salad to taste, adjusting the salt and pepper if necessary.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009


    I love goat cheese, The Chef drinks goat’s milk; the next logical step would be to make cajeta, a Mexican dessert sauce and spread that is essentially dulce de leche’s goaty cousin. I don’t think it too outrageous to say that cajeta is perhaps more delicious, and more complex, than the much-loved dulce de leche. The goat’s milk adds a subtle tang and mystery to the goodness which is quite divine.

    Before I delved into making my first batch of cajeta, I read up on it in several different cookbooks, but ultimately went with Rick Bayless’ method, varying the ingredients a wee bit based on other recipes I came across. A number of them said that cajeta can be made with one part goat’s milk and one part cow’s milk but I figured, if we’re going goat then let’s go for the goat gusto.

    To make about 3 cups of cajeta:
    • 2 quarts of goat’s milk
    • 2 cups of sugar
    • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of warm water

    In a heavy pot, such as a Le Crueset, combine all the ingredients except the baking soda over medium heat. Stir frequently until the sugar dissolves and is just at a simmer. Take the pot off the heat and add the baking soda. It will get quite foamy and rise up like a chemistry experiment gone awry but stir away and it will settle down.

    Return the pot over medium high heat and stir constantly. If it foams up and seems like it might overflow, turn the heat down a bit. I found that the cajeta would foam up in fits and starts which means I had to camp out next to the stove, fiddling with the heat and stirring almost the entire time. The mixture needs to boil in order to reduce and caramelize so keep it at a fairly high heat while it does its thing, stirring often so the bottom doesn’t scorch.

    After an hour of the mixture boiling away, it should take on a lovely butterscotch tone and the bubbles on the surface will get larger. Keep a small saucer in the freezer and from time to time, spoon a few drops of the cajeta onto the cold plate to get a general sense of the consistency. The end result can be more of a pouring caramel to dip churros in, or, reduced even further, it can be a spread for cookies and cakes. Boil away and test until it is the desired consistency.

    When ready, pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl and set aside to cool. The cajeta will keep, refrigerated, for a month.

    Adapted from a recipe in Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Sweet Soufflé Omelet

    It’s troubling when the people we love turn out to have a fault that wasn’t exactly anticipated. For example, I served this omelet at a brunch and my dear friend Scott confided that it tasted like eggy bile. Really, I could only feel sympathy for him, not anger, because this omelet is pure ethereal goodness.

    This isn’t really an omelet at all in the traditional sense as it is not filled or rolled. Rather, the eggs are separated, the whites whipped to an airy fluff, while the yolks are combined with a touch of flour, milk and sugar. The bottom of the pan has a melted marmalade/butter combination that almost turns to a caramel when it's done baking.

    Some nights, when The Chef is working, I cut this recipe in half, bake it in a small cast iron pan and have a very special dinner for one.

    For 2-3 servings:
    • 4 eggs, separated

    • 1/2 cup milk

    • 1 tablespoon flour

    • 1/2 teaspoon salt

    • 2 tablespoons sugar

    • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

    • 1/4 cup orange marmalade

    • Powdered sugar

    Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a mixer, add the egg whites and beat until just stiff. In another bowl, whisk together the yolks, milk, flour, salt and sugar. Fold the whites into the yolk mixture.

    Set a 9-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat and add the butter and marmalade, stirring frequently until the mixture is combined and melted. Pour in the egg batter, evenly distributing it in the pan and smoothing the top. Let it cook for a couple minutes, without disturbing it.

    Put the skillet in the oven and bake until it is golden and quite puffed, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately dusted with a bit of powdered sugar.

    Adapted from a recipe in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Sesame Scallion Pancakes

    There’s no getting around it, these are a bit fussy to make. So fussy in fact, that I really wouldn’t have posted them if the end result weren’t so delicious. I have seen several different recipes for them and was intrigued not only by the idea of a savory Asian pancake, but by the decidedly odd preparation method. I am quite certain that it would be loads more fun making this with a group of friends, all standing around the kitchen, eating the hot pancakes as they come off the pan.

    The ingredients required a trip to the local Asian grocer, in my case United Noodles, to restock some of my favorite pantry items. As I perused the produce, I came across some thick, green Chinese chives which I substituted for the more traditional scallions. I also grabbed some black sesame seeds which I always get because I love their unusual fanciness.

    For eight pancakes:

    • 3 cups cake flour

    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

    • 1 teaspoon baking powder

    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

    • 2 tablespoons peanut oil

    • 1 3/4 cups boiling water

    • 1 cup finely chopped scallions or Chinese chives

    • 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

    • 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

    • 8 tablespoons peanut oil

    In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, the 2 tablespoons of peanut oil and the boiling water. Add the scallions and sesame seeds and mix again. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 3-4 minutes, adding more flour if the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl. Set the bowl aside, covered with a towel, and let the dough rest for 30-60 minutes.

    On a lightly floured surface, pat and roll the dough into a log 2 inches thick. Divide it evenly into 8 pieces.

    Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Add one tablespoon of the peanut oil, swirling around the pan to coat.

    Take one of the pieces of dough, and with a rolling pin, roll it into a rough 6 inch circle. Brush one side with the sesame oil, roll into a cylinder and then coil it into a tight spiral shape. Flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand and then roll it out again into a 6 inch circle, keeping your work surface slightly floured as you go. Place it in the hot pan and cook, about 2 minutes per side, until browned in spots and crisp. Cut into wedges and serve immediately or keep it warm in the oven until all pancakes are cooked.

    As each pancake cooks, repeat the above procedure with the remaining dough, adding a tablespoon of peanut oil to the pan before adding each cake.

    I ate the pancake with my favorite bright orange sweet Asian chili sauce but I am sure there are many other sauces that would go just as well. If you aren't planning on eating all the pancakes immediately, you can freeze them, with a square of wax paper between each cake, sealed in a freezer bag.

    Adapted from a recipe in Spices of Life by Nina Simonds

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    Crunchy Curried Chickpeas

    I’m the kind of girl who eats a little something every few hours, so snacks are a big part of my day. Typically I eat yogurt, popcorn, an apple, a granola bar or some steamed edamame. Oftentimes, I lose all willpower and eat cake.

    This chickpea recipe, from a cookbook long neglected, fulfills many snack requirements: they are crunchy, well spiced with sweet curry and have that amazing sweet and salty attribute which I am such a sucker for. The downside of this unique snack is that I could eat all the goodness in one sitting, easily.

    For two cups:
    • 1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed and dried with paper towels

    • 3 tablespoons sugar

    • 3 tablespoons peanut oil

    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

    • 2 teaspoons sweet curry powder

    Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small bowl, combine the salt and curry powder and set aside.

    Heat the peanut oil over medium high heat in a large skillet and add the chickpeas and the sugar, stirring gently every few minutes so as not to break them up, until they are a golden caramel color, about 6-8 minutes.

    Transfer the chickpeas to a bowl and pour the spice mixture over them, stirring well but gently to coat. Pour the chickpeas onto a sheet pan and place in the oven for 45-50 minutes, giving the pan a small shake occasionally. Allow them to cool completely on the sheet pan, and then transfer to an airtight container which is sort of unnecessary because they will very likely be eaten straight away.

    One thing to note, I made two batches of these and found it takes a bit of chance cooking them just right. If they are undercooked, they don't crunch up and if they are overcooked, they are teeth-shattering rocks. Don't stray from the 45-50 minute cooking time.

    Adapted from a recipe in Taste by Williams Sonoma.

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    Fresh Ricotta

    It’s an honor to be guest Lad, so thanks to Erin for inviting me. I thought this would be an appropriate posting since it reminded me that many things are easily made at home—and they’re better, too!

    I’m friends with Sally Swift, who produces the radio show “The Splendid Table” with Lynne Rossetto Kasper. This past weekend I ran into Sally at a dinner party and we were talking cooking. I proudly told her that I had starting making my own ravioli, but pride turned to shame when she discovered I purchased ricotta cheese for the filling. “Oh, but Eric, it’s SO easy to make yourself!” My cheeks flushed and I vowed to learn more about it.

    The next day I opened up “The Splendid Table” cookbook and turned to page 454. Sally was absolutely right; it’s a snap. First, heat up some milk, cream and lemon juice to 170 degrees over low heat, not stirring more than 3-4 times. This must be done slowly—mine took 45 minutes to come to that temperature. Once you reach 170, increase the heat to medium and bring it to 208 degrees without stirring. Then turn off the heat and let it sit. After 10 minutes, pour it into a damp, double thickness cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl, and if you’re like me, a light bulb will go off over your head as you finally understand why it’s called “cheesecloth.” Let it drain for 15 minutes, add our friend, salt, and you’re all set! You’ve got smooth and creamy ricotta cheese that you’ll want to eat by the handful.

    A couple of things to note about making ricotta: non-reactive pans and utensils must be used. And pasteurized cream is recommended, which is a little harder to find than ultrapasteurized; I found Cedar Summit Farms cream worked perfectly.

    For a pound of ricotta cheese:
    • 2½ quarts whole milk
    • ¾ cup less 1 tablespoon heavy cream, pasteurized but not ultrapasteurized or sterilized
    • 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)

    Follow the directions above, and, when finished, turn the cheese into a covered storage container, add salt if desired, and refrigerate the ricotta until needed. The finished cheese keeps 4 days in the refrigerator.

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    Crème Fraîche

    I discovered crème fraîche while enjoying a proper high tea at the Drake Hotel in Chicago when I was a child. I was initially perplexed at why everyone was putting a dollop of sour cream on their scones and, not wanting to appear uncouth, I put a smidge on mine next to the strawberry preserves. Crème fraîche and I fell in love.

    Crème fraîche, French for “fresh cream” has the subtle nuttiness and luxurious texture which reminds me of my adoration of all things dairy. For years I have bought it at the store for a treat to serve with pancakes, scones, as a topping for various fruits, and in savory, creamy dishes too. For ultimate comfort, I have been known to take a piece of crusty baguette, spread it with crème fraiche and drizzle it with orange blossom honey.

    I knew that it could be made at home but didn’t attempt it until this weekend. After such minimal effort, I just feel foolish for buying it all these years.

    For a cup of crème fraîche, combine 1 cup heavy whipping cream and 2 tablespoons of buttermilk in a glass bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. I figured it would do better with some warmth so I just set the bowl on the radiator in my kitchen and looked at it every now and then. After 24 hours, it was quite thick, and once refrigerated, it thickened even more. Voila!

    Here are some recipes that use crème fraîche in all its creamy, French glory:

    Cherry Lime Cobbler with Crème Fraîche Biscuits from Bon Appetit

    Crème Fraîche Ice Cream from Gourmet

    Mussels in White Wine and Crème Fraîche from The New York Times

    Roasted Figs with Vanilla Crème Fraîche from Williams Sonoma

    Coddled Eggs with Wild Mushrooms and Crème Fraîche from Martha Stewart

    Sunday, February 1, 2009

    Grapefruit Orange Curd

    This began as a disaster. I was all excited to whip up a curd, saw all the beautiful citrus at the grocery store and decided to do a grapefruit orange combination. I also wanted to make a real curd which is juice, sugar, eggs, egg yolks and butter without any additional stabilizers like cornstarch or gelatin. Things began well. The citrus made a lovely color juice, the other ingredients added incredible richness, but I made the mistake of keeping to close to the recipe and not trusting my instincts.

    The ingredients for a curd are to be combined in a heat-proof bowl and whisked over a pan of boiling water until it reaches a temperature of 170 degrees. If it reaches 180, the eggs scramble. Feeling this was an exact science, I ignored that my curd was runny, that it didn't seem properly curd-like, and instead stared obsessively at my thermometer. My delusions continued when I decided that it would "become" curd once it was fully chilled. Um, no. It was liquid, and what was worse, it was separating in the jar.

    The Chef got home later that night and I was in full curd despair. He proclaimed I was acting insufferably, and reminded me that there are many factors to consider when making any sauce, whether it be hollandaise, beurre blanc, etc. For instance, my thermometer could be off a bit.

    The next day I poured the curd back into my heat-proof bowl, stirred it over the boiling water and gave it the time it needed, resulting in a rich, satiny sauce with subtle citrus tang and a gorgeous color. I let it reach 180 on my thermometer before it seemed the right consistency, so since I didn't end up with a scrambled sauce, my thermometer is clearly a bit off.

    There are many, delicious things to do with this traditionally British sauce. Serve it with scones, biscuits or toast. Fold it into whipped cream. Use as a filling for cakes or tarts. Or, eat it with a spoon like I have been trying not to do all day.

    My curd consisted of:

    • 1/2 cup strained fresh orange juice
    • 1/2 cup strained fresh grapefruit juice
    • 1 2/3 cup sugar
    • 4 eggs
    • 7 egg yolks
    • 10 tablesoons unsalted butter
    Below is a link to a very informative page from Williams Sonoma with detailed curd making instructions. The curd will keep, in the refrigerator, for 2 weeks to a month.

    For instructions on making fruit curds, click here.