Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not Neglecting, Just Moving

The recipes have been scarce lately, I know. I'm sorry! I am in the process of moving from Chicago back to New York, which requires some serious long-distance commuting and leaves me with no time to cook, bake, or blog. And no, sadly, I don't have a stockpile of photos of dishes I've made before. Only the freshest for you! I like to type up recipes within a day of making them, so that all the details are fresh in my mind.

I assure you that after the first week of April this blog will be back in full swing, as soon as I get my kitchen gear unpacked. Perhaps I'll try to make it up to you with the array of desserts I will have made for the housewarming party.

The best I can do is show you these pretty pictures from a food market in Barcelona.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lemon Tart

As I have mentioned before, I give my friends baked goods of their choice for their birthdays. This particular birthday dessert was hummed and hawed for over a month, and at the last minute, Richard decided on a simple lemon tart. Thankfully, too, because I had a plane to catch and was having trouble finding enough hazelnuts for the originally planned pastry. I have been wanting to try a vodka-based crust, having recently heard of them over beers. Yes, my friends and I talk dough when we go out drinking.

This lemon tart can also be made into mini tarts, in muffin pans or mini tart pans. Just roll the dough out to a large rectangle and cut to size. They taste like glorified lemon bars, with a more flavorful crust and a really nice consistency. If you are feeling crafty, you can make a stencil for the powdered sugar using parchment paper.

Lemon Tart

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 large egg
2 tbsp vodka
1/2 tsp ground ginger

2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350º.

In a large bowl, blend the flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg, ginger, and vodka with a hand mixer. When it starts to look evenly distributed, knead it a bit with your hands until a smooth dough forms.

Roll the dough into a ball and place it between two pieces of parchment paper. Roll out to about 1/4" thick, it should be about 14" across. Remove the top layer of parchment paper, and place the tart pan upside down on the dough. Carefully flip it over and peel the other layer of parchment off. Lightly press the dough into the pan, then roll your rolling pin around the edges to trim excess dough. Prick the bottom generously with a fork to let air bubbles out.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are slightly golden. Prepare the lemon filling while it cools.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Add the baking powder and flour, then stir the mixture into the eggs. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour over the crust and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gingerbread Cookies

Sure, gingerbread is often reserved for Christmas cookies, but I don't see why. It's still cold enough in early spring to enjoy the warm sensation of all that ginger, so why not make gingerbread bunnies? I also make gingerbread fish and octopi, in the summer.

The cookie recipe is from the Cook's Illustrated baking book. The icing is so basic I have no idea where I got the recipe, it's just confectioners' sugar and milk. Wilton has a really nice pre-made cookie icing in a bottle with a tip that lets you ice your cookies without much mess, if you don't want to go to the trouble of making icing.

Iced Gingerbread Cookies
makes about 30 cookies

3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground dried ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) butter at room temperature, cut into pieces
3/4 cup molasses
2 tbsp milk

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and salt. Toss the butter pieces on top and mix in with a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the molasses and milk and continue mixing until the dough forms.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one portion at a time, roll out the dough between two pieces of parchment paper to about 1/4" thick. Lay both rolled-out dough pieces on a cookie sheet and freeze until firm, about 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350º and adjust the racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions.
Remove one sheet of dough from the freezer and cut into shapes, transferring them carefully to about an inch apart on the cookie sheet with a spatula. Bake 8 to 11 minutes, rotating the cookie sheets halfway through. Let cool completely before icing.

Cookie Icing:

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup milk

Whisk or sift the sugar to remove any lumps. Whisk in the milk and add food coloring as desired.
Use an icing bag to decorate cookies. You can add a few drops of lemon or orange juice to the mix for a slightly more interesting flavor.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Steamed Pork Buns

These are a lot easier to make than they look, but they have to rise repeatedly so I recommend making them on a weekend afternoon, just so you don't have to stress about the time. It goes like this: Make the dough, knead it forever, let it rise, fill, shape, let it rise again, and steam it. They get easier as you go, and they're really good so it's worth it.
The dough recipe is from Dim Sum by Rhoda Yee, a cookbook my mom gave me last year. (It's nice to have a mom who sends cook books!) This book is great for anyone who wants to learn how to make dim sum, it's got a ton of recipes and a glossary of Chinese ingredients in the back, as well as really lovely drawings showing how to fold the various buns and noodles around the fillings.
If you don't have a steamer (I don't), you can wing it by simmering about 1 1/2" of water in a large skillet or wok, and set a wire cookie-cooling rack on top. Place the buns on the rack, and cover the whole rack with a large mixing bowl to keep the steam in. Works like a charm.

Steamed Pork Buns
makes 1 dozen, about 1 total hour of work + up to 4 hours dough rising time.

Pork Bun Filling:
1 lb ground pork
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sherry
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp finely chopped green onions
1 tsp ginger
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Set in the fridge until ready to use.

Steamed Bun Dough:
1 1/8 tsp yeast (half a packet)
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
3 1/4 cup all purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water in a large bowl. Add the baking powder right away, then mix the flour in with a pastry cutter or your hands. The dough will be firm and a little on the dry side, but if it's so dry that it cracks while kneading, add a little more water by wetting your hands and kneading some more. Knead for 20 minutes (I know, I know, but that's what makes the dough soft) until it is elastic and smooth. Place it back in the big mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough and knead it for 5 minutes. Now it's ready to be made into buns.

Cut a dozen squares of parchment paper, about 2.5" across.
Grab a golfball sized piece of dough and roll it into a ball with your hands. Lay it between two pieces of parchment paper and roll it out to a 4" disc. Set a heaping tablespoon of pork filling on the center of the bun and fold up 4 corners, pinch them together well. Pinch the remaining edges into the center, then pinch and twist the whole closure to ensure it's well sealed. Place seam-side-down on a piece of parchment paper and set aside, 2" apart on a cookie sheet.
When all the buns are formed, cover with a towel and let rise one more hour.

Place the buns (with paper) an inch apart on the steamer rack and cover, let cook over the boiling water for about 10 minutes. The pork may still look pink when it's done due to the seasonings.

Serve with a mix of 1/4 cup hoisin sauce, 1/4 cup soy sauce, with some green onions and red pepper flakes mixed in.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Holy Brownies

I admit it, I love box brownies. I grew up on them like most of us did, and I feel like brownies are supposed to be chewy around the edges, with a crisp little edge at the top, and a flaky lighter brown top that crumbles like the top layer of a croissant. (Is your mouth watering yet?) So a few years ago I set out to create that kind of brownie from scratch. I made brownies every night for a week (my 7 roommates at the time didn't mind taste testing), and made the Perfect brownies. Then promptly lost the recipe. Two years later I got over it and tried again, and this recipe is the result. It stands up to my roomie's brownie scrutiny, so it's gotta be pretty good.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, of course. But. These brownies will blow your mind. Well, maybe not, but they will melt in your mouth. Theyliterally dissolve on your tongue, if you eat them when they've cooled just enough not to burn you. You can leave off the coconut, or replace it with chocolate chips or peanut butter chips or marshmallow creme, or flecks of sea salt. There are so many ways to dress up a brownie, though I assure you these need no dressing up. If you don't have brown sugar handy, just use granulated sugar for all of it.

The Holy Brownies

1 1/4 sticks butter
4 1-oz squares of baking chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup coconut flakes

Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a 9" pan with cooking spray or lightly butter it.
In a sauce pan, melt the butter and chocolate over low heat. If it gets too hot, the brownies will be grainy and taste burnt. It should take at least 5 minutes to melt.
Remove the sauce pot from heat and whisk in the cocoa until fully blended, then whisk in the sugar, then eggs one at a time, then vanilla, and finally the flour.
Pour into the pan and sprinkle an even coating of coconut on top. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 35 minutes, or until the edges are solid and the middle is still a little gooey. In my oven, the brownies puff up a full inch but settle back down flat when they cool. Do not be alarmed if it starts to look like cake while it's baking.
Let cool at least ten minutes before cutting, longer is better.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Brown Sugar Coffeecake Muffins

Let's be honest, we all want to eat cupcakes for breakfast. These muffins look like muffins, sure, but they taste like cupcakes. The recipe makes 16 muffins or one 13"x9" cake. if you don't have any sour milk handy, measure it out and squirt a little lemon juice into it.

Brown Sugar Coffeecake

1/2 cup butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

2 eggs
1 cup sour milk


1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons margarine

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line muffin pan with paper cups or grease cake pan. In a small bowl, mix the crumble ingredients with a whisk and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the brown sugar and butter. Add the flour and baking soda, mix in completely. Add the eggs and milk and combine, mix until smooth. Drop into muffin pan, 2 tablespoons of batter per cup. Add a heaping tablespoon of crumble mix to the top of each muffin.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes or until browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cream Puffs with Mascarpone and Ricotta

Most cream puffs are made with a French pastry cream, but I'm a cheese lover. Also, I had a bunch of leftover ricotta from making pizza the other day, and wanted to make a fancy dessert for a potluck we hosted Saturday night. It took me two solid days to decide between cream puffs or cannoli, but I didn't have a cannoli form nor did I feel like going out in the cold to get one.

I strongly recommend that you cut or poke a hole in them to let the steam out as soon as possible when they come out of the oven, or they will deflate. These deflated, but they were still delightful. If you don't have an icing bag, you can put the dough in a plastic baggie and cut off one corner so that it's about a 1/2" opening.

Cream Puffs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
7 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Combine water, milk, butter, salt, and sugar in a small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Take it off the heat, add flour and baking powder, return to heat, and mix quickly. Lower the heat and mix for one minute. Transfer to a bowl and add two eggs. Mix with a hand mixer until incorporated, then add the other two eggs one at a time and continue mixing until the dough is silky and smooth. Put the dough into an icing bag and squeeze it out into golfball-sized globs about 1.5" apart on the cookie sheets. Bake one pan at a time in the middle of the oven about 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and immediately pierce them to let steam out.

Cheese Cream Filling:
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 to 3/4 cup powdered sugar

Mix the cheeses and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in a small bowl. Add extra powdered sugar as needed to thicken it, then set in the fridge while the puffs cool.

Once the puffs are cool and cut in half, put a heaping teaspoon of cream inside. Dust with powdered sugar. Chill until ready to serve .

Venison Chili

You can, of course, make chili that's quite delicious out of beef, but I happened to have a freezer full of venison. This is what happens when you're close to someone whose dad hunts. Anyway, chili takes very little work, all things considered. Once you've browned the meat and brought everything to a boil, the only work left to do is to stir occasionally and let it sit for an hour or two. One batch of this lasts us about a week, having it every night for dinner and a few lunches...though honestly I get sick of it and freeze a bunch after a few days. Which isn't to say it isn't lovely when I've taken a break from eating it every day!

Leftovers only get better when it comes to chili, and if you add a little extra water and some hot sauce, this can be made into a pretty serious chip dip for parties.

Venison Chili
2 tbsp corn oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½” cubes
6 to 10 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ pounds ground lean venison (or beef)
1 15-oz can dark red kidney beans
1 15-oz can black beans
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 28-oz can tomato puree
salt to taste
shredded cheese & sour cream to garnish

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat until simmering but not smoking. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano, and cayenne. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned, about ten minutes.
Turn the heat up to medium-high and add half the venison. Break it up with the spoon and continue to stir occasionally until the meat is no longer pink. Add the beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for an hour or so, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom's not sticking. Uncover the pot and simmer another hour, still stirring occasionally, adding around 1/2 cup of water at some point. Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream, or dip tortilla chips in it.