Apple Cranberry Crostata

I love this recipe. Today is the second time making it. It’s delicious and simple. John’s recipes are well tested and just work.
Apple Cranberry Crostata
The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook By John Barricelli

MAKES ONE 10-INCH CROSTATA, SERVES 8

1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3), cored, peeled, and cut into 1/2” slices
1 cup fresh or frozen (unthawed) cranberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of grated nutmeg
your favorite single pie crust, John calls for Pate Brisée, chilled
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch bits
1 large egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash
1 to 2 tablespoons sanding sugar, for finishing

1. Set the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick silicone baking mat (do not use parchment paper, as the crostata will stick to it).

2. In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the cranberries, lemon juice, sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg.

3. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a l4-inch round and place on the prepared baking sheet. Mound the apple-cranberry mixture in the center of the dough round. Dot with the butter. Fold the edges of the dough round in toward the center to
make a 2-inch border of dough all around. Brush the dough with egg glaze. Sprinkle generously with sanding sugar.

4. Bake the crostata for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven heat to 375°F. Rotate the baking sheet and continue baking until the crust is golden brown and the apple mixture is bubbling, about 20 more minutes. Let cool fully on the baking sheet before transferring to a
platter and serving.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Red Wine with Porcini

Cookbooks litter my kitchen and sometimes I have them for a while, years maybe, before I cook out of them. This one “Good Meat” was a gift a couple of years ago. I’ve cooked out of it twice before I think. I was thinking the other day that I didn’t want to make another roasted chicken. Even though we both love it, I wanted something different. This book caught my eye and I read a few recipes, landing on this one.

What’s particularly cool about this recipe is it’s a make ahead recipe. Better after it sits in the fridge for a day or three.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Red Wine with Porcini – from Good Meat by Deborah Krasner

4 skin-on, bone in chicken thighs (although skinless would be fine in my opinion)
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon butter
3 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
about 1 cup red wine
Salt & pepper

Blot the chicken dry and let sit at room temperature.

Soak the dried mushrooms in enough hot water to cover them by an inch.

Melt the butter in a cast-iron frying pan and turn the heat to medium, adding the bay leaves and the rosemary. Let them fry gently for a few minutes.

Brown the chicken on all sides in the pan.

Remove the re-hydrated mushrooms with a slotted spoon, squeezing out as much moisture as you can. You can send the liquid through a coffee filter to get out all grit, but I usually just let the liquid settle and pour off all but the last bit that is gritty. Add enough red wine to the strained mushroom liquid to yield 1 1/2 cups total.

When the chicken is nicely browned on all sides pour in the liquid, scraping up and bits on the bottom of the pan. Simmer slowly for about 30 minutes, until the meat is falling off the bone tender. Remove and discard the bay and rosemary sprigs.

Put everything into a container to go into the fridge for at least one day.

When you pull the container out of the fridge, remove the top layer of fat. Re-warm the chicken and sauce. I microwaved ours.
Serve over rice, risotto, farroto, quinoa or whatever grain you like.

Scott’s Notes: In a pinch, I’m sure boneless, skinless thighs would work, but the bones do add flavor. The skin ended up gummy and so I don’t think it was necessary.

Croissants & Pain au Raisins

Last week, and continuing this week unfortunately, we have guys painting the outside of the house. So, I’m not house bound, but I need to be here a bit more than usual. What a good time to take on projects.

One project that I’ve been promising myself to make for years and years was croissant dough. That promise got more important to me after our trip to Paris and falling in love with Pain au Raisins, a.k.a. snails. I loved them for breakfast, and haven’t found very good ones here. I cheated once and used store bought puff pastry, but they weren’t the same. The big difference between puff pastry and croissant dough is yeast. The later uses it. The process is long, but not particularly difficult. It involves a lot of rolling and folding and chilling and waiting. There are tons of recipes out there on the internet if you want to make them yourself. I used my Baking with Julia cookbook’s recipe. A Google search will find the exact recipe already out there. You can watch the video: http://video.pbs.org/video/2250835454/

So as to not expand our waistlines exponentially I made only a half recipe. Then I took half of that and made Pain Au Raisins and croissants with the other half. Luckily also these delicacies freeze pretty well.

Last weekend we had the Pain au Raisins. Two each. Yes, they were that good. The were only about 2/3 the size I had in Paris anyway.
Yesterday we had croissants. I took the frozen, mostly proofed, croissants out of the freezer and left them overnight on a baking sheet in the fridge. Sunday morning I baked them off. They were good, but could have baked a couple of minutes more. The centers were a little soft. Still, they were gone in a flash.

Now I know how to make them, I’ll probably keep some in the freezer for special occasions.

Brioche Bread

Since this week started out with me making a recipe that’s been bubbling up my list of must makes, croissant dough, I felt like ending the week with another. At least this one I took enough pictures I could update this long ignored blog.

I have this old duct taped up Beard on Bread. Every time I purge cookbooks I think about purging this one, but do keep referencing it. Brioche Bread was a recipe from it that I’ve thought about making for a long time. It’s not a traditional brioche, but it is a nice bread.

The recipe is actually pretty simple. I didn’t get quite the rise out of it that I thought I would, but it’s tasty. The crumb is nice and it smells incredible baking.

Brioche Bread – James Beard

1 1/2 packages of active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup warm water (100°F – 115°F )
1 cup melted butter
1 1/2 tsp salte
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 egg yolk mixed with 1/4 cup evaporated milk
or light cream

Combine the yeast, sugar and warm water and allow to proof. Mix the melted butter and salt. In a large bowl combine everything together with a wooden spoon until smooth. (I did this in my stand mixer.)

Place in a buttered bowl and allow to rise to double, 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

Punch the dough down, divide into two pieces and form into loaves. Place in loaf pans and let rise again until double, about an hour or so.

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg/milk mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Cool on a rack and try to resist cutting the end off an buttering it up .

Miso Rye Bread Updated

I’ve been making this bread for a year and a half now and have made a couple of minor changes to the recipe for more consistent results. They are the kind of adjustments a seasoned bread baker would make because they know the consistency that bread should have at the different stages. The metric measurements are all by weight.

You’ll need some starter for this, so you’ll need to start at least a few days ahead. I’m a fan of rye starter as it seems to be easier to keep going and handle. The recipe is below.

Miso-Rye Bread

For the sponge:
1/3 cup warm water (77g)
1/2 cup starter (125g) Recipe follows or use your own
2 teaspoons sugar (11g)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (164g)
1/2 c organic rye flour (60g)

For the final bread:
2 teaspoons instant yeast (9g)
1/4 cup warm water (57g)
1/4 cup white or red miso (65g) (lower sodium if possible)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (4g)
the sponge
2 cups unbleached bread flour (278g)
OR 2 cups all purpose flour plus 1 tablespoon wheat gluten(10g)
2 – 3 Tablespoons Malted Milk Powder or Barley Malt Powder (optional)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional, I rarely use)

water bottle for misting the oven(optional)

The night before or several hours before combine the sponge ingredients together in a bowl and stir with wooden spoon until everything is combined. Feel free to add a tablespoon or two more water if the dough isn’t a bit soft and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until doubled in bulk. I turn my gas oven on for a minute and then back off and pop it in there. This makes about 85°F environment and speeds things along. It takes 3 hours or so at 85°F. You can test if it’s ready by seeing if a small pinch of it will float in water. If it does, it’s ready. Bring miso to room temperature.

Combine miso & water, whisk until smooth. Put 2 cups flour in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl if you’re kneading by hand. Add yeast & malt powder, stir to distribute. Add the miso water mixture and the sponge. Add caraway seeds if using. Put the bowl onto the mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Start the machine kneading. Add additional flour if needed and keep kneading until you get a smooth and elastic dough. The dough should be a little sticky, but balling up and moving away from the sides of the bowl. I usually knead for a couple of minutes by hand on a floured board at this point.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn it over once, cover an let rise until doubled in bulk. This takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

Punch down the dough. Optionally, you can repeat the rising. I usually form the dough into a round boule at this point and place it in a rising basket. Mine is a brotform that leaves a nice spiral on the top if flour it with a mixture of 1/2 rice flour 1/2 wheat flour before placing the dough in it. If you don’t have one you can use any bowl lined with a clean lint free kitchen towel (the flour sack kind) that has been dusted with flour. Or you can use the Abby Dodge method: put it into an oiled 8”- 9” cake pan.

Preheat the oven to 425°F with a pizza stone on the lowest rack.

Let the dough rise again until almost double in bulk, 30-45 minutes depending on how warm you kitchen is. It should bounce back lightly when poked. When ready, mist the oven with your water bottle. Dust a baker’s peel with cornmeal and turn the loaf out onto the cornmeal. Make some decorative slashes in the loaf and slide the loaf onto the pizza stone. Bake 5 minutes and mist the oven again. Try not to mist the loaf directly. Another method is to put a shallow pan of boiling water on the floor of the oven for the first 15 minutes of baking, removing it for the remainder.

Lower the temperature to 375°F and bake for 45 – 60 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. It should have a internal temperature of at least 200°F, you can test this with an instant read thermometer inserted in the bottom. It will get quite dark if you cook it longer, but you certainly can if you like it that way. I find darkly cooked bread a little bitter. So people like that.

Scott’s notes: They do make low sodium miso, try to use that because salt can inhibit yeast. If you’re using regular miso cut down the salt by half. I’m not super fond of the caraway seeds, but some might like. Today when I made this recipe it required quite a bit more flour to get the right bread consistency. When done mixing it should be only slightly sticky.

Rye Starter

3 Tablespoons organic rye flour
3 Tablespoons bottled or distilled water
a jar

I’ve found rye starter easier to get going and easier to maintain. After you get it going you can convert it slowly to a white starter by feeding it unbleached white flour. Always use water that isn’t chlorinated. I use distilled.

• Day 1: mix the flour and water in a jar. Loosely cover.
• Day 2: feed the starter with 2 Tablespoons of rye flour & 2 Tablespoons of water. Stir it all up. Loosely cover. It should start smelling yeasty at this point.
• Day 3: throw out roughly 1/3 of the mixture and feed again. Loosely cover.
• Day 4: repeat
• Day 5: it should be fairly active at this point and ready to use. Keep it going by throwing out roughly 1/3 and feeding. It improves with age.

After your starter is active you can keep in the fridge and only feed it once a week or so. And you can feed it in much larger feedings to get the amount of starter you need. Just add enough water to keep it a thickish paste. No harm if you add extra water, but I find it easier to work with on the thick side.

If at any point the mixtures smells bad, start over. It should smell yeasty and bit sour, but not like ammonia.
You don’t always have to discard part of the starter. If I’m baking the next day I usually don’t. If you’re worried about the waste, it’s probably only a penny’s worth.

If you’d like more detailed explanations and instructions on the starter: click here.

Weeknight Gumbo for Two

I made a batch of Andouille Sausage a few months ago that wasn’t quite right. I think I smoked them too long and they dried out. So, they’re not really great to eat alone. So, I’ve been slowly using them up making this recipe. Not sure what a true Cajun or Creole would think of this recipe, but I suspect they wouldn’t disapprove too much. It’s a quick and easy one that is pretty satisfying even without the longer simmering. I usually have everything in the house or freezer for this. One of my variations that I also do when I make étouffée is to use double the amount of vegetables than the usual.

1 Andouille Sausage, sliced, or any sausage you like
8 Shrimp (21-25 per pound)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 large green pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups stock, seafood or chicken (see note)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons Dry Roux or all purpose flour (see note)
1/2 tsp Cajun spice, I like Tony Chachere’s More Spice, more or less to your spice tolerance
two sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley for garnish
cooked rice, still hot

Thaw shrimp & sausage if you have time. If not just cook them longer at the end.

Heat the olive oil in the pan. Optionally brown the sausage in the pan and reserve on the side. Add the vegetables and Cajun spice and sauté until the vegetables are soft and the onions brown a little. Add the dry roux or flour and stir around for a minute or so. If you’re using flour go a little longer to brown the flour a bit.
Add the stock and thyme and simmer covered for at least 30 minutes, an hour is better. The stock should reduce to about two cups. Check for seasoning. Usually the Cajun spice adds enough salt and pepper, but you can add a bit more if needed. Remove the thyme stems.

Add in the shrimp and sliced sausage and simmer until the shrimp are done, about 5 minutes. Serve over hot rice, sprinkled with the parsley.

Stock Note: You can use many different things for the stock. I keep bonito flakes, from the Japanese section of the grocery store, on had to make a quick seafood stock with. Just pour boiling water over them and let them steep for a few minutes and strain out the fish flakes. They also sell it in powdered form, which I sometimes use. Water plus a bottle of clam juice, totaling 3 cups works. Or just use chicken stock. OMG! I originally published this without the garlic.

Dry Roux Note: Look for dry roux with the other Cajun/Creole items at the grocery store. Here in the Bay Area they now carry it. It’s basically browned flour, but some brands also include some Onion Powder and Garlic Powder. It’s great to have on hand and a wonderful substitute any time you need to thicken. It adds great depth of flavor and umami. I prefer Kary’s brand, but Tony Chachere’s is fine too.

Baking Day!

I went a little crazy today and baked up a storm. Most of it was done by 1:00 pm too. I was killing three birds with one stone, so to speak. We need bread for the week in the house, I need bread for a dinner tomorrow night and cookies for both tomorrow night and an Oscar party on Sunday. All three cookies required the dough to be refrigerated so I made the doughs yesterday. That left baking three kinds of bread today: a miso-rye boule, a rosemary epi for tomorrow and a wheat sandwich loaf. Sorry Howard, none of them are plain white.

The cookies were: Lemon Sandwich, Oatmeal Crispies & Carob Crinkle.

IMG_7752 IMG_7757 IMG_7765
IMG_7751 IMG_7762 IMG_7760

Miso Rye Bread

Visit the UPDATED version of this recipe: here.

The mere mention of Miso Rye bread in David Lebovitz’s February 2012 blog entry, Pear-Fennel Soup, got me excited. David linked to Gontran Cherrier’s website, which was where the bread was purchased. Even switching into English on the site didn’t give me much of a clue about what’s in this bread other than the obvious.

A Google search didn’t give me much either, except a miso rye seaweed recipe using only rye sourdough starter. I tried the recipe twice, leaving the seaweed out, but the dough was really wet and hard to handle. The flavors were great, but I wasn’t happy with the texture or how long it took to get a decent rise. If I remember right, the second time I even added yeast and it didn’t rise nicely.
In the end I kind of had to invent my own recipe, taking a little from here and there and settling on a recipe that uses the sourdough starter and yeast. The miso-rye combination is delicious, especially as toast. The bread browns nicely and if you like a dark brown loaf with that little bit of bitterness that comes with it, you’ll be able to easily get that with this recipe.

You’ll need some starter for this, so you’ll need to start at least a few days ahead. I’m a fan of rye starter as it seems to be easier to keep going and handle. The recipe is below.

This is not a good recipe for a beginner bread baker.

Miso-Rye Bread

For the sponge:
1/2 cup warm water (111g)
1/2 cup starter (125g) Recipe follows
2 teaspoons sugar (11g)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (164g)
1/2 c organic rye flour (60g)

For the final bread:
2 teaspoons instant yeast (9g)
1/4 cup warm water (58g)
1/4 cup white or red miso (65g) (lower sodium if possible)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (4g)
the sponge
1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (188g-148g)
2 – 3 Tablespoons Malted Milk Powder or Barley Malt Powder (optional)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)

water bottle for misting the oven(optional)

The night before or several hours before combine the sponge ingredients together in a bowl and stir with wooden spoon until everything is combined. Feel free to add a tablespoon or two more water if the dough isn’t a bit soft and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until doubled in bulk. I turn my gas oven on for a minute and then back off and pop it in there. This makes about 85°F environment and speeds things along. It takes 3 hours or so at 85°F. You can test if it’s ready by seeing if a small pinch of it will float in water. If it does, it’s ready. Bring miso to room temperature.

Combine miso & water, whisk until smooth. Put 1 1/4 cups flour in the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl if you’re kneading by hand. Add yeast & malt powder, stir to distribute. Add the miso water mixture and the sponge. Add caraway seeds if using. Put the bowl onto the mixer outfitted with the dough hook. Start the machine kneading. Keep adding flour as needed and keep kneading until you get a smooth and elastic dough. The dough should be a little sticky, but balling up and moving away from the sides of the bowl. I usually knead for a couple of minutes by hand on a floured board at this point.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn it over once, cover an let rise until doubled in bulk. This takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

Punch down the dough. Optionally, you can repeat the rising. I usually form the dough into a round boule at this point and place it in a rising basket. Mine is a brotform that leaves a nice spiral on the top if flour it with a mixture of 1/2 rice flour 1/2 wheat flour before placing the dough in it. If you don’t have one you can use any bowl lined with a clean lint free kitchen towel (the flour sack kind) that has been dusted with flour. Or you can use the Abby Dodge method: put it into an oiled 8”- 9” cake pan.

Preheat the oven to 425°F with a pizza stone on the lowest rack.

Let the dough rise again until almost double in bulk, 30-45 minutes depending on how warm you kitchen is. It should bounce back lightly when poked. When ready, mist the oven with your water bottle. Dust a baker’s peel with cornmeal and turn the loaf out onto the cornmeal. Make some decorative slashes in the loaf and slide the loaf onto the pizza stone. Bake 5 minutes and mist the oven again. Try not to mist the loaf directly. Another method is to put a shallow pan of boiling water on the floor of the oven for the first 15 minutes of baking, removing it for the remainder.

Lower the temperature to 375°F and bake for 40 – 60 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. It should have a internal temperature of at least 200°F, you can test this with an instant read thermometer inserted in the bottom. It will get quite dark if you cook it longer, but you certainly can if you like it that way. I find darkly cooked bread a little bitter.

Scott’s notes: They do make low sodium miso, try to use that because salt can inhibit yeast. If you’re using regular miso cut down the salt by half. I’m not super fond of the caraway seeds, but some might like. Today when I made this recipe it required quite a bit more flour to get the right bread consistency. When done mixing it should be only slightly sticky.

Update: Recently I remembered that another rye bread recipe I have calls for malted milk powder. I started using it because it adds another flavor dimension which I love.

Rye Starter

3 Tablespoons organic rye flour
3 Tablespoons bottled or distilled water
a jar

I’ve found rye starter easier to get going and easier to maintain. After you get it going you can convert it slowly to a white starter by feeding it unbleached white flour. Always use water that isn’t chlorinated. I use distilled.

• Day 1: mix the flour and water in a jar. Loosely cover.
• Day 2: feed the starter with 2 Tablespoons of rye flour & 2 Tablespoons of water. Stir it all up. Loosely cover. It should start smelling yeasty at this point.
• Day 3: throw out roughly 1/3 of the mixture and feed again. Loosely cover.
• Day 4: repeat
• Day 5: it should be fairly active at this point and ready to use. Keep it going by throwing out roughly 1/3 and feeding. It improves with age.

After your starter is active you can keep in the fridge and only feed it once a week or so.

If at any point the mixtures smells bad, start over. It should smell yeasty and bit sour, but not like ammonia.
You don’t always have to discard part of the starter. If I’m baking the next day I usually don’t. If you’re worried about the waste, it’s probably only a penny’s worth.

If you’d like more detailed explanations and instructions on the starter: click here.

Very Vanilla, Lemongrass Pots de Crème

I cannot deny that our friends hold my cooking skills in high esteem. I am a very good cook. But I do have my days where things don’t go exactly as planned. The resulting food may be fine, but I’m my harshest critic and feel disappointed when things don’t turn out right.

Yesterday was one of those days, on several fronts. My 100% sourdough bread turned out flat and dense. The rolls from the dough were a bit more successful. The dinner I made was Lobster Fra Diavolo with homemade pasta. It was fine, but maybe not the best use of lobster. The spicy flavorful sauce muted the lobster flavor. It was good, but not special dinner good. The pasta was perfect though, so something did go right.

Then there was these pots de crème. I turned my back on the custard on the stove and I came close to having scrambled eggs. I strained and whirled in the Blendtec blender to get back to a smooth custard. The end product was OK, but once again far from perfect. I should have started over. The other disappointment was that the lemongrass flavor was very subtle. Served with lots of sauce and all troubles were effectively covered up. I might try these again with a second stalk of lemongrass or just some lemon extract instead. They do have a really strong vanilla flavor. Abby’s original recipe is here.

Very Vanilla, Lemongrass Pots de Crème

Makes 4 servings and 1 1/3 cup sauce
For the pots of heaven:
1 vanilla bean split or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or paste
1 cup half & half
3/4 cup whole milk
2 stalks of lemongrass, chopped OR 1/2 tsp lemon extract
5 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
For the blueberry strawberry sauce:
10 ounces frozen blueberries, thawed
1/4 cup strawberry jam (I use seedless)
1/4 – 1/2 cups (1 to 2 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of table salt
To make the pots:
1. Measure the half & half and milk in separate microwaveable containers.
2. Position the vanilla bean on a cutting board and, using the tip of a sharp knife, split the bean lengthwise down the middle. Slide the edge of the knife down the cut side of each piece of the bean to release the seeds. Add the seeds and vanilla bean pieces to the half & half. Put the chopped lemongrass into the milk. Heat the mixtures in the microwave until very hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and let the mixtures steep 30 or up to 2 hours. The longer the half & half and the vanilla bean and seeds steep, the more pronounced the vanilla flavor. Strain the lemongrass stalks out of the milk and combine with the half & half.
3. Position the oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 325°F. Arrange four 6-ounce ramekins in a baking pan with 2-inch high sides. I use my 8-inch square baking pan.
4. In a small saucepan, whisk the yolks, sugar and salt until well blended.(Don’t let them sit or the eggs will begin to break down.)  Uncover the half & half and, whisking, slowly pour the half and half (with the vanilla bean pieces) into the yolk mixture. Whisk until well blended. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a spoon or heat-proof spatula, until thickened and coats the back of a spoon or spatula (170-172°F on an instant read or candy thermometer), about 4 to 5 minutes. DO NOT LEAVE UNATTENDED FOR EVEN 5 SECONDS!
5. Slide the pan from the heat and fish out the vanilla bean and scrape any custard from the pod back into the custard. Stir in vanilla extract or paste, if using.  Pour the custard into the ramekins (for a super-clean pot filling, I like to pour the custard back into the 2-cup measure and then pour it from there into the ramekins – the pour spout makes it so easy.) Carefully fill the baking pan with hot tap water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins and cover the pan loosely with foil.
6. Bake until the pot de crèmes wiggle like jello when nudged, 35 to 45 minutes depending on thickness of the ramekin walls. Transfer the baking pan to a rack let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 2 days before serving.
To make the blueberry strawberry sauce:
1. Combine the thawed blueberries, jam, 1/4 cup (1 ounce) confectioners’ sugar and the salt  in a food processor or blender. Whiz until pureed and well blended. Taste and add a touch more sugar if needed. Press through a fine-meshed sieve if you want a seedless sauce.
To serve:
1. Spoon a little of the custard out  of the center  -don’t go for perfect – and pour a little sauce into the cavity. Serve the remaining sauce on the side.

Lavender & Crystalized Ginger Whoopie Pies

This month’s not official #Baketogether is Whoopie Pies. The grand nieces were visiting so I enlisted their “help”. I didn’t have any buttermilk in the house and I needed to steep the lavender flowers in hot milk to extract their flavor. From what I’ve read heating buttermilk isn’t a good idea. So, I used regular milk and buttermilk powder. The lavender flavor is mild in this version, so feel free to up the quantity of flowers for a more intense flavor. The ginger was also a bit subdued, so I might try adding some ginger powder to the filling if I made these again.

Lavender & Cyrstlaized Ginger Whoopie Pies
       Makes 14 filled whoopie pies

For the whoopies

2 cups (9 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder (optional)
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla bean paste or extract
1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon lavender flowers, or more to your taste
purple food coloring (optional)

For the filling

4 oz cream cheese at room temperature
4 oz butter at room temperature
3 – 4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup crystalized/candied ginger cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder (optional)

Make the whoopies
1. heat the milk and lavender flowers together just until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Steep for at least 15 minutes. Strain out the flowers
2. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line three cookie sheets with parchment or nonstick baking liners.
3. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, buttermilk powder and salt in a medium bowl until well blended and no lumps remain. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until well blended and smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just blended between additions. Add the vanilla with the last egg. Add food coloring. Do a better job than I did. I ended up with a purplish gray. Stop to scrape down the bowl and the beater as needed. Add half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just blended. Add the milk and mix until just blended. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix on low speed until just blended.
4. Using a small mini scoop, shape the dough into balls and arrange about 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets. Bake, one sheet at a time, until a pick inserted in the center of one whoopie comes out clean, 9 to 11 minutes. Move the sheet to a cooling rack, let the whoopies sit for 10 minutes, and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Make the filling
Beat the cream cheese and butter together. Add powdered sugar and ginger powder. Add enough so that you have a fairly stiff filling. Fold in the ginger.

Fill the whoopies by spreading a generous amount of filling on one half and topping with another half.

Cavatelli with Duck Ragu

For Xmas Howard got me an item from my much neglected Amazon.com wishlist, a cavatelli maker. It’s made by CucinaProCucinaPro and works like a charm once you get the dough the right consistency, which is stiff, but not dry. I’ve made three batches of 100% semolina cavatelli since Christmas. They have a nice firm “bite” as they say. The cavatelli maker came with a sheet of recipes, all of which use all purpose(AP) flour. For this recipe I decided to try one of them. They turned out lighter, and really lovely with the Duck Ragu.

The ragu is adapted from Mario Batali. I only employ a couple of small changes, but both are meant to increase the umami flavor. I add in some dried, reconstituted porcini mushrooms and a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Mushrooms and anchovies both add to umami and depth of flavor. I also cook this sauce a bit longer than Mario, melding the flavors more.

AP Flour Cavatelli (serves 4)
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
4 1/2 teaspoons shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Knead everything together until you get a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes or more.

Roll the dough out to about 3/8 inch in thickness. Cut into 1/2 – 3/4 inch strips. Feed through your Cavatelli Maker. Or do a Google search on how to hand roll them. Put them on a well floured sheet pan to dry out a little before using.

Duck Ragu (serves 4)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large or 4 small skinned duck legs
salt & pepper
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, thinly slice
4 fresh sage leaves
2 cups red wine
2 cups duck (or chicken) stock
one 6 oz can of tomato paste
Worcestershire Sauce
parmesan

Heat one cup of the stock to at least very hot and add the dried mushrooms. Soak for 10 minutes or so. Remove the mushrooms and chop. Let soaking liquid settle.

Salt and pepper the duck. Heat the oil in a dutch oven until hot and brown the duck legs on all sides. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the onion, carrot, garlic, celery and sage to the pot. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the vegetables are soft. Add chopped mushrooms, wine, stock, tomato paste and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, avoiding the last bit of mushroom liquid that is most likely sandy. Add a couple of dashes of Worcestershire Sauce.
Add the duck back in and simmer for an hour.

Remove the duck to a plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and add back into the sauce. Simmer for another hour or longer, adding more stock if it gets too dry. You want the sauce to end up thick. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust. I added a couple of dashes of Worcestershire sauce at this point to add a little tang.

Cook the cavatelli in abundant salted water until they float for a minute or two. Taste along the way to your preferred doneness. Drain and add them to the sauce, letting them soak up the sauce for a minute or two. Serve, topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Crispy, Carob Crinkle Cookies

I’m allergic to chocolate. Yeah, it sucks. But I’m not epi-pen allergic, it just causes upper respiratory problems, sinus headaches, etc. So, I eat some here and there, but I seem to be gradually more allergic to it. So, after a 40 year absence I’m checking out carob again. Carob is made from the seed pod of the carob tree and somewhat good foil for chocolate. As a kid I made a terrific carob cake only to have it spectacularly fail the next time I tried. Today I made some pretty tasty and chocolate craving satisfying cookies. Here’s the recipe:

Crispy, Carob Crinkle Cookies

1 cup + 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon carob powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
(optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons butter at room temp
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
sugar for rolling, coarse sanding sugar preferred

Sift the dry ingredients together.

In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Beat to combine.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients. Form the dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Shape pieces of dough into 1” – 1 1/4” balls. Roll each ball in sugar. (I place them on a parchment lined sheet and freeze at this point so I can take out a few at a time.)

Place balls a couple of inches apart on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Bake 10 – 12 minutes until set. They fall immediately as you take them out of the oven. Cool on baking sheet for five minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Hint: if you forget to take out the butter ahead, cut it into small cubes and put it into the bowl of the mixer. Wait 15-20 minutes and then proceed

Miso-Rye English Muffins #Baketogether

Yeah, yeah, another Miso-Rye recipe. Get over it.

Miso-Rye English Muffins (adapted from Abby Dodge’s Whole Wheat Honey EM)
Makes 8 big muffins

For the English muffins

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour + extra for dusting
3/4 cup rye flour
1 package instant yeast (a scant tablespoon for those you who buy in bulk)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon malted milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon caraway seed (optional)
1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon water (see note)
1/4 miso (red or white, low sodium if possible)
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons honey
Cornmeal for dusting
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Make the dough
1.    In a large bowl of electric stand mixer, combine the all purpose flour, rye flour, yeast, baking powder, caraway if using and salt and whisk until well blended. Clip the bowl into the mixer stand and fit the mixer with the dough hook.

2.   Heat the water and milk until very hot but not boiling. (I do this in a Pyrex measure in the microwave but a small pan on the stovetop will also work). Stir in the honey and miso. Mix until thoroughly combined. Check the temperature using an instant-read thermometer. For the yeast to activate, the liquids need be between 120°F and 130°F degrees (I shoot for 125°F).

3.  With mixer on medium speed, slowly pour the liquid into the flour mixture. Mix until the flour is completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bottom and sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. Stay close while it’s mixing as the mixer might dance around on the counter.
4.   Scoop up the dough and shape it into a ball, lightly flouring your hands. The dough will be sticky but resist the urge to add too much flour. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl and pop the dough, rounded side up, back into the bowl. Cover the top securely with plastic wrap or a plate.  Let the covered dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.
5.   Sprinkle an even layer of cornmeal over a cookie sheet or half sheet pan. Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface (the dough is sticky but use the least amount of flour as possible) and gently press to deflate. Using a bench scraper or knife, divide the dough into 8 even pieces (4 1/2 ounces each).  Shape the dough into a round balls (about the size of a blood orange) making sure the top is smooth and there is one seam on the bottom. Again, use very little flour. Arrange about 2-inches apart on the cornmeal-lined baking sheet and gently press down on each, lightly flouring your hands as needed, until they are about 3-4 inches in diameter and about 1/2 inch thick.  Lightly spray the tops of the dough with oil (I used olive), cover loosely and let the dough rise, in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 25 to 40 minutes. I covered mine with a kitchen towel.
Cook the muffins
6.   Heat a griddle to medium heat. Brush or spread the butter evenly over the griddle (it will sizzle). Carefully lift the muffins, one at a time, and gently place, cornmeal side down, on the hot griddle, about 2-inches apart, so as not to deflate the dough. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the bottom is well browned (reduce the heat if they are browning too quickly) and the sides look dull and a bit dry, about 10-15 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully turn the muffins over, reduce the heat to low, and continue to cook until the bottom is browned and the muffins sound hollow when gently tapped,  about 10 to 15 minutes. Mine took a good 30 minutes total, maybe a little longer. They will deflate a little when you turn them.

7.   Remove the muffins from the griddle and set them on a wire rack and let cool until warm or cool completely before stowing in an air tight container for up to 3 days (they also freeze nicely). The muffins are best when served toasted. Using a fork (you can use a serrated knife but your muffin will lose is crumble-topped texture), split the muffins in half, toast and serve immediately with butter, honey or nut butter. Some people don’t like this flavor combinations with jam, some do.

Scott’s Notes: Although thoroughly cooked I found them a little on the gummy side when I toasted them. Next time I’ll cut down on the water a little. Fork split they did have nice “nooks and crannies” as they say. I forgot the malt powder, but I think it would be a good addition. It adds depth of flavor in the miso-rye bread I make. Abby makes 6 out of this recipe. She calls them big, I’d say enormous. I made 8 and they were still pretty big. Abby also had flour weights. Sorry I didn’t weigh the ingredients. I didn’t use caraway, but it would be a good addition as Abby pointed out.

Ricotta Squash Gnocchi

These gnocchi turn out very light and fluffy, but are a bit delicate. It took my inspiration from two different recipes to come up with a very light gnocchi. They are a teeny bit hard to handle, but that keeps them fluffy.

For the gnocchi:

1 pound butternut squash pulp squeezed dry
1 large egg + 1 egg white, lightly beaten
15 oz whole-milk ricotta (or 16 if your container is that size)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

For the sauce:
3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 fresh sage leaves, torn
Coarse salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cut squash lengthwise in half. Place on baking sheet, cut side down. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake until tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Let cool slightly; remove and discard the seeds, and scrape the pulp from the skin. Place the pulp in a large kitchen towel (not terrycloth), wrap it around the squash, and squeeze out most of the juices. Measure out one pound of this pulp for the recipe saving the remainder for snacking.

2. In a large bowl, combine the squash pulp, egg, ricotta, Parmigiano, salt, and 1 1/3 cups of the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands until thoroughly blended together. Transfer the mixture to a lightly floured wooden board, and, with your hands, work gently into a dough, gradually adding a little more flour if the dough sticks too much to your hands and to the board. Dust the dough lightly with flour, and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.

3. To form the gnocchi, cut off a piece of dough about the size of an orange. Flour your hands lightly. Using both hands, roll out the piece of dough with a light back-and-forth motion into a rope about the thickness of your index finger. Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. Roll lightly in flour. Use as much flour as necessary to keep them from being sticky. Transfer gnocchi to a lightly floured platter or baking sheet. The gnocchi can be cooked immediately or refrigerated, uncovered, overnight.

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a tablespoon salt and gnocchi, cooking them in batches to avoid crowding. Cook until the gnocchi rise to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes. Let cook for just a minute or so more.

5. As the gnocchi are cooking, make the sauce: Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When it begins to foam, add the sage, and stir a few times. Remove the gnocchi from the pot with a slotted spoon or a skimmer, draining the excess water back into the pot, and place in the skillet. Season lightly with salt, and add a small handful of the Parmigiano. Stir over medium heat until the gnocchi are well coated with butter. Taste, adjust for seasoning, and serve immediately with a sprinkling of Parmigiano.

Stew Hen Soup

This post is part of Food Bloggers Support For Sandy, organized by Barbara over at Creative Culinary. If you click on the graphic to the right you can donate to the Red Cross. There are several other worthy organizations raising money and Irvin at Eat the Love has a great roundup of them with links. Onto the recipe, well, more of a process document.

You’re not likely to encounter a stew hen much anymore. It’s a shame because they make the best stock and subsequently soup. Last month our CSA included an “expired” laying stew hen in our share. These birds are typically a couple of years old, lean and tough. Extracting all the flavor is a long process, but that can be speeded up in the pressure cooker. But if you don’t have one a bubbling pot on the back of the stove or a big crock pot will do.

One of the great benefits of these hens is their fat. It’s bright yellow on these retired laying hens. If you’ve ever cooked a recipe that called for schmaltz, this is what you want. It’s neon yellow from all the corn these hens ate. When you’re getting your stew hen cut up you can pull off these yellow fat deposits and render them in a pan under a very low flame. You can also save the fat you skim off the stock.

The best way to insure a flavorful soup is to make a flavorful stock. There are many techniques to achieve this, my favorite being browning. So, cut up your stew hen into several pieces however you like. I usually cut out the back with a pair of scissors first and go from there.

As you know if you’ve read my blog before I’m not much one for hand holding and describing every little thing. I assume you’ve got a good handle on cooking already. If you don’t there are lots of blogs and sites that will help you out more.

For this recent stew hen I didn’t feel like waiting 24 hours for the stock, so I used the pressure cooker to make my stock. You can use the stovetop or crock pot method if you like, but be forewarned that if this is a retired laying hen it takes a very long time to achieve falling off the bone tender.

Start out heating a tablespoon or so of oil in the bottom of your pressure cooker. Brown the chicken pieces and parts in the oil in batches. It will take several minutes for each batch. If you have extra backs or other pieces in your freezer they make a great addition. I always keep the extra pieces for stock.

While the chicken is browning cut up a large onion, a few carrots and some celery. Use whatever amount makes sense. I’ve never found that too many vegetables ruined a stock. After all the chicken pieces are nicely browned, remove them all from the pot and add the vegetables. Swirl them around in the oil and cook until at least the onions are soft. You can continue until they’re brown also.

Throw the pieces back in and cover with water. Don’t fill above your pressure cooker’s mark that show’s it’s maximum capacity for liquid. Add a bay leaf, some whole black peppercorns, some dried thyme and sprigs of parsley. If you are missing an item don’t worry it’ll be fine. Secure the lid on the pressure cooker and bring to high pressure. Lower the heat, but maintain pressure and cook for 90 minutes. I know that’s a long time, but these old hens are tough. I cooked mine in the pressure canner, so I was able to put in enough water that I wasn’t worried about cooking away all the liquid. If you’re using a smaller pressure cooker you will want to check it half way through to make sure you still got enough liquid. To do that remove it from the stove and quick release. Add more water if necessary, lock the lid again and bring back to pressure.

When the stock is done, skim the fat. I use a fat separator, which is one gadget I really love. Strain the stock through a fine sieve. I then strain it again through one of those gold coffee filters. Pick the meat off the bones, being careful not to get any of those little teeny bones. I kind of failed at this and we were spitting little bones out as we at the chicken in the soup. Reserve the meat for the soup.

Once again you’re going to need the basic three vegetable combination to make your soup. Feel free to add others that you like, but add them at the appropriate time. For example, frozen peas or corn would go in just before serving, potatoes at the beginning. I use lots of vegetables again so that the meat/vegetable to broth ratio is high. Sauté the vegetables in some oil and add any herbs or seasonings you like. For me it’s pretty plain, just salt and pepper. Add the meat and enough stock to cover and simmer away until the vegetables are soft. This only takes 30 minutes or so, depending on how small you cut your vegetables.

And you have soup.

Notes: If you’re using the stovetop or crock pot method, you will want to cook the stock for a very long time, up to 24 hours. A true stew hen needs that amount of time to release all the flavor.

Nick’s Birthday Dinner

We have fallen off the entertaining wagon and wanted to get back on. I don’t know why this year we’ve been so reluctant to entertain. When I queried the dinner guests for a date the first one available for all of us turned out to be Nick’s birthday. Good reason to celebrate.

I wanted to go all out to get back in the groove of things. This involved several days of cooking ahead so that when the evening came around I wasn’t stuck in the kitchen for the whole time. I set up the camera in the kitchen with the intention of taking a bunch of pictures to post, but in the end only came away with a few. Getting the hot food out of the kitchen ended up being more important than getting a photo of it.

I’ve made Peas & Carrots several times before, but never has it come out so well. It’s pictured above. It’s a chive crepe filled with lobster, mascarpone cheese, chives and lobster glacé served on a pool of carrot sauce and topped with a pea shoot salad. People were shy about using their bread to get all the sauce off the plate until I mentioned that I had no problem with that.

I didn’t get a picture of Rabbit Two Ways and it’s just as well, it was kind of a bland looking plate. I totally forgot to have chopped parsley ready for garnish. The left side had the rabbit saddles that had been wrapped together in bacon, cooked sous-vide and then seared off in a pan before serving. The sauce was made from hours of reduction of a stock made with the rabbit bones. This was a Keller “quick” sauce. It took three hours! I have to admit this left side blew me away.

The right side of the rabbit plate had Lydia Bastianich’s Pappardelle with Rabbit Sugomade from the legs. It was tasty and delicious, but kind of got out shined by the saddle. The leftovers were really tasty and served alone would have impressed most anyone.

IMG_6376We finished the meal with the tarts. They were really good, but the meringue was outstanding. Soft and moist, but cooked, with the browned exterior and oh so yummy.

Le Menu
House made Charcuterie & cheese
Cream of Cauliflower Soup from Ad Hoc at Home
Peas & Carrots from The French Laundry Cookbook
Rabbit Two Ways from Under Pressure & Lydia’s Italy
Lemon-Almond Meringue Tarts from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

#FestaDiSalumi

I’ve joined up to help my friend Sean at Punk Domestics with his #FestaDiSalumi challenge. It’s not as rigorous as last year’s #CharcutePalooza, thank goodness. There aren’t any prizes, and only four challenges. Please consider joining in. 

A couple of weeks ago we go together to make Salami. Two kinds. It only took about 4-5 hours with plenty of time for gossip and catching up. We made two kinds, Finocchiona and Porcini. We each choose a favorite from Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn’s new book Salumi. The next day after siting inoculating in my oven I sprayed them with beneficial mold spores and hung them in the curing fridge.

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It’s been hanging for a little over two weeks and has lost about 20% of weight. That’s pretty much on schedule to loose 30% in three weeks. Whenever I open the curing fridge, the entire downstairs smells like a curing room. It’s a meaty, somewhat sour smell. At first I found it nice, but now it’s getting to be a bit much. I open the windows wide to air out the smell, but it even comes through closed doors. My car gets the full effect too.

Here it is hanging today, covered in good penicillin mold.

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#Baketogether Very Berry Bite Sized Pies

Today was an unusual day. The kitchen is my domain and I rarely give it up or share it. I don’t often ask for help in there. It’s kind of my personal retreat, my temple of contemplation where I clear my mind and think of nothing but the task at hand. So, today I took #Baketogether to a whole new level.

I ended up watching the grand nieces today for several hours as their mom was off teaching a class. After breakfast and a game of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus it was time to come up with another activity. Since our blueberry bush is actually producing and we had other fruit in the house these pies came to mind.

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For emergency purposes I had some prepared pie dough in the freezer and thawed it out. This probably wasn’t the wisest choice, but I was going for easy. Easy is necessary when kids are involved. I followed Abby’s recipe, making just a couple of changes. I changed the raspberries for strawberries and pecans for the almonds. Abby’s recipe is here. I won’t reprint it since I made so few changes. I also made them bite sized.

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Lilian and Stella helped my mix everything up, cut out the dough, put it in the mini tart pans, fill with filling and top with the streusel topping. As you can see in the picture at the top they bubbled up into a terrible mess. They stuck badly and the crusts weren’t that great, but they’re good. A bit too sweet for my taste, but the girls gobbled theirs!

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Potato, Leek & Spinach Soup

Yesterday we got a box of produce from a new service in the Bay Area, Full Circle. It’s all organic, delivered to your door. It arrived just in time for a Meatless Monday, which we don’t do often enough. In the box were, among other things, leeks, potatoes and spinach. I made this soup, which turned out nicely. It’s a bit subtle in flavor and you can certainly up the spices to your liking. Sorry for the crappy photo, but it’s all I took. Lazy me.

Potato, Leek & Spinach Soup with Indian Spices

1 pound leeks (about 2)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes diced (optionally peeled)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 pound spinach, well washed and roots trimmed, keep smaller stems
1 lemon
2 tablespoons of cream, half and half or whole milk (Optional)

Optional step: Slice the green tops off the leeks, wash them throughly and combine in a pot with the stock and water. Simmer for 10 – 20 minutes to flavor the stock. Strain and set aside. Discard leek tops.

Slice the leeks crosswise and wash very throughly. Using a big bowl of water changed at least a couple of times works well. Heat butter & olive oil in a large saucepan. Add leeks and sauté over medium low until they’re very soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.
Add the broth, potatoes and remaining spices. Bring to a boil and simmer covered until the potatoes are very tender, about 10 – 15 minutes. Add the spinach and cook an additional 3 or so minutes, until the spinach is completely wilted and the stems are very soft.

Puree in a blender in batches. As you do you can optionally strain the pureed soup through a fine sieve. I like a really smooth sauce and I usually do this, especially if I didn’t peel the potatoes. Reheat on medium heat. Stir in cream if using. You may also chill the soup at this point and serve it cold. I had it that way on day 2 and it was possibly even better.

Serve with a small drizzle of lemon juice to brighten the flavors.

Optional garnish: a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche, croutons, fried cubes of paneer might be nice too.

Rainbow Cupcakes

These little gems came out beautifully, but I have to admit they were a bit of a pain to make. They’re easy, but time consuming.

Take your favorite cupcake recipe and when the batter is ready, divide it equally into six bowls. Add food coloring to each bowl, use a good amount to make brightly colored cupcakes. I used: red, orange, yellow, green, blue & purple.

After that you spoon equal amounts of each color into the cupcake liners. For me that was about a tablespoon of each batter color. Bake them at the recipe’s prescribed temperature and frost with your favorite frosting.

Miso-Rye Caraway Sables, #Baketogether

OK, I’m on a Miso-Rye tear. It’s my new thing. It will pass, but I’ll certainly make these delicious crackers again! They’re really terrific. Thanks to Abby Dodge again for another good recipe we can mess with. I used a pumpernickel flour, because my local bulk food co-op place was out of rye flour. The help told me pumpernickel is just coarse rye flour. It worked well.

Miso-Rye Caraway Sables (adapted from Abby Dodge’s Spicy Parmesan Sables)

1/2 all purpose flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon Rye or Pumpernickel flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1-2 tablespoons white miso (red miso would be fine too)
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 slices, well chilled
3 tablespoons very cold water, maybe a little more
Kosher salt for sprinkling (optional)

To make the dough:
1. Put the flour, cheese, and salt in a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the butter and miso and pulse until the butter pieces are slightly larger than pea size, about 10 to 12 pulses depending on your machine. Add the caraway seeds. Drizzle the water evenly over the flour mixture. Pulse until the dough begins to form moist crumbs that are just beginning to clump together, about 8 or 9 more pulses depending on your machine.

2. Dump the moist crumbs onto the un-floured counter and gather into a pile. With the heel of you hand, push and gently smear the crumbs away from you until they start to come together in a cohesive dough. (This is called fraisage. See Abby’s original recipe for pictures) Two or three ‘smears’ should do the trick. Using a bench scraper, gather the dough together and turn it about 45 degrees and give it one or two more smears.  Gather the dough together and shape the dough into a log, fatter for bigger crackers. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until very firm, about 3 hours, or up to 2 days. (I threw mine in the freezer for 30 minutes)

3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.  Line two large baking sheets with parchment or silpat. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/4-inch slices and arrange about 1 inch apart (they don’t spread much at all) on the prepared sheets. Bake, one sheet at a time,  until nutty brown around the edges, 16 to 18 minutes. If you like, sprinkle the crackers with a little kosher salt just as the baking sheets come out of the oven. Serve slightly warm or room temperature.
4. The dough can be shaped and frozen for up to a month and then thawed for about an hour on the counter or in the refrigerator overnight. Likewise, tuck the baked and cooled sables in a heavy duty zip top bag and stash them in the freezer. Thaw at room temperature and warm them for a few minutes at 325°F to refresh the flavors.

Scott’s Notes: The miso makes these brown very nicely, but be careful they go quickly to burnt. I lost track of how much water I used at 3 tablespoons. It wasn’t a whole tablespoon more though. The rye flour is pretty dry. My parmesan was fairly dry and I grated it on the large size of a box grater, so chunks of it survived the mixing process. That turned out to be a good thing. I have no idea what made the white dots that show in the photo. Let me know if you have ideas/theories about that.

Pistachio Cheesecake for #BakeTogether

This month’s challenge for #BakeTogether was cheesecake. I love pistachios and have some pistachio oil on hand thanks to our trip to Paris. It was a good time to use some.

The first one I made was a bit of a disaster. My cookie crumbs were “gone over” as they say, but I didn’t notice until the whole thing was baked. I also think I used too much pistachio oil in the first one, the taste was kind of overpowering. But then fully chilled it might have been fine. I threw it out and started over.

We had the second one last night for dessert during the Academy Awards party we attended. I won the Oscar statue for getting 18 of 24 awards right! Everyone was very complimentary about the cheesecake. I thought it good, but I must admit my favorite is still the one my mom made growing up: Luscious Lemon Cheesecake, from Suburbia Today magazine November 1964.

Pistachio Cheesecake (Adapted from Abby Dodge)

For the crust:
•  
 2 cups (9 ounces) finely crushed crisp chocolate cookies
•    3 tablespoons granulated sugar
•    6 tablespoons (3 ounces) salted butter, melted or unsalted butter & a pinch of salt

For the filling:

▪    3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
▪    3 tablespoons all purpose flour
▪    Good pinch of  table salt
▪    1 1/3 cups (9 3/8 ounces) granulated sugar
▪    1 cup of hulled pistachios
▪    1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
▪    2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or paste
▪    1 tablespoon pure pistachio oil
▪    4 large eggs, at room temperature

To make the crust:
1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Wrap the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a piece of aluminum foil and clasp the outer ring over the foil so the edges hang outside the ring. In a medium bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs, & sugar until well blended. Drizzle with the melted butter and mix until well blended.

2. Dump the crumbs into the springform pan and cover with large piece of plastic wrap. Place your hands on the plastic wrap and press the crumbs about 2 1/2 inches up the sides of the pan.(The plastic wrap will keep the crumbs from sticking to your hands.) With the plastic wrap still in place, redistribute the remaining crumbs evenly over the bottom of the pan and firmly press down to make a compact layer. I like to use a metal measuring cup with straight sides and a flat bottom for this task.. Bake until the crumbs are fragrant, about 12 minutes and set on a rack to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

To make the filling:


1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, flour and salt until very smooth and no lumps remain. It’s very important for the cream cheese to be lump free at this point so stop and scrape the beater and sides of the bowl frequently.

Put the pistachios and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind together until fine.

Add the sugar and nut mixture, sour cream and vanilla extract and beat until well blended and smooth, stopping to scrape beater and bowl several times.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until just blended, stopping to scrape beater and bowl before each addition. (Don’t over beat the filling once the eggs have been added or the cheesecake will puff too much.) Tap the bowl several times on the counter to release some of the air bubbles. Pour the filling into the cooled crust. Using the tip of a small knife or a toothpick, pop any air bubbles on the surface.

2. Bake at 300°F until the center jiggles like jello when nudged, 60-75 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed around the edges and the center will still look moist. Set on a rack and cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours or overnight or up to 3 days. The cake can also be frozen up to 1 month. I served mine at cool room temperature, but would probably prefer it right from the fridge.

To serve:

Have a flat serving plate ready and close by. Unclasp the pan’s ring, remove it, and using the excess foil, gently nudge and lift the cake to be sure it’s released. Using the foil, carefully lift the cheesecake and slide it onto the serving plate and center it.. Tear off one side of the foil close to the cheese cake. On the opposite side of the cake, gently pull the remaining foil  out from the cheesecake. (If you are topping the cake with something yummy, do so now.) Run a thin knife under hot water, wipe it dry, and cut the cake into slices, heating and wiping the knife after every slice.

Macarons

French Macarons are all the rage here in the Bay Area. I actually never tasted one until we were in Paris and then I only had one or two. There were so many yummy things to get around to eating there. In retrospect we should have gone in Laudrée, the bakery known for macarons, when we walked past it. I just never imagined they were as glorious as they are. I guess mainly because I’ve never found meringues that interesting.

I set about learning to make these delectable cookies when we got back from Paris. I’ve tried three different recipes and finally have one that works for me. I’ve read dozens of them to get to this point. I’ve kind of gleaned a little here and there.

I’ll point you to One Vanilla Bean’s blog post for details on how to make good macarons. I must say I vary on a couple of minor points: fresh eggs work fine for me, right from the fridge. I have backyard hens, and used their eggs both times I’ve made the recipe. I always run my almond meal-powdered sugar through a sieve. I swear not doing so messed up one of my earlier test runs.

Getting everything folded together is the most challenging part for me. I tended to under mix. That’s better than over mixing, but getting it just right gives you nice feet, but not running feet. Cecilia’s picture of the mix falling off the spatula is particularly helpful.

I also have a cheat. I bought this silpat like item from Fantes.com, the Mastrad Small Macarons Baking Sheet. It sure helps me make all the shells the same size. I’m not that good with a piping bag. I spray it with a little canola oil to make doubly sure no sticking.

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For the filling I took inspiration from Mardi of EatLiveTravelWrite.com. She very recently filled some macarons with Meyer Lemon Curd and a special blackberry jam. I made lemon curd from our Meyer lemons and I already had a jar of blackberry jam from Amber in the fridge.

I pity the boule. #BakeTogether

I liked the #BakeTogether Peasant Boule I made last week well enough that I wanted to make it again. It was so tasty as sandwich bread that I decided to vary the recipe slightly again and make it into a traditional loaf. It was barely cool before I sliced off the end and ate it with European butter. Mmmm!

This time I did much the same, but left out the baking powder. Not sure I notice a difference.

It did take a bit longer to bake, but that was probably due to me setting the temperature at 350°F accidentally.

Update: I did this again making it rye. See the note at the bottom.

Whole Wheat Loaf (adapted from Abby Dodge)

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/3 cups warm water (about 110°F)
1 tablespoon butter melted

1. Dissolve sugar in the warm water, add yeast to proof. Wait until you see a foamy top to continue. If you don’t after 10 minutes your yeast may not be alive. Don’t proceed unless you yeast is doing it’s job.
2. In a large bowl of electric stand mixer, whisk the flour, salt and baking powder. Clip the bowl into the mixer stand and fit the mixer with the dough hook.
3. With mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the water/yeast into the flour and mix until the flour is completely incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bottom and sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. It shouldn’t be too sticky at this point. Slight sticky is fine.
4. Scoop up the dough and shape it into a ball. Lightly oil a rising bucket (or mixing bowl) and pop the dough, rounded side down, turn over. Cover the top securely. Let the covered dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to an hour.
5. Punch down the dough, smooth it out and let it rise in the bucket again until doubled, another 45 minutes or so.
6. Oil or butter a standard loaf pan. I use olive oil spray.
7. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and press to deflate it. Shape the dough into a flatish oblong shape. Pull the sides and ends towards the middle, pinching to get them to stick together. Turn over and place in loaf pan.
8. Let the dough rise covered in a warm spot until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 375°F while the dough is rising. Brush the top of the loaf with the melted butter. Bake 40 – 50 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when you knock on it’s bottom and be nicely browned all around.

Rye Variation:  substitute dark or light rye flour for the whole wheat flour and add 2 tablespoons of caraway seeds. Mine turned out fairly dense, but tastes good. It may take a bit longer to rise.

Peasant Boule #BakeTogether

As Barbara of Creative Culinary just noticed, there seems to be a treatment facility for #CharcutePalooza addicts and it’s called #BakeTogether. Abby Dodge has been heading the project for a few months now. I just heard about it through other paloozers. The idea is to take Abby’s recipe, modify it and post your results. Come and go as you like, not a lot of rules. I need motivation to post more often, so I thought I’d take a stab at her boule, the January project.

It all starts with her recipe. I made some modifications, mainly switching out some for white flour for whole wheat, and active dry yeast instead of instant. I was dubious about the baking powder, originally leaving it out and then deciding to put it in. I’ve never made a yeast bread with it before and I’ve been baking bread for 40 years. (Eek, maybe I shouldn’t admit that number.) I’m not exactly clear on what it’s role is here. If I was a real food blogger, I’d make it again today without and do a blind taste test. But, that ain’t gonna happen.

I rise dough in a plastic bucket like thing from the restaurant supply place. Over time theses are replacing my plastic storage containers. They’re inexpensive, like $3.49 plus $1.49 for the lid, and perform better. I have several sizes. You can buy them from King Arthur online at an exorbitant markup.

This is the picture after the first rise. Contrary to the original recipe I also went for a second rise.
My final change to the recipe was to do the final rise in my brotform proofing basket. I sprayed it lightly with olive oil spray, dusted it with flour and that’s what makes the pretty spiral on the top.

I served it at a dinner party last night and it was a big hit. Just the right amount of whole wheat to give it some flavor, but not to weigh it down. However, I think it was best this morning as toast. Super yummy, the expensive European butter probably helped too.

Whole Wheat Peasant Boule (adapted from Abby Dodge) Makes 1 round loaf

2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 scant tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/3 cups warm water (about 110°F)
water bottle for misting the oven(optional)

1. Dissolve sugar in the warm water, add yeast to proof.
2. In a large bowl of electric stand mixer, whisk the flour, salt and baking powder. Clip the bowl into the mixer stand and fit the mixer with the dough hook.
3. With mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the water into the flour and mix until the flour is completely incorporated.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bottom and sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. It shouldn’t be too sticky at this point. Slight sticky is fine.
4. Scoop up the dough and shape it into a ball. Lightly oil a rising bucket (or mixing bowl) and pop the dough, rounded side down, turn over. Cover the top securely. Let the covered dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to an hour.
5. Punch down the dough, smooth it out and let it rise in the bucket again until doubled, another 45 minutes or so.
6. If you have a proofing basket get it ready. Otherwise grease up an 8-inch round cake pan with some room temperature butter.
7. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and press to deflate it. Shape the dough into a 7-inch-wide round and place it, smooth side up, in the center of the prepared basket or pan.
8. Let the dough rise covered in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
9. Preheat the oven to 375°F while the dough is rising. If using the rising basket you’ll need to have a pizza stone in the oven to invert the boule onto. Or you could put a cookie sheet in the oven to invert it on. When ready, mist the oven with your water bottle, invert the boule onto the stone and close the oven. Bake 5 minutes and mist the oven again. This will give you a crisp crust. Omit the misting if you want a softer crust. Bake and additional 30 – 40 minutes. The boule should sound hollow when you knock on it’s bottom and be nicely browned all around.