Sunday, March 27, 2011

Raspberry Rolls

When it comes to baking breakfast pastries, I ascribe to the French method. That is: lots and lots of butter. Unfortunately, in this country, the emphasis seems to be on sugar instead. After all, we do live in the land of Krispy Kremes and Twinkies, not croissants and pain-au-raisins. Guys, when you have popular myths about how your pastries can survive nuclear holocausts, you're doing something wrong!

All this to say, I know I shouldn't be encouraging this type of behaviour. But I have learned that such pastries as cinnamon buns (with less sugar and more cinnamon) are passable breakfast material. And when I found this recipe, that disregards the granulated, spicy filling for the sake of berries, I couldn't resist the temptation. Besides, it was getting on to exam week, and my roommates were in sore need of a sweetness boost in the morning.

It's pleasant to make from the cook's perspective, because you don't have to wake up at the crack of dawn in order to have it ready by breakfast-time. Instead, you can prepare everything the night before, leave it in the fridge overnight, and pop it in the oven when you wake up. Mixed feelings on the taste: though it's much better than many breakfast pastries out there, I would still trade more sugar for butter. The raspberries provide enough fructose by themselves. But I am opinionated this was, and the final product was universally appreciated, so I figured I should share it anyway.

Raspberry-Swirl Sweet Rolls
for the dough:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1,1/2 Tbs active dry yeast
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 4,1/4 cups flour, plus more for dusting
for the filling
  • 10 oz frozen raspberries // they recommend Individually Quick Frozen, but regular's good enough for me
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
for the glaze
  • 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3 Tbs butter, melted
  • 1,1/2 Tbs heavy cream

Make the dough
In a small saucepan, warm the milk over moderately low heat until it's about 95 degrees. Pour the warm milk into the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook and stir in the sugar and yeast. Let stand until the yeast is foamy, about 5min. Add the softened butter, eggs, grated lemon zest and sea salt. Add the flour and beat at medium speed until a soft dough forms, about 3min. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is soft and supple, about 10min longer.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it with your hands 2 or 3 times. Form the dough into a ball and transfer it to a lightly buttered bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1-2 hours.

Line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing the paper to extend up the short sides. butter the paper and sides of the pan. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and, using a rolling pin, roll it into a 10-by-24-inch rectangle.

Add the filling
In a medium bowl, toss the frozen strawberries with the sugar and cornstarch. Spread the raspberry filling evenly over the dough. Tightly roll up the dough to form a 24-inch-long log. Working quickly, cut the log into quarters. Cut each quarter into 4 slices and arrange them in the baking pan, cut sides up. Scrape any berries and juice from the work surface into the baking pan between the rolls. Cover the rolls and let them rise in a warm place until they are puffy and have filled the baking pan, about 2hrs.

If you're making this the night before, stop here. Cover the rolls and place them in the refrigerator. In the morning, return them to room temperature before baking.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake the rolls for about 25min, until they are golden and the berries are bubbling. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for 30min.

Make the glaze
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the confectioners' sugar with the butter and heavy cream until the glaze is thick and spreadable.

Invert the rolls onto the rack and peel off the parchment paper. Invert the rolls onto a platter. Dollop glaze over each roll and spread with an offset spatula. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Asian Fusion Weekend

This past weekend witnessed a host of continual successes in my kitchen. It seems that everything we made, be they desserts, breakfast, or actual main courses, ended up perfect. In addition to this excellence, it appears that we also had an unplanned theme of vaguely pan-Asian-ish flavours in our dinners. That probably had something to do with the abundance of teriyaki and soy sauce in use. Y'know, just maybe. In any case, both these dishes do a wonderful job of pairing distinct sweet and sour flavours together. They were such an unexpected treat, I can't help but blog about them.

Saturday: Teriyaki-Glazed Salmon Fillets
I don't eat enough fish in my life. This is because a) as a scuba dive instructor, I find it somewhat odd to eat my little aquatic friends, and more saliently, b) the price tag of fish in the Midwest doesn't like me. But when you get a craving, there's no fighting it. I needs me some fishies. So, bolstered by the earlier success of revisiting old cookbooks, I took another leap of faith and started examining the fish section ATK's 2009 Cooking for Two. I don't rely on this one much, because "for Two" doesn't generate sufficient leftovers in my opinion. The food is good, though, so there's no sense in completely ignoring it.

This dish stood out from the rest in the section. It involves pan-searing salmon until it's almost crisp, and then covering it in a thick, viscous glaze of homemade teriyaki sauce (because bottled just isn't good enough). What's more, the recipe leads you to serve it on a bed of simple cabbage-shiitake stir-fry. Though I would add more mushrooms next time, this is a quick way to add both the crunch of veggies and the je-ne-sais-quoi of shrooms to the already sweet-salty tang of the fish. Talk about rich in taste and texture! ATK FTW. And simple enough that even I might decide to assemble it on a weeknight. When I can afford salmon on a regular basis. Yeeaaah...

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbs mirin
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 scallions, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp grated or minced fresh ginger
  • 4 tsp vegetable oil
  • 6 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 small head napa cabbage (about 8oz), cored and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 (6oz) skinless center-cut salmon fillets, about 1,1/2 inches thick

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Whisk the soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and cornstarch together in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the scallions, garlic, sesame oil, and ginger.

Heat 1 Tbs of the vegetable oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook until they soften and just begin to brown, about 2min. Stir in the cabbage and cook until wilted, about 5min.

Clear the center of the skillet, add the scallion mixture, and cook, mashing the mixture into the pan, until fragrant, about 30sec. Stir the scallion mixture into the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and transfer the mixture to a platter. Tent loosely with foil and keep warm in the oven while preparing the salmon.

Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Wipe out the skillet with a wad of paper towels, add the remaining 1 tsp oil, and heat over medium-high heat until just smoking. Place the salmon, skinned-side up, in the skillet and cook until well browned on the first side, about 5min. Flip the fish and continue to cook until the flesh is opaque and flakes apart when gently prodded with a paring knife, 3-5min longer. Transfer the fish to the platter with the cabbage in the oven while preparing the sauce.

Wipe out the skillet with a wad of paper towels. Whisk the soy sauce mixture to recombine, add it to the skillet, and bring to a simmer over medium ehat. Cook until the sauce is a thick, syrupy glaze, about 2min. Spoon the glaze over the salmon and serve.

Sunday: Honey-Chile Chicken Wings
This recipe has been on my waiting queue for a while: Moxie and I had been planning to wait until the local farmer's market reopens to purchase quality meat. Unfortunately, we've both been suffering from meat-cravings recently, so we caved and bought the best free-range chicken the supermarket could provide (which isn't so much "happy" chicken as "vaguely content"). But man, does it hit the spot.

My first reaction to biting into the finished product was: "...buffalo wings?" Because indeed, they are similar to the restaurant appetizer that Do wants to order by the bucketful whenever he comes to visit. They have the same crispy skin and juicy interior; both are doused in sauce; finally, eating them with your hands makes a tasty mess that will leave you licking your fingers for hours. The sauce itself is what makes all the difference; I'm sure you can imagine the depths of taste in the combination of vinegar, honey, and soy sauce. Adjust the spice content to match your heat tolerance (Do, for instance, would triple the amount of crushed red pepper, and then add some hot sauce), and you can add the right amount of burn to the sticky sweet & salty mixture.

  • 4 lbs chicken wings // You don't need that much; we used less than 3 lb
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 Tbs soy sauce
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Preheat the broiler and set a rack in the center of the oven. In a large bowl, toss the chicken wings with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the wings on a wire rack set over a large, sturdy baking sheet. Broil for 45-50min, turning once or twice, until the wings are cooked through and crisp.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the vinegar and crushed red pepper and simmer for 1min. Let cool, then whisk in the honey and soy sauce.

In a large bowl, carefully toss the chicken wings with the honey-soy mixture. Transfer the wings to a platter, sprinkle with the scallions and serve.

Friday, March 4, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different

My recent excursions/pilgrimages/quests to the slowly-dying Borders has left me with a ton of new books. Duh. That should be obvious. The unexpected part is that because of this, some mystery of my psyche gives me the desire to revisit all my old books, the ones that haven't been properly appreciated. Does this make sense on any level? Oh wait; I don't care. Books!

Some recipes collections, though, I've been reading far too often. I've been through my Italian a lot, so that's out. Bittman likewise; not good for recipe browsing. I'm sick of staring at a computer screen, so the Internet is of no use to me. Not feeling fancy enough for Food & Wine or the Silver Palate, and tapas are too much effort for too little output. And so on, until I had all but whittled my options away.

And then my eyes alighted on a little-used hardback tucked away in a corner of the bookshelf: Sephardic Flavors. Hmm, that's one I don't use often. Neen & Do gave it to me a few years ago when they were experimenting with new flavours. But not knowing how to approach the food, I haven't made good use of it. Time to remedy that, methinks!

Scanning through the various options, none of which seem remotely similar to my standard cuisine, I eventually settled on mantikos. Evidently based on the Turkish manti*, these are palm-sized savory pastries -- kind of like warm bread dumplings filled with fresh cheese and [meat|onions|spinach] (the recipe offers three possible fillings). Somehow, they both taste delightfully Mediterranean and are bracingly warm for the remaining cold nights of winter. Making them was a bit of a pain, as I am very bad at wrapping up fillings without making a horrible mess. It turns out that it doesn't matter, though: if you can't pinch one mantiko (?) closed, simply let it cook on foil or parchment paper with the opening facing up. Even though some of the filling might escape, the rest can be put out on display.

And if, like me, you end up with too much filling, let me say one word: quiche.

for the starter:
  • 1 envelope (2,1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 Tbs flour
for the dough:
  • 2,3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp plus 1/3 cup vegetable oil
for the meat filling:
  • 2-3 Tbs olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

for the spinach filling:
  • 1 lb spinach, stems removed
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 lb feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, OR 1/4 lb kashkaval or gruyère cheese, grated
  • nutmeg, salt, pepper
for the onion and cheese filling:
  • 3 Tbs olive or vegetable oil
  • 4 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 lb ricotta cheese, fromage blanc, or cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill
  • pepper, nutmeg (optional)
to finish:
  • 1 egg, beaten with a little water

To make the starter, in a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in the lukewarm water, then stir in the flour. Set aside for 10min until frothy.

To make the dough, in a bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and the 1 tsp oil. Add the starter and using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, beat on medium speed until a soft dough forms, about 10min. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into 18 to 24 balls. Place the balls in a bowl, add the 1/3 cup oil, and toss to coat the balls with the oil Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until almost doubled in size, about 30min.

Meanwhile, select one of the fillings and prepare it. If making the meat filling, warm the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender and translucent, about 10min. Add the garlic and beef and cook, breaking up the meat, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5min. Add the salt, pepper, and parsley and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned, about 10min. Remove from the heat and let cool.

To make the spinach filling, cook until wilted in the rinsing water clinging to the leaves, squeeze the spinach dry, and chop finely. Place in a bowl and add the eggs and cheeses. Mix well and season with the nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

To make the onion and cheese filling, warm the oil or margarine in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and golden, about 15min. Remove from the heat, place in a bowl, and let cool. Fold in the cheeses, eggs, and dill and season with pepper and with nutmeg, if using.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out a ball of dough into a rectangle or square about 1/3-inch thick. Place a generous tablespoon of filling on the center of the dough. Fold in the sides, fold up the bottom, then fold the top over the bottom to seal. Pinch the seams together securely and place seam side down on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all the pastries are filled. Brush the tops with the egg wash.

Bake the pastries until golden, 25-30min. Serve hot or warm.

* Plagiarising the recipe notes: "Traditional Turkish manti are made with a kind of pasta dough and are usually dressed with paprika and melted butter or yogurt and garlic sauce. The Sephardic mantikos pastry from Cannakale is a yeast-raised dough."

Farewell, Borders: Disaster Cake

Everybody knows this by now, but Borders is slowly collapsing (like a flan in a cupboard). This includes their outlet store in my neighbourhood -- just a few blocks from my apartment. I mourn its loss. I won't deny that the corporation made some really dumb business decisions -- and often, at that -- but in my opinion, there can never be enough books. "Un livre, c'est un trésor," -- a book is a treasure -- as an elementary school teacher of mine would frequently repeat. Though I rolled my eyes at the time, I do believe she was right. Books are the currency of intellect, massive repositories of verbal artistry, alternatively bequeathing you with new knowledge of your world and offering a dream-like escape from reality.

So when the local store put everything on sale with huge discounts, I was one of the first to line up. Actually, that's not entirely true: it took me a few days to get there, but I went back again and again. By the time I was done (read: exhausted my budget), I had returned three times with my arms encircling a new pile of books. Unlike my usual M.O., I didn't just ravage their SF/Fantasy section; I gleefully snatched everything that looked interesting. I danced through the Poetry section, loitered in Science & Tech, and grabbed all manner of fiction, whether classic or pop.

It goes without saying that this included a cookbook or two. One in particular intrigued me. As it is entitled the "Golden Book of Chocolate" (kinda presumptuous, don't you think?) and has the shiniest cover I have ever seen, I hesitated to buy it. I simply don't trust cookbooks that gaudy. By the third trip to the store, though, I realised it was bugging me too much for me not to have it. Turns out to be an interesting purchase, and I'm sure I will talk about many times in the future. For now, though, I'm going to tell the story of how utterly disastrous my first use of it was.

The recipe wasn't THAT ridiculous: white chocolate fudge with pecans. Melted butter, milk, chocolate, vanilla, nuts, sugar, and a period of time chilling. Piece of cake--er, fudge-- right? Wrong. The ratio of liquid to solid is way off. What should have been a couple hours in the fridge turned into days in the freezer, and the damn mix never solidified. To add insult to injury, a roommate's bag of tortillas slipped and took a plunge into the pan. "Now I don't only have a lack of fudge," I muttered to myself, "but also a cold mess to clean up. Great. Bloody brilliant."

Irony aside, what was bloody brilliant was the idea to use the concoction as icing on a cake instead. I was clearly not the one to figure this out. A few brief minutes later, my standby chocolate cake was ready. Here, again, the fates attempted to thwart me: overeager to be done with the baking project, I popped the cake out of the pan before it was cool, causing its middle to collapse. Fortunately, the sides had dried out enough to hold their form, so the cake ended up looking somewhat bowl-shaped. Not a bad thing when spreading a viscous icing. A final touch to this victory-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-defeat was a handy box of raspberries tossed on top.

The result was better than I could possibly have hoped for at any step in the process. The icing, added judiciously, not only adds a nutty earthiness to the rich chocolate but, furthermore, traps the moisture in the cake. That means that you can save it for days, and it will keep its decadent texture. I'll include the recipe here, but you should be aware that you'll try it at your own risk. If it works like fudge, congratulations! Otherwise, know that it can be remedied.

Thanks, Borders, for all the wonder you have so disastrously provided. You are a collapsed cake with icing that should have been fudge. Whatever that means.

White Chocolate and Pecan Fudge / Disaster Cake icing
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1,1/2 cups milk
  • 2,1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 oz white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Oil an 8*10-inch baking pan. Place the butter, milk and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar begins to dissolve. Simmer the mixture until it reaches the soft ball stage. At this temperature, if you drop a spoonful of the mixture into ice water, it will make a limp, sticky ball that flattens when you remove from the water.

Remove from the heat and beat until it starts to thicken, about 5min.

Add the chocolate and stir until it has melted. Fold in the pecan nuts and vanilla extract. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Let cool to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator until set, 2-3hrs. (Lies! Lies! Lies!). Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Cookies, Part the Third

The madness continues! Continual success with these batches.

Raspberry Cream Cheese Brownies
Seriously, you shouldn't even have to ask why this recipe is awesome. I mean, a) brownies. Duh. But if that wasn't enough, you get a center of cream cheese (which keeps them astoundingly moist, even after several days) and raspberry jam is spread throughout all the batter. Raspberry-y chocolate? How could you possibly go wrong?

I tell you, though: next time I make this, I'm putting all the chocolate batter on the bottom and leaving the marbled cream cheese and jam for display. Because that is a thing of beauty.
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1,1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2,1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raspberry jam
  • 3 large eggs
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch square baking pan with foil, allowing excess to hang over pan edges. Grease foil. Process cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, egg yolk, and 3/4 tsp vanilla in food processor until smooth.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl. Microwave butter and chocolate in large bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, about 1min. Whisk in 1/4 cup jam and cool slightly. Add remaining 1,1/4 cups sugar, eggs, and remaining 1,1/2 tsp vanilla to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Add flour mixture and stir until incorporated.

Microwave remaining 1/4 cup jam until warm, about 30secs; stir until smooth. Scrape half of batter into prepared pan. Dollop cream cheese filling over batter and spread into even layer. Dollop warm jam over filling and swirl to partially combine. Spread remaining batter evenly over filling. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out with few crumbs attached, 50-60min. Cool completely, about 2hrs. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan and cut into squares.

Butterscotch Meringue Bars
Ok, so if we posit that meringues themselves are too sweet, where does that leave meringue toppings? Can they still be used without wrecking the taste with sugary sweetness? Answer: yes. In fact, I wouldn't make this bar without the topping: it adds a third layer that contrasts colour (which you can't really tell from that picture), texture, and flavour to the other two. "The other two," being a layer of pure melted chocolate, and a blondie base. A sweet sandwich of delicious. Ergo, the use of meringue is justified.
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 16 Tbs (2 sticks) butter
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 Tbs water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 13*9-inch baking pan with foil, allowing excess to hang oven pan edges. Grease foil. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.

With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, 1 cup brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, 2min. Add egg yolks, water, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until combined. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Press chocolate chips lightly into dough.

In clean bowl, whip egg whites to stiff peaks. Reduce speed to medium-low and slowly add remaining brown sugar, mixing until smooth and shiny. Gently spread egg white mixture over chocolate chip layer and bake until golden brown, about 35min. Cool completely, about 2hrs. Using foil overhang, lift bars from pan and cut into squares.

Old-Fashioned Butter Crunch Candy
I'm not sure what makes this "old-fashioned," or why they titled it this way. Several folks I offered it to called it "bark." I've never had commercial bark candy, but I understand the general concept. This isn't too different, other than its caramel base and nut topping. It's pretty sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. Moreover, if you served a lot of soft warm desserts like I do, suddenly having something hard and crunchy can be a nice change of pace, especially if you serve it with ice cream. Besides, you can show off; everyone will be astounded that you made your own candy.
  • 14 Tbs (1,3/4 sticks) butter
  • 1,1/3 cups sugar
  • 3 Tbs water
  • 1 Tbs light corn syrup
  • 4 oz [milk|semisweet|bittersweet] chocolate, chopped coarse
  • 1/2 cup almonds or pecans, toasted and chopped fine
Line a 13*9-inch baking pan with foil, allowing excess to hang over pan edges. Grease foil. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugar, water, and corn syrup and boil, stirring constantly, until mixture is light caramel in colour, 10-12min. If you're all fancy-pants and have an instant-read thermometer, it should register 310 degrees at this point.

Carefully pour hot caramel into prepared baking dish. Let cool until slightly firm but still warm, about 5min. Scatter chocolate pieces evenly over top, let soften for 5min, then spread into even layer using back of spoon. Sprinkle nuts over chocolate and gently press to adhere.

Cool completely, about 1hr. Using foil overhang, lift candy from pan and break into various-size pieces by hand.