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Leftover Treasures: Arancini

12 Aug

There are a lot of clever ways to revive leftovers, but one of my favorites makes a new dish that can be even better than the original. I am talking of course, about arancini, Sicily’s perfect little fried rice balls.

The name translates from Italian and Sicilian to mean “little oranges” for the shape and color of the finished product. They’re said to have originated in 10th century Sicily, and later gained popularity as a food eaten on the feast of Santa Lucia. “Arancini are a traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia on 13 December when bread and pasta are not eaten. This commemorates arrival of a grain supply ship on Santa Lucia’s day in 1646, relieving a severe famine” [1]. Today, arancini are so popular that most food outlets in Sicily sell them year-round.

Though meat in tomato sauce (ragù) and mozzarella are a traditional filling, variants are sold all over Sicily. Like any good leftover application, they are malleable enough to accommodate what you have on hand. These deep-fried delights are the answer to “I made a full recipe of risotto and only needed to feed 1 or 2 people. What now?”

Risotto already has such a wonderful depth of flavor that we don’t need to do much at all to make it something special again. Arancini are simple to make, freeze well, and fry up in less than five minutes. Sound good? Let’s go for it.

Mushroom and Cheese Arancini

Ingredients

  • Well chilled leftovers from 1 recipe Mushroom and Romano Risotto (about 3 cups for me). You can certainly use other varieties of leftover risotto, just make sure you chill it well so that it’s firm.
  • 3 eggs (2 beaten in one bowl, 1 beaten in another)
  • 2 oz. mozzarella cheese (or other melting cheese), cut into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Neutral oil such as peanut or canola for frying (enough to measure at least 2 in. deep in a saucepan)

Put the flour, 2 beaten eggs, and bread crumbs into separate bowls and arrange on the counter in that order. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat one egg and mix it into the chilled risotto.

Take 2 tbsp. of the risotto and flatten it gently into your palm. Place a cube of mozzarella in the center and then gently close your hand to surround the mozzarella with risotto. I also roll the ball between my hands a few times to get a nice compact shape.

Dip the ball into the flour, shaking off excess.

Next, dip it into the beaten egg, letting the excess drip off.

Finally, roll the ball in the panko breadcrumbs and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. I got 18 from 3 cups of risotto. (Yes, yes, there are only 17 in the picture. One was not-so-elegantly dropped.)

At this moment, I realized that I am one human with a somewhat small appetite and what on earth was I going to do with a dozen and a half arancini? Thankfully, these freeze well. If you need to do so, freeze them on a baking sheet until firm, and then move to a freezer bag. They’ll take a little longer to fry from frozen, but will be just as excellent. Win!

If not freezing, chill the arancini in the refrigerator for at least an hour before frying. They will hold their shape much better.

Prepare to fry by filling a saucepan with at least 2 in. of neutral oil. Clip a thermometer to the side of the pot and make sure the probe is at least ½ in. into the oil. This is important because greasy fried food is not what we’re after. Use an accurate thermometer, fry at the correct temperature, and the food will only absorb a very small amount of the oil. I’ve measured on a few occasions, and it’s usually only a few tablespoons total.

Bring the oil to 350 degrees F over moderate heat. You may be tempted to use high heat to get it there, but don’t. It will be harder to control the temperature later.

Fry the arancini 2-3 at a time to keep the oil temperature from dipping. They will cook in 2-4 minutes, depending on size. Remove when they are a deep golden brown. Bring the oil back to 350 degrees between batches.

Now you get a second course of your delicious risotto with added crunchy crust and gooey mozzarella center.

I mean, just check out that cheesiness:

They’re a great appetizer or lunch alongside a simple tomato salad. Now no delicious risotto leftovers need ever go to waste. And that feels pretty great.

Ciao for now,

Neen

1. Giuseppina Siotto, Vegetaliana, note di cucina italiana vegetale: La cucina vegetariana e vegana, 2014, ISBN8868101858, chapter 14

Reimagining Ribbon Cake

4 Aug

My grandmother turned 90 years old last week! For her birthday cake, we turned to an old recipe that my dad said she used to make frequently. It was a cake I’d never heard of that definitely doesn’t turn up in a basic or reverse Google Image Search, called Ribbon Cake. It’s a two layer white almond cake with white frosting, topped with piped ribbons of cherry and pineapple fillings, sprinkled with a layer of finely chopped walnuts, and finished with a final lattice of frosting to top it all off. It turned out pretty well, though I wasn’t crazy about the all-shortening frosting. And while I liked the fruit fillings, they were more sweet than fruity and were just a touch runny for easy cake topping.

Tradition is great, but I thought the recipe could benefit from an update. I really believe that recipes are live documents that morph over time as trends, ingredient availability, and food tech change. So for this version, let’s frost that fluffy white almond cake with an equally luxurious vanilla-almond buttercream. And while we’re at it, let’s make the fruit fillings from scratch too, for fruitier flavor and to help control the thickness for piping and standing at room temperature. Depending on where you live, you might even be able to make them completely fresh. My dad, mom, and I also learned a few lessons while frosting and decorating the cake that definitely helped make the second go at it a smoother process.

Reimagined Ribbon Cake

White Almond Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided into two 1 ¼ cup portions
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 6 egg whites at room temperature

Quick Buttercream Frosting

  •  6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 16 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. almond extract

Cherry Topping

  • 7 oz. cherries, pitted
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 heaping tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water

Pineapple Topping

  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1(20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, packed in its own juice or 2 cups mashed pineapple and 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Walnut Topping

  • ½ cup walnuts, finely chopped

I made this cake over the course of two days, so I’ll describe that process here.

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two 8 in. square pans by lining the bottoms with parchment paper and then greasing and flouring the pans. Alternatively you can use a baking release spray, but I would still recommend lining the bottoms with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and 1 1/4 cups of the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts.

Add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the milk, until everything is combined. Transfer back to the large mixing bowl.

Clean and dry the stand mixer bowl thoroughly. Use the whip attachment for this next step.

Add the egg whites and a pinch of salt to the stand mixer bowl. Whip on high speed until the egg whites are frothy, and then very slowly add the remaining 1 ¼ cups of sugar. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and holds stiff peaks.

Fold 1/3 of the meringue into the batter to lighten it, and then gently fold in the rest just until evenly incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly among the two prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 33-37 minutes, or until pulling away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

Next, make the fruit toppings.

To make the cherry topping, combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat.

Mash the cherries while the mixture heats up.

Stir constantly until the mixture bubbles and thickens. It should be shiny and thickly coat a spoon. Cool and then move to a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

To make the pineapple topping, combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until mixture comes to a boil, stirring constantly.

Continue stirring until the mixture is thick and loses its milky look.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter.

Let cool and then move to a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

At this point I wrapped the cakes tightly and stopped for the day. The next morning I began by making the buttercream.

Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy.

Gradually add the powdered sugar. Once it is all combined, add the salt and extracts and beat on high speed until thick and fluffy.

To assemble the cake, frost the first layer and stack the second on top.

Frost the cake with the buttercream, and then pipe a border around the top and the bottom of the cake. The top border is important as it acts as your frame for the fruit toppings. It can be as simple as a straight line if you prefer. I piped kisses using an open star tip.

Get out the fruit toppings and give them both a good stir. Transfer to piping bags with just couplers attached (no tips). Alternatively, use a plastic storage bag with the corner cut off. Pipe the first filling in diagonal lines about ½ in. apart.

Using the second filling, pipe lines in the spaces left between the first.

Sprinkle the walnuts over top of the fruit fillings.

Create the final layer by piping a lattice with lines spaced about 1 in. apart.

There you have it! My variation of grandma’s Ribbon Cake. The cake is moist and light, the buttercream silky smooth, and the fruit fillings are nice and bright. Saving most of this one for a visit from my parents. Maybe it will be a new tradition!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Double Dessert: Strawberry Cheesecake Brownies with a Graham Cracker Crust

23 Jul

Let’s face it, you have enough difficult decisions to make on a day to day basis, yes? So when it comes to having your dessert at the end of a long day, why add one more challenging choice into the equation? This is precisely the thought that came into my head Sunday afternoon. I wanted these super fudgy brownies I made earlier in the week (that seriously satisfied my illicit obsession with “testing” brownie/cake batter), but also had a craving for creamy cheesecake. And yes, the classic marbled chocolate and cheesecake brownie seemed like the obvious answer, but there were a few sticking points I needed to address.

First of all, if you are going to call something a cheesecake, it needs a delicious crust. And second of all, fudgy brownie and cheesecake together cry out for something fruity or acidic to cut all of that richness. So what I started to imagine was a crunchy, sweet crust, gooey, rich brownie, and smooth decadent cheesecake with a little strawberry swirl. I wandered into the kitchen without a recipe and only my cravings to guide me. And a few hours later, I definitely had no difficult choices to make.

Strawberry Cheesecake Brownies with Graham Cracker Crust

Crust

  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 pinches of salt

Brownie Layer

  • 8 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tbsp. cacao or cocoa butter,* melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cacao or cocoa powder*
  • ½ tsp. salt

*Cacao butter/powder are the raw versions of cocoa butter/powder. This just means that these products have not been processed at temperatures higher than 115 degrees F. Either will produce great results, I just like the flavor of the raw product. Can’t find cocoa butter? Any neutral cooking oil will do in a pinch.

Cheesecake Layer

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. strawberry preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line an 8×8 pan with aluminum foil and butter the foil.

Combine the graham crackers, sugar, salt and melted butter and mix well.

Press into the prepared pan in an even layer and bake for 12 minutes, or until just set. Move to a wire rack to cool slightly while you prepare the filling.

To make the brownie batter, combine the butter, cacao butter, and sugar and mix well.

Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until thick.

Stir in the dry ingredients, but do not overmix. Some lumps are fine.

Pour the brownie batter on top of the crust and set aside.

To make the cheesecake layer, blend the cream cheese, egg yolk, and sugar until smooth. I like to use a food processor for this.

Drop the strawberry preserves onto the cheesecake filling and swirl just slightly. Do not blend well.

Drop the cheesecake batter on top of the brownie layer in dollops and then use a butter knife to swirl the fillings together.

Bake for 35 minutes or until puffy and just set.

Allow the brownies to cool at room temperature for an hour, and then chill for 2 hours before cutting into 24 pieces. If you care about keeping it pretty, wipe down your knife with a warm, damp cloth between cuts.

This really is an awesome contrast of textures and flavors. You get that rich, fudgy brownie against smooth, creamy cheesecake with little swirls of strawberry to brighten it all up a little. Dessert need not be a difficult choice ever again. You’re welcome!

Ciao for now,

Neen

My Favorite Oatmeal Cookies

20 Jul

I love oatmeal cookies. They pair well with lots of different additions, but are also delicious left perfectly plain with a hint of spice. You can do fun things with the texture too. Make them thin and lacy, thick and cake-y, crunchy, or chewy and soft. But my favorite oatmeal cookies, combine lots of textures and have deep dark spice and caramel flavors. The recipe has gone through many iterations as I tried to find the combination of ingredients that gave me the nutty, chewy, crunchy, spicy-sweet cookie I was seeking. I really like where it’s at now, but you know I’d never promise not to play around with the recipe in the future. My imagination is already running off…

I digress. Back to the treats at hand. These are a really special little bite despite their innocent appearance. Let’s fill up the cookie jar!

Toasted Oatmeal, Pecan, and Coconut Cookies

  • ¾ cups rolled oats, toasted until fragrant*
  • ¾ cups quick cooking oats, toasted until fragrant
  • ¾ cup flour
  • ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • ½ cup (sweetened or unsweetened) shredded coconut, toasted until golden
  • ½ tsp. baking powder**
  • 2 oz. unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp.  cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Pinch fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg

*To toast the dry ingredients, just turn the oven to 350 degrees F and spread them out on separate baking sheets. The oats and nuts usually take 7-10 minutes and the coconut takes about 2-4 minutes.

** This weird thing happened when I started taking my medication for rheumatoid arthritis. I was finding that some of my baked goods tasted…off. There was this funny aftertaste that I could not get rid of and I had no idea what it was. I realized one day when I accidentally left some baking soda out of a recipe that OH, that’s that funny taste. This particular recipe can absolutely be made with ½ tsp. of baking soda or baking powder. Use what you have on hand.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Combine the butter, shortening, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt, and beat until smooth and creamy.

Add the egg and beat until well combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and baking powder and beat until incorporated.

Finally, stir in the oats, pecans, and coconut and beat until well distributed.

Use a small cookie scoop (mine is 2 tsp.) or spoon to drop the dough onto the sheets. I got three dozen this way and placed 18 per sheet. Gently press the cookies down with fingertips to flatten.


Bake for 11-12 minutes or until golden at the edges and lightly brown on the bottoms. Cool on a wire rack or eat them warm because YES.

So yes, I’ll admit there are some extra steps to this recipe, but they really are worth it to achieve all the crispy, chewy, crunchy goodness here. The warm spices make them a super comforting accompaniment to any cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea. Definitely a good evening porch-sitting cookie for summer.

Ciao for now,

Neen

A Curious Confection: St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

11 Jul

I’m always excited when I discover a dish I have never heard of that combines many of the textures and flavors I love. This one was actually brought to my attention a few years ago by a dear friend who asked for a St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake for his birthday, and I instantly fell in love with the concept the first time I made it. A soft, lightly sweet yeast-risen cake topped with a thick layer of sugar and butter that bakes up with a crisp crackly top like crème brûlée and a gooey layer beneath that melts on the tongue like cotton candy. Part confection, part cake, part bread, all amazing.

And while it takes a few hours to make, don’t be intimidated. The vast majority of it is just waiting for that cake dough to sloooooowly rise in the pan. The other key component here is to make sure your butter and eggs have a chance to come to room temperature before starting. Your results will be far more consistent.

St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Cake:

  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 1 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 6 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 3 tbsp. + 1 tsp. light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

Have ready an ungreased 9×13 in. baking dish. I would recommend glass or ceramic as the edges of the cake will get quite dark when baked in a metal pan.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk with 2 tbsp. of water and heat until between 110-115 degrees F. Remove from the heat, whisk in the yeast, and set aside. The mixture will foam, but just slightly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg.

Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

Beat dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from sides of bowl, 4-5 minutes.

Press dough into the baking dish in an even layer.

Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel. Allow to rise until doubled, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F while you prepare the topping.

In a small bowl, mix the corn syrup with 2 tbsp. of water and the vanilla extract.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat in the egg until well combined.

Alternately add flour and the corn syrup/vanilla mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between additions.

Use an ice cream or cookie scoop to spoon the topping in large dollops over the risen cake, then use a spatula (a small offset works really well here) to gently spread it in an even layer.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. The finished cake will be golden brown on top, but still liquid in center when done.

Allow to cool in pan before cutting into squares. Sprinkle lightly with powdered sugar to serve.

The combination of textures is outrageously good here. Soft cake and a gooey-crisp-confection-like topping sure to make you question why on earth you’ve never heard of St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake before right this moment.

Well if you have, you’re one of the lucky ones. And I hope that now you’ll try to make one too!

Trust me, it’s worth the time spent.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Bite-size Sweets: Mini Strawberry Pies

30 Jun

It may be obvious from some of the recipes on this blog, but I love miniaturizing foods or making single servings. Little cookies or cakes that are a few bites at most are perfect to me, as is anything that can be frozen and revived without much loss of quality. A lot of this comes from a practical place. Neither Joe nor I have a particularly huge appetite, so making a whole cake or pie often means a lot goes to waste. It’s easier to make cupcakes or logs of cookie dough that can be frozen and portioned out when we want them. Right now there’s a bag of cinnamon rosettes, some of those chocolate and vanilla striped cakes, and a handful of flaky layer biscuits too. The point is, I really hate wasting food, so a lot of my cooking reflects that.

I was thinking about what to do with a fresh jar of strawberry preserves and immediately thought of this jam tart, which is one of my all-time favorite recipes. I knew though that we’d each have a piece or two and then we’d get a little bored of eating it. But I was kind of stuck on the idea of pie, and remembered that hand pies reheat pretty well from the freezer. So I decided to size them down a little further and make these cookie sized, a perfect few bites of rich pastry and sweet strawberry filling. And the best part is that you can store them in the freezer and toast or warm in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes and have them just as good as fresh.

Mini Strawberry Pies

Crust:

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tbsp. sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp. ice water

Filling:

  • 2-3 tbsp. strawberry preserves

Egg wash:

  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water

Method

You can find the method for making the pastry crust here, in my apple pie recipe. Follow the instructions just until the part where the ice water is added and the pieces are pressing together.

Turn the dough pieces out onto a sheet of parchment paper and press them together. Place another sheet of parchment on top and roll out to 1/8 in. thickness. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes, or until very firm.

Using a 2 in. round cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out 24 circles. If the dough gets soft while working with it, just put it in the freezer for 5 minutes. You may have to re-roll and re-chill the dough to get 24 circles. Place the circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Top half of the circles with a rounded ½ tsp. of strawberry preserves.

Brush the edges of each circle with the egg wash and then place another dough circle on top, pressing the edges to seal, and then crimping the edges with the tines of a fork. Use a sharp knife to poke vent holes in the top of each pie.

Place the pies in the refrigerator and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

When the oven is preheated, brush the top of each pie with the egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar (if desired).

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the bottoms and edges are golden.

Serve warm or room temperature. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for a few days. For longer storage, freeze on a baking sheet and once they are firm, move them to a freezer bags and seal.

These are delicious little bites that you could certainly make with other fruit preserves. Treat yourself to something sweet and then save the rest for when you’re really craving them again. It’s like baking for yourself a bunch of times all at once. Awesome!

Ciao for now,

Neen