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Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.

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Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.
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Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.

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Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

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Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.

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Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

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Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.

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Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.

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Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.

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Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.

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In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.

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The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.

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Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

Giardiniera
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.

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Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange

Filling:

  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.

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Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.

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To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.

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Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.

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Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.

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Pour the filling into the tart shell.

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Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

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Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?

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And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:

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Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,
Neen

Tribute to the Pie Queen

9 Oct

My best friend at Northeastern U. was an incredible baker. You’d walk into her dormitory suite and be enveloped in the warm scent of apples, cinnamon, and buttery pastry. She was undoubtedly one of the most generous people I have ever met in my life, and never once hesitated to take care of those around her. My freshman year of college, I would be her kitchen helper when she made dinner for our friends once a week. Every week was a different theme; from Italian and Southern favorites to a night of American classics that ended in an epic powdered sugar fight. Outside of my family, she is the one person who truly inspired me to see cooking in that light. She’s one of the reasons I almost never bake anything without intending to give some of it away.

Eight years ago today I solo-baked my first layer cake and it was for her. My decorating skills were even less, um, elegant than they are now and I used M&Ms to spell out her name on top of the icing. We watched a Red Sox v. Yankees playoff game, drank, ate, and laughed our heads off with the rest of our friends the entire evening. That night is more vivid in my mind than almost any other from that year living on Columbus Avenue. I adored those friends, especially the skinny guy with the sandy blonde curls and bright yellow “Firefighters for Kerry” shirt who asked me out four days later. Who knew I’d be calling him my husband someday?

Every year when that first autumn chill hits my bones, I think of my friend and the incredible apple pie she would make for us at a moment’s notice. That inaugural Fall day was most certainly yesterday. Saturday was warm with puffy clouds in the sky and then BAM: 50 degrees and overcast on Sunday.

I only had two apples in the refrigerator. Damn. Pie was not to be, but all was not lost. A lonely package of thawed phyllo dough called out to me and the next thing I knew I was making origami folds with the paper thin sheets slicked with butter. It might not be pie, but the little pockets of goodness were certainly easy to transport and share with colleagues.

I think she’d be proud of me.

Apple Turnovers with Hazelnuts and Almonds

Okay, take a deep breath. You are going to tear several sheets of phyllo dough. Don’t worry about it. Either patch it with a dab of butter or just grab a fresh sheet from the box. To keep your phyllo pliable while you work with it, keep what you aren’t currently working with and covered with a damp towel.

  • 2 large apples. I used Rome apples this time and enjoyed them a lot.
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus extra for dusting finished pastry.
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 20 sheets phyllo dough (14 inches x 9 inches), thawed, unrolled and covered with a damp cloth.
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts and almonds

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F.

Core, peel, and chop the apples. This kitchen toy is pretty awesome. I keep it around for when I make apple rings to dry or preserve. A $10 investment that will save you a massive amount of time unless you are Hiroyuki Sakai: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-xkL9DbwJc

Combine the apples, sugar, cinnamon, flour, and chopped nuts (if using) and set aside.

Now you are going to assemble and fold the dough exactly as you would do with the American flag. Here is a very clear video of the folding process. You don’t need to do the final fold at the edge and can finish with your original triangle pattern: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PcOWc5EJbVo

Place one sheet of phyllo dough on a clean work surface and brush one half with butter. Fold the sheet in half lengthwise and then repeat the process of buttering and folding. You’ll have a long strip of dough.

Take about one tablespoon of the apple filling and put it at one end of the phyllo strip. Then, fold the edge over the filling at a 90 degree angle to form a triangle shape. Continue folding into triangles the whole way down the strip of dough. Place the finished turnover seam side down on a baking sheet.

Repeat the process until you run out of either dough or filling. If you are being really neat and meticulous about it, you could probably get two dozen turnovers out of this recipe.

Brush the finished turnovers with melted butter, sprinkle on some extra cinnamon and sugar, and then bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown at the edges and on the bottom. Move them to a cooling rack. Unlike pie, you can eat them right away without the fear of oozing pie goo being left in the pan and not on your plate.

So, an autumn tribute to the Pie Queen, who taught me that generosity is the greatest gift in the world and always made me feel that no matter how cold the Boston winters were, there would always be a place to go to be warm all over. Thank you, my friend.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Ferdinand’s Flowers

25 Sep

“Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.”

So begins Munro Leaf’s tale of the bull who would not fight. Rather than play and butt horns with the other little bulls who dream of one day fighting at the bullfights in Madrid, Ferdinand enjoys the simple pleasure of smelling the flowers. One fateful day he goes to sit under his favorite tree and accidentally sits on a bee. The bee of course exacts revenge by stinging him, Ferdinand jumps, and then runs around crazily trying to soothe the pain. Seeing this, the men from the bullfights think he must be wild and fierce. He is taken off to Madrid to fight, but upon arriving he sees all of the ladies with pretty flowers throwing their roses into the ring. When it is his turn to fight, he simply sits down in the middle of the ring and breathes happily…just smelling the flowers. No matter how they poke, prod or provoke him, Ferdinand will not fight and he is sent home.

“And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly. He is very happy.”

If I had to wager a guess, the first place I read The Story of Ferdinand was probably at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Other than The Giving Tree, it is one of the few stories I remember reading as a child that seemed to stick with me and speak to me at every age.

Maintaining self confidence is something that has always been a struggle for me. I was a kid who was mostly content to go along with what my friends had planned. As long as the people I was with were in good spirits, I probably was too. I was very self-conscious about the things I liked. The first time I met someone with the same musical interests as me, my head almost exploded with joy. I saw a lot of really terrible movies throughout high school purely because I didn’t really want to speak up and say, “No, I’d rather not see that.” In my head it was better to go along with things than be a bother or be difficult.

And I would think of Ferdinand…

Ferdinand didn’t feel guilty about not wanting to fight. He ignored everyone yelling at him and simply enjoyed the smell of the flowers. Ferdinand was in control of his own destiny, even if that was just to sit under his favorite tree.

That’s what I always wanted out of life: to be content with myself just as I am, to enjoy the things in life that make me happy, and to let the rest roll off of me like water on a duck’s back. In the face of others telling me what I should do, like, or think, I wanted to be able to make my own decisions and stand by them confidently.

I would think of Ferdinand every time I stepped up to sing at karaoke, stood in front of my mirror before a job interview, or decided all on my own to stay in one night and learn how to make croissants instead of going out to a noisy bar.  And his story reminded me to just be myself and BE HAPPY.

And so I decided to have him join me permanently…

While he is still healing, I thought it would be nice to make some little “flowers” that smell so wonderful I think almost anyone would stop to enjoy the scent.

Cinnamon Rosettes (aka Flowers for Ferdinand)

These aren’t your typical ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls, but they are soft, sweet, and have lots of bits of caramelized cinnamon-and-brown-sugar for you to enjoy since each one is baked in its own little tin.

Dough:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. dry active yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon

Warm the milk and a pinch of sugar to between 110 to 115 degrees F. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour and salt.

Turn the mixer on a low speed and add the egg mixture, stirring until combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and let it knead the dough for a minute or two, then knead by hand until smooth and elastic.

Roll the dough into a ball and put it in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm draft-free place for one hour or until it doubles in volume.
Prepare filling by whisking together the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Butter a muffin tin and set it aside.
Once dough is doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, deflate gently, and then roll into a large rectangle (about 10 x 14 inches). Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough’s surface.

Tightly roll the dough over the filling, forming a 12 to 13-inch log. With a sharp knife, gently slice the log of dough into 12 equal pieces.

Place one piece in each muffin cup and then loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow the buns to rest for another 30 minutes. The dough will not rise a lot, but they will puff slightly.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake rosettes for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. The final internal temperature should be between 190-200 degrees F. Gently remove them from the muffin tin and cool on a rack.

Makes 12 buns.

I’m pretty sure that Ferdinand thought these were the sweetest smelling flowers hed ever smelled, and I bet you’ll enjoy them too. Plus, there is no better way to start a crisp, autumn weekend than with a warm cinnamon bun, a cup of coffee, and a reminder to just be yourself.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Peach Prizewinner

11 Aug

It’s peach season! It’s peach season!

I went to the Foggy Bottom farmer’s market on Wednesday and loaded up a backpack full of them. Cut in half and roasted or grilled with a small pat of butter and a few tsp. of brown sugar in the hole where the pit used to be, they are perfect. Usually I eat one with a dollop of plain yogurt for a cool, tangy topping. If there’s any homemade granola around I’ll throw a spoonful of that on as well. It is the best summer dessert and I love that you can just make one serving.

Delicious little drupes.

Anyway with the Arlington County Fair going on this weekend, I thought making something with the most in-season fruit I could find was the best bet. But somehow I just got stuck. No recipes stood out to me and I finally just started pulling out ingredients in the kitchen and hoped that using some basic proportions would guide me along. We’re currently rich in bourbon that was either gifted to us or left over from the wedding. What could be better than bourbon and peaches? Bourbon, peaches and pecans, THAT’s what. If it will win anything at the fair, I can’t even guess. There are a lot of talented bakers in Arlington and only so many awards to go around. The greatest joy to me is seeing them disappear at work and having colleagues give them a thumbs-up.

Peach, Pecan and Bourbon Streusel Bars

Pastry:

  • 2.75 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped.
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into cubes.
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tbsp. bourbon
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Filling:

  • 2 peaches, peeled and sliced ¼ in.
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. bourbon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and grease a 9×13 in. pan.

Toss the sliced peaches with the 1 tbsp. flour, 1 tbsp. brown sugar and 2 tsp. bourbon. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, grind the pecans into a coarse meal. Add the flour, sugar, spices, and baking powder and combine. Add the butter a few tbsp. at a time and process until the texture is mealy.
Beat together the egg and bourbon and then process into the dry ingredients just until the dough is a crumbly texture. Add more bourbon if extra liquid is necessary; an extra egg will make it too doughy.

Press half of the dough into the prepared pan and then top with a layer of sliced peaches. Crumble the remaining dough on top.


Bake for 30 minutes or until the top and edges are lightly browned.

Cool completely (overnight is preferable) before cutting into 24 squares.
Store squares in a sealed container between layers of wax paper and refrigerate.
In between the time I wrote, edited and prepared this post, I got this:

What a weekend!

Ciao for now friends,

Neen

Childhood Candy Becomes a Grown-Up Tart

28 Aug

When I was growing up, I spent nearly every day of the summer at our community pool. In part, this was because I was on the swimming and synchronized swimming teams, but it was mostly because I just loved being there. My friends and I would swim for hours and then play long card games while we ate snacks in the warm sun. It was a pretty sweet life.

One of the best treats at the pool snack bar was the frozen candy. Especially frozen Twix bars. There was a treat worth digging through your bag for 50 cents. I didn’t get them very often since weekly allowance was a precious thing, but when I did I savored every last crunchy bite (well, as much as one could before the chocolate started getting all melt-y).

I was asked to make a dessert for a recent dinner party and thought fondly of that summer treat, so I decided to play with those flavors. I came up with a decadent tart that most certainly tasted like that childhood favorite got all dressed up. Get out your tart pans people, this one’s most definitely worth the effort.

Chocolate-Caramel Tart

Super-duper no-fail tart crust:

No shrinking, no cracking, no problem!

  • 6 oz. unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks)
  • 2 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Chocolate filling:

  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 70% dark and the sweetness was spot on.)

Caramel filling:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F.

Melt the butter for the crust over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt, stirring until smooth.

Blend the butter mixture into the flour with a rubber spatula and then press the dough into a 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom.

Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Bring the cream for the chocolate filling to a boil and then remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Spread one cup of filling into the prepared crust, reserving the rest. I put the remaining chocolate in a piping bag and stored it in the refrigerator.

Refrigerate the tart until the chocolate is firm, about 45 minutes.

Stir the sugar and water for the caramel in a heavy saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Then increase the heat and boil until the syrup turns amber, swirling the pan occasionally (do not stir!) and brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. This will take about 10 minutes, and the syrup will register at about 300 degrees when it is ready.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream, butter, vanilla and salt. The mixture will bubble up. Return the pan to very low heat and stir until the caramel is smooth and the color deepens (see the finished picture) to a rich brown. This will take no more than 5 minutes.

Refrigerate the caramel until cold, but not firm, about 20 minutes.

Spoon the caramel over the chocolate layer in the tart and smooth with an offset spatula. Pipe the reserved chocolate over the caramel to decorate and return the tart to the refrigerator until the caramel is firm. It should firm up within an hour or two, and can be made up to two days in advance (cover once the caramel has firmed up).  Serve chilled.

The crust has a nice crunchy bite, the chocolate is firm but melts in your mouth, and the caramel is creamy and rich. That little bit of lemon in the crust adds a little zing to offset all of the richness. Share with friends and be merry.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Friday Night Comfort Food: Chicken Pot Pie

28 May

In the infamous words of the lovely Chef Carla Hall, “I’ve been thinking about chicken pot pie all week!”

I can’t tell you the last time I had chicken pot pie, and no, I’ve never made one before yesterday. But soon after Chef Hall whipped up a might tasty looking one on Top Chef, I saw Alton Brown make his version on an episode of Good Eats. Ever since, it’s been calling to me like a siren. Juicy chicken and savory vegetables in a creamy, rich gravy tucked away beneath a buttery crispy crust. Yes, please.

There are things about traditional pot pie of which I’m not a big fan. As much as I love chicken and potatoes together, I think there’s enough starch in the crust and gravy to suffice. Secondly, I cannot stand cooked peas. Maybe lightly steamed and shocked in ice water, but otherwise, no thank you ma’am. What I needed was a different green vegetable for both color and deliciousness, some earthiness, and something special to kick up that gravy. No sad, gray gravy here.

Let’s begin! Here’s what you’ll need

Filling

  • 1.25 lb. chicken breast, diced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 5-6 cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 tbsp. dry sherry
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. butter, unsalted
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig parsley, chopped
  • Red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Crust

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2-3 tbsp. ice water
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water)

First, prep the crust. I used a pretty basic pate brisee for this. Just combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor, and then slowly add in the butter and process using short pulses. The resulting texture should be sandy.

Add 2 tbsp. of ice water and process just until the dough will hold together when pinched between your fingers. Add more water only if necessary and then roll the dough into a ball. Flatten the ball into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour. If you do this in advance, take the dough out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before rolling it out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss the diced chicken with a little bit of olive oil and the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and then brown the pieces in a large pan.

In a separate pan, warm the milk and chicken stock together over low heat.

Add a small amount of oil to the same pan and sautee the onions, garlic, zucchini, carrots, and mushrooms just until they release their juices. Add the sherry and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Add the butter, allow it to melt and then mix in the 3 tbsp. of flour. Slowly whisk in the milk/chicken stock mixture and then add the parsley, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the mixture reduces and thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the chicken.

Pour the filling into a shallow baking dish. This 2 quart oval casserole dish was just the right size. A deep dish pie pan or 8 x 8 in. baking dish would probably work as well.

Roll out the pie dough to the shape of your cooking vessel, only slightly larger so that there is some overhang. Cover the filling and crimp the crust along the edges of the baking dish to secure. Cut some vents in the crust to let out steam, and then brush it with the egg wash.

Bake the pot pie for 30-35 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is golden brown

Allow it to cool for 10-15 minutes before digging in. Eat and be comforted.

Hope you all have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Ciao for now,

Neen