Archive for December, 2011

Sticky Toffee Pudding

December 15, 2011

Put away any pre-conceived notions you have about Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Unless your pre-conceived notions about Sticky Toffee Pudding is that you like it very much.  In that case, keep your pre-conceived notions and go take 1½ sticks of butter out of the fridge.

Look, when I check out a dessert menu, my eyes glaze over until I see chocolate.  I can appreciate a good apple tart and I like ice cream, and raspberries are awesome, but friends – dessert is chocolate.  Period.  But.  This time of year, something happens.  I never lose my chocolate affinity but my mind opens just a bit.  It would never occur to me that I would like a cake that has puréed dates in it and it may not occur to you either, which is why I am asking you to put aside those notions of yours.

A couple of years ago, I took a holiday cooking class with Olaiya Land.  She is now one of the co-founders of The Pantry at Delancey and she is a very good cooking teacher indeed.  In that class, we made Sticky Toffee Pudding and I silently pooh-poohed it and decided to eat my dessert’s worth of calories in savory bread pudding instead.  Big mistake.  The cake, which really looks like nothing special, smelled like the very best of everything (butter, brown sugar, cinnamon) and, with a caramel-y toffee sauce poured over the entire cake and the same sauce served alongside it, I realized my short-sightedness.  It’s not chocolate.  But it’s easy, crowd pleasing, and can be made in advance and frozen.

One Year Ago:  Over the Top Mushroom Quiche
Two Years Ago:  Chocolate Gingerbread Bundt Cake
Three Years Ago:  Fennel and  Brie Risotto Wedges (yum!)

Sticky Toffee Pudding
Adapted from Olaiya Land
Makes one 8-inch cake

I make this cake in a round cake pan but you can certainly use a square.  And because I have two of them (actually I have four – don’t ask), I usually double the recipe and freeze one for later use.  Don’t glaze the cake you are going to freeze.  Olaiya serves this with whipped cream but I just like to pour on extra sauce.

For Pudding:
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for the cake pan
8 ounces Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
½ cup light rum
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature

For Sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ stick (¼ cup) butter, cut into small pieces
1/8 cup light rum

For pudding:
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Butter an 8-inch square or 9-inch round cake pan and set aside.  Put dates, rum, and ½ cup water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to medium-low.  Cover and simmer until dates are very soft, about 5 minutes.  If the dates have not fallen apart, mask with a fork or potato masher to break up any large chunks.  (If you prefer to not even know the dates are there, you can blend the mixture with an immersion blender or put it in a stand mixer.)  Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the ixer bowl as needed.

Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the date mixture.  Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.  Bake for 25 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325ºF and bake until cake tester inserted into the center of the pudding comes out clean, 15-20 minutes more.  Let pudding cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen and invert onto a serving plate.

For sauce:
In a medium saucepan, bring cream, brown sugar, and butter to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for 3 minutes.  Stir in rum and cook for 2 minutes more (you should have about 1½ cups sauce).  Put a piece of parchment or waxed paper under the rack (this will catch the drips).  Pour half of the sauce, slowly, over the warm pudding, allowing it to drip down the sides.  Serve the other half of the sauce along side.

(Make ahead:  I made this cake, glazed, one day ahead and loosely covered it with foil.  I let the remaining sauce cool completely, covered and refrigerated it.  When we were ready to serve it, I reheated the sauce gently.)

(Someday) Retirement Plans

December 14, 2011

My parents are living the retirement that we all dream of.  They deserve it.  My dad had a busy oncology practice for over 30 years that had him leaving the house at 7am every morning and coming home at 7pm every night.  There was evening call and weekend call and when you are an oncologist, you get a lot of calls in the middle of the night.  He worked with extremely ill people and their families and had many people he grew to truly care for pass away.  He also had other patients who should have passed away but did not because he is a terrific doctor and an all around smart man.  He is also, as I have said here, kind and compassionate – a doctor that the nurses loved.

My mom also worked very hard.  She spent the first eight years of motherhood staying home with us and then, soon after my youngest brother was born, decided that she was tired of spending the day waiting for Sesame Street to come on (pre-DVR days) and then waiting for my dad to come home, so she went back to school (with three children) and got a nursing degree.  She spent worked full time on a evolving range of shifts (including night shift) for a number of years before settling in to a half time job in the recovery room of our University hospital.

Eight years ago, while still working full time, my dad, the cancer specialist, developed cancer himself.  Bladder cancer.  Randy and I were living in London at the time and we had just returned from a weekend away in Dublin.  Once back in our flat, I picked up a voice mail from my dad asking me to call when I got a chance.  Even though it was the middle of the night in Seattle, I called right away.  If I get a voice mail from my mom saying “call when you get a chance” it usually means she just want to chat.  I had probably never gotten a voice mail from my dad period, let alone one asking for a call back, so I knew something was up.  Calmly, he told me that he had a tumor in his bladder and they were hoping to be able to remove just the tumor and leave his bladder intact.  More tests were imminent and he was thankful that he had had symptoms so that they could catch it early.

A couple of weeks later, the phone call that I didn’t want to receive came across the ocean.  The tumor was invasive and they were going to have to remove his bladder.  His surgeon would make him a new bladder (called a neo-bladder) out of a piece of his own intestine.  Since the intestine is a long tube and the bladder is essentially fist-shaped, many cuts would need to be made to make the new bladder.  It would be hooked up according to the laws of anatomy and we would all hope for the best.  My dad, entering into surgery, contemplated retirement.  He would need to take a couple of months to recuperate from the surgery, he was near retirement age, so why not just retire?  But in the months following the surgery, he realized he needed something to work toward.  He wanted to go back to work.  And so, after a successful surgery and a rocky but successful recovery, he went back to treating patients full time.

Now eight years cancer free, my dad is a success story.  About three years ago, he decided to finally retire.  I worried about him a bit.  He identified very much with his job, with his role as doctor (although he never introduced himself that way), and I had trouble imagining him as a retiree.  Also, the fact that both my parents are very youthful, in shape, and active, did not fit with the picture in my mind of retirement.  I thought they both would be bored.

I was wrong.  They threw themselves headlong into life after work.  They took birding classes, yoga classes, did continuing education classes in art history and aviation history.  They exercise everyday and are traveling nearly constantly.  They are not sitting still for more than a moment.  They had always liked to travel but with my dad’s busy practice, it was hard for them to take consecutive weeks off.  Now their time is their own and they have discovered going on tours and cruises as a way to see parts of the world they have been meaning to visit.  These are not the groups with the blue hairs and senior water aerobics classes.  These are the trips I would go on right this minute if I could.

My parents recently returned from a cruise that left from Istanbul and ended up in Cairo.  They stopped in Israel and Jordan along the way and went through the Suez Canal.  They saw Luxor and the pyramids and Petra in Jordan.  In the past couple of years, they have taken a trip to Paris (with me for my birthday) followed by a week in Budapest and Prague, a cruise throughout Croatia, a group trip to Austria, but they recognize that this Middle Eastern cruise was truly a trip of a lifetime.

My parents don’t really shop when they travel.  It’s just not their thing.  But this time they brought me back something special.  Saffron.

If you aren’t familiar with saffron, it is the world’s most expensive spice.  It is probably one of the priciest food items period if just considering price per pound.  The reason it costs so much is that saffron is actually the stamen of the crocus flower and it is harvested by hand.  I can’t imagine the number of flowers and the number of (wo)man hours it takes to get an ounce of saffron.  Consequently, much of what we can buy in this country is not true saffron, but the stamens of other flowers.  Nothing compares to true saffron, in taste, aroma, and color, so be sure to buy yours from a reputable place.  And if it’s not super expensive for a very small amount, it’s probably not real saffron.

The stuff my parents brought me is Iranian saffron and it is shockingly red and the strands are nice and long.  It is gorgeous.  It is the kind of thing I might be tempted to put away and save for something special, but I believe in using gifts and besides, they brought me three small envelopes of it.  While saffron does have a very distinctive flavor, that flavor is subtle.  The color that it gives to food is truly extraordinary.  When I found this recipe for red lentil soup in a well-loved cookbook and it mentions that saffron rice would be a great accompaniment, I knew I had my first dish with my new spice friend.

So yes, you need three different pots to make this soup.  Do not let that deter you!  One pot makes the soup, one pot separately sautés the onion and spices and then the greens, and one pot makes the rice.  It  may sound like a pain but please believe me when I tell you that this is a very easy dish to make and you get a LOT of soup for your effort.  Red lentils are one of my favorite ingredients on earth and this is a fabulous way to make the most of them.  Red lentils love things like mustard seeds, cumin, and tumeric – all present in this flavorful soup.  I had never used lime juice with them before and was hesitant to add as much as the recipe called for.  But I loved the subtle sour flavor paired with the savory soup.  I made the soup for Randy and I to enjoy, brought leftovers over for dinner with friends, and then made another pot to eat with my parents so they could see how much I’m loving the saffron.

One Year Ago:  Olive Oil Granola with Dried Apricots and Pistachios (I just made a quadruple batch of this stuff)
Two Years Ago:  Blackberry Rugelach, Frittata with Carmelized Onions, Goat Cheese, and Sage

Red Lentil Soup with Lime
Adapted (barely) from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
Serves 6-8

You certainly don’t need saffron to make this dish and actually, you don’t need the rice if you want to save that step.  You can make this a super thick soup by adding less water or make it thinner by adding more.  If you make it in advance, know that it will thicken up as it sits but you can always add more water as necessary.  For this rice, I used ½ cup raw basmati rice in 1 cup of water and a pinch of both saffron and salt.  This might be more than you need for the soup, or make more as needed.

2 cups split red lentils, picked over and rinsed several times
1 tbsp. tumeric
3 tbsp. butter
Kosher salt
1 large onion, diced
2 tsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. brown mustard seeds
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 3 limes, or to taste
1 bunch kale, or other leafy green, chopped into small pieces (I’ve also used beet greens)
1 cup cooked rice
Plain yogurt

Put the lentils in a soup pot with 2 quarts (8 cups) of water, the tumeric, 1 tablespoon of the butter, and 1 tablespoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes.  Purée for a smoother texture (an immersion blender is great here).

While the soup is cooking, prepare the onion flavoring:  Heat a medium skillet over medium heat and throw in 1 tablespoon of butter.  Once it is melted, add the onions and a large pinch of salt.  Cook for another five minutes, until soft, then add the cumin and mustard seeds.  Turn the heat to medium-high and allow the onions to brown slightly, stirring occasionally.  This slight bit of char will add great flavor to the soup.  Add the cilantro and cook just until it wilts.

Add the onions mixture to the soup, then add the juice of two of the limes.  Taste, then add more if needed to bring up the flavor.  The soup should be a tad sour.

Just before serving, add the last tablespoon of butter to the same skillet the onions were cooked in.  Once melted, add the kale and a large pinch of salt, and cook just long enough to wilt.  Add to the soup and let all the flavors blend for a couple of minutes.  Even though you have added salt several times along the way, you will probably need to add more to your taste at this point.  If the rice is warm, place a spoonful in each bowl.  If it’s leftover rice, add it to the soup and let it heat through for a minute.  Serve each portion with a dollop of plain yogurt if desired.

Brioche for Patricia Wells

December 11, 2011

One of the best things about my job at Book Larder, besides being surrounded by beautiful cookbooks, is getting to meet  amazing cookbook authors.  Some people who have come through the store are new to me and some are true culinary heroes of mine.  If you asked me to draw up a list of ten people I would want to meet, Patricia Wells would definitely be high on that list.  And I got to meet her.

Let me set the scene.  There is a kitchen area at the back of the shop which is where I often spend some of my working hours.  We like to have things coming out of the oven to taste and I am also often prepping for events or classes.  On a day I was working, a man came up to me and we started chatting about books, events, etc.  He asked whether we would be getting Patricia Wells’ new book, one on truffles, and I said we were just waiting for it to arrive.  Then he said, nonchalantly, “You know, I’m friends with Patricia Wells and she is coming to town for an event on Whidbey Island – would you maybe want to do a signing with her here?”  And this is where my theatre major came in handy.  I did not freak out and scream, “Of course we would!”  I said, calmly, that we were all fans of hers and we would love to have her if we could make the dates work.  Clodagh, our wonderful manager, got involved to talk specifics, and he left saying he would be in touch.  “Thank you!” our voices chorused as we closed the door behind him.  Then we turned to each other and freaked out like little girls who were told that they would meet Justin Bieber (or whoever the freak-out-able boy of the moment is).

You know that old saying “never make something for the first time for company”?  I’ve never subscribed to that theory.  I love to try out new things on guests.  But how about for Patricia Wells?  How about working with a new-to-me ingredient (truffles) and making a new-to-me bread (brioche)?  For one of the most respected cookbook authors of all time and one of my true culinary heroes?  NO PRESSURE.

Fortunately, there is a reason she is one of the most respected cookbook authors of all time and one of my true culinary heroes.  Her recipes work.  They are well-tested, clearly written, and they taste exactly as they should – delicious.  Even if you are new to something, like making brioche, she makes it clear enough with the written word.  For our morning together, along with 35 lucky ticket holders, I made the inside out oreos from the new book – that is a beautiful thin truffle slice sandwiched between two slices of soft goat cheese and laying atop the aforementioned brioche which has been slathered with a truffle butter and broiled until crispy.  Wowza.  I won’t lie – my hands were shaking a bit as Denise and I assembled the nibbles, with Patricia looking on.  But she approved and everyone though they were delicious.  I even had several people ask me where I bought the bread.

I’m not going to assume that you have access to fresh French truffles so I’m just going to share the brioche recipe.  It’s a long one but no part of it is hard.  A few pieces of of advice.  No pan size is specified but I would definitely use two 8×4-inch pans.  While I don’t think you need a stand mixer to make most cake or cookie recipes, you do need one for this bread.  It mixes for a very long time and I can’t imagine the arm muscle you would need to accomplish that without help.  There is quite a bit of rising time associated with the bread, including an overnight in the refrigerator, so read the recipe through first and plan accordingly.

One Year Ago:  White Bean Braise with Delicata Squash, Parsnips, and Purple Cabbage
Two Years Ago:  Sweet and Salty Cake (still my favorite cake)
Three Years Ago:  Middle Eastern Lentil Rice Rolls

Simply Truffles
Makes 2 rectangular loaves

1/3 cup milk
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1½ cups all-purpose flour
12 tablespoons (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Butter, for buttering the bread pans
1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

1.  Prepare the sponge:  In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the milk, yeast, and sugar and stir to blend.  Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Then add the egg and 1 cup of the flour, and stir to blend.  The sponge will be sticky and fairly dry.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup flour to cover the sponge.  Set aside to rest, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes.  The sponge should erupt slightly, cracking the flour.

2.  Prepare the dough:  Add the sugar, salt, eggs, and 1 cup of the flour to the sponge.  With the dough hook attached, mix at low speed for 1 or 2 minutes, just until the ingredients come together.  Still mixing, sprinkle in the remaining ½ cup flour.  When the flour is incorporated, raise the mixer speed to medium and beat for 15 minutes, scraping down the hook and bowl as needed.

3.  To incorporate the butter into the dough, it should be the same consistency as the dough.  To prepare the butter, place it on a flat work surface and with a dough scraper, smear it bit by bit across the surface.  When it is ready, the butter will be smooth, soft, and still cool – not warm, oily, or greasy.  (DT:  I did not do this step.  I just cut the butter into tablespoons.)

4.  With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time.  When all of the butter has been added, raise the mixer speed to medium-high for 1 minute.  Then reduce the speed to medium and beat the dough for 5 minutes.  The dough will be soft and sticky.

5.  First rise:  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2 to 2½ hours.

6.  Chilling and second rise:  Punch down the dough.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight, or for at least 4 hours, during which time it will continue to rise and may double in size again.

7.  After the second rise, the dough is ready to use.  If you are not going to use the dough immediately, deflate it, wrap it airtight, and store it in the freezer.  The dough can remain frozen for up to 1 month.  Thaw the dough, still wrapped, in the refrigerator overnight and use it directly from the refrigerator.

8.  To bake the brioche:  Butter 2 8×4-inch pans.  Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, each weighing about 2½ ounces.  Roll each piece of dough tightly into a ball and place 6 pieces side by side in each bread pan.  Cover the pans with a clean cloth and let the dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1½ hours.

9.  Center a rack in the oven.  Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

10.  Lightly brush the dough with the egg wash.  Working quickly, use the tip of a pair of sharp scissors to snip several crosses along the top of the dough.  (This will help the brioche rise evenly as it bakes.)  Place the pans in the oven and bake until the loaves are deeply golden and an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center of the bread reads 200ºF, 30 to 35 minutes.  Remove the pans from the oven and place on a rack to cool.  Turn the loaves out once they have cooled.

(You can store the bread, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for a day or two.  To freeze, wrap it tightly and store for up to one month.  Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.)

A Different Chocolate Chip Cookie

December 5, 2011

Some food bloggers have props.  And by props I don’t mean theatre props, like plastic guns and fake mustaches.  I mean table linens and fabric napkins and special forks and pretty plates.  They use these props in photographs that look like mini works of art.  I admire those people who have props and envy those of them who have prop cupboards.  I don’t have props.  I have a few plates that I bought when I first started this blog (the white ones), I have random things I’ve picked up over the years, and I have my everyday plates.  Occasionally, I use my grandmother’s china, like in this post.  You’ve seen all my plates and such ad nauseum.  I do love tableware and in my next life, I will have a collection of lots of different patterns and my photos will be a lot more interesting.

In this state of prop envy, you can probably imagine my delight when my mom brought over this little treat of a platter on Thanksgiving.  It was sitting in her armoire (where there are probably countless other treasures) and it is Limoges.  Old Limoges, mostly likely from my grandmother.  Why it was just sitting in there and why I have never seen it are questions I can’t answer.  No matter.  It’s mine now and I love it.  I find cookies a little hard to photograph – it’s kind of Here they are!  Three or four to a plate!  Round!  Bumpy!  Very similar looking to the ones I made last week!  But I think this little plate might help make them look more appetizing.

So, I have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.  I link to it all the time.  This is not that recipe.  This is the chocolate chip cookie recipe from Kim Boyce’s book Good to the Grain.  It is a well-loved recipe.  Some people, who I respect immensely, have sung this cookie’s praises.  It was only a matter of time until I made it.  And I am here to tell you that I like this cookie very much.  The dough behaves well and you can use it right after mixing it – no 24-72 hour waiting period like the one you will see with the New York Times recipe.  There is a nice nuttiness that the whole wheat flour brings to this cookie but without those pesky nuts.  Plus, with 100% whole wheat flour and heart healthy bittersweet chocolate, why, this cookie is practically health food.

I would tell you about this cookie anyway – it’s a nice one.  But the real reason I am offering you yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe and the reason I am writing about a recipe that has been written about by better writers and bakers than myself, is because Randy asked me to make these again.  Randy.  My husband who says he does not like chocolate.  This was not a someday request, as in “someday after you’ve made 25 other cookie recipes, make this one again”.  This was a “the cookie jar is almost empty and I’m getting nervous and I want the very same cookies we are about to run out of” request.  November 26th marked the 11th anniversary of our first date and I knew that day that I would marry him.  I did not know that life would be full of surprises like moving to London, having two boys, and requests for unlikely (for him) cookies.

One Year Ago:  Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Two Years Ago:  Spicy Tomato Jam
Three Years Ago:  Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies
With very slight changes from Good to the Grain
Makes about 32 cookies

The recipe was written to make huge cookies, I prefer to have plain old large ones instead.  I have three baking sheets, so I baked these on convection all at the same time.  If you only have two, either make the cookies larger, or make them in two batches.

Dry Mix
3 cups whole wheat flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ kosher salt

Wet Mix
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into ¼-inch and ½-inch pieces

Place three racks in the oven and preheat to 350ºF.  Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.  (DT: I was out of parchment paper and my cookies released from the sheets just fine.)

Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.

Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes.  Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined.  Mix in the vanilla.  Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour in barely combined, about 30 seconds.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Remove the bowl from the standing mixer.

Add the chocolate all at once to the batter.  Using your rubber spatula, mix in the chocolate by hand.  Make sure it is evenly incorporated and there are no floury bits on the bottom of the bowl.  Using a large ice cream scoop, scoop out mounds of dough and place them, three to a row, on the prepared baking sheets.  These cookies spread significantly so be sure to leave enough room.

Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through.  (Rotating is not necessary if you are using convection.)  You want the cookies to be evenly dark brown.  Remove the cookies from the oven and cool on a rack.  Boyce says the cookies will keep for 3 days in an airtight container, but they kept for over a week in my cookie jar.

Newer Posts »