November 30, 2010

Cranberry Cornmeal Muffins

We hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving!

When planning our Thanksgiving menu, we had to make a difficult decision: we cut the cranberries. We made a chicken roulade with mushroom stuffing, so there was no plain turkey to serve as a vehicle for eating the cranberry sauce. We also made lots of other dishes (mushroom gnocchi and baked sweet potato fries with aioli and brussel sprouts and, of course, dessert - a gingerbread apple upside down cake from Smitten Kitchen), and we figured we really had enough food, and had committed ourselves to enough cooking, so something had to get axed.

Like I said, it was a difficult decision, and we didn't want cranberries to feel slighted, so in the end we compromised and made cranberries for breakfast, tucked into slightly sweet corn muffins made with tangy yogurt. We made enough to last us two days of breakfast, in theory, but we had a really hard time holding out and saving half of them for the day after Thanksgiving. Fortunately, there were plenty of other things to eat!

Cranberry Cornmeal Muffins (makes 12)

- 1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup yogurt
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In a medium sized bowl, mix the melted butter with the yogurt, eggs, and vanilla.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add the cranberries and divide the batter among the muffin tins. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the muffins have turned golden brown on top and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the muffins cool for 5 minutes in the tins before removing them to cool on a wire rack; let them cool there for at least 15 minutes so that they don't stick to the paper when you try to peel it off.

November 22, 2010

Spiced Gingerbread Cupcakes with Molasses Coffee Buttercream

We almost didn't write these cupcakes up. I had a couple of coworkers with birthdays last week so we decided to use that as an excuse to bake on Sunday afternoon. And the cupcakes looked so beautiful coming out of the oven that we just had to photograph them. Then, after finding the icing with the original recipe too sweet, we whipped up a Swiss Buttercream and ooooh these were so good that we couldn't, in good conscience, keep them to ourselves. Not only are they photogenic, they are also delicious. I mean, really good. With stout beer, coffee, fresh ginger, and molasses, they have a complex and sophisticated flavor that makes these cupcakes for grownups.

We were skeptical of some of the things going on in this recipe. The amounts are strange (lots of cups plus tablespoons) and we aren't sure why some of the steps are required (like cooking the beer, coffee, and molasses, then adding the baking soda to that mixture). But they came out just perfect, so we will trust Karen on this one.

Gingerbread Cupcakes (makes 12)
Very slightly adapted from The Craft of Baking

- 3/4 cup stout beer (we used Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout; Guinness would work fine)
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons brewed coffee
- 3/4 cup dark molasses
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons Demarara sugar (sub turbinado or more brown sugar if you don't have it)
- 2 and 1/2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 egg
- 1 and 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 and 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted (or 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder)
- 2 and 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a muffin tin with paper liners. Combine the beer, coffee, and molasses in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Mix well, then remove from the heat and whisk in the baking soda (it will foam up quite a bit so make sure your saucepan is big enough).

Combine the brown sugar, oil, Demerara sugar (if using), melted chocolate, and fresh ginger in a large bowl, then whisk in the egg. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together, and stir. Then add the beer mixture and the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in parts, alternating between the two (half of the beer mixture, then half the flour, back to beer, then flour). Mix well.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let them cool in the tin for 5 minutes before removing them to cool on a wire rack.

Coffee Molasses Buttercream

Inspired by Smitten Kitchen's Swiss Buttercream

- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 13 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup brewed coffee
- 2 tbsp molasses
- 1 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk the egg whites and sugar together in a metal pan sitting on top of a pot of simmering water (confession: we didn't do it this way. We just cooked it directly over low heat, whisking constantly. Nothing bad happened, though it's probably better to play it on the safe side and use the double boiler so your egg whites don't cook weirdly). Continue stirring until the sugar has dissolved completely (you will have to actually stick your fingers into the mixture to test for this).

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment ready (you could also use a hand mixer for this, but be prepared to stand at the counter for a long time!). Whip the egg white mixture until it turns white and doubles in size. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, then add the coffee, molasses, and vanilla. Keep whipping until the frosting is smooth and creamy - and don't worry! 

When we first started to add the butter the frosting had a very alarming, chunky texture, but we waited and whipped and waited and whipped and it did turn into creamy, beautiful frosting.

Frost the cupcakes as you like and eat them!

November 18, 2010

Cauliflower Arugula "Caesar" Salad

In our post on Aioli and Mayonnaise, we promised a tasty Caesar inspired recipe that came together on Sunday from stuff in our fridge. It was so good that we made it again tonight! It gave us an opportunity not only to make good use of our remaining homemade mayonnaise, but also to use anchovy paste, which we have to admit were a little hesitant to buy when we got it to make pasta puttanesca. But we don't regret it now - the pasta alone was well worth it, but it made itself useful again in this salad. The dressing is bright and flavorful and almost spicy from the garlic and anchovy, and the crunchy cauliflower takes the place of croutons.

Caesar dressing (enough to dress a salad for 4)

- 1/4 cup mayonnaise or aioli
- 1 clove garlic (if you are using plain mayonnaise that hasn't already been garlicked. Or if you really like garlic and want to add more)
- 1/2 tsp anchovy paste
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon

If you're using plain mayonnaise, start by grinding the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Stir all the ingredients together.

Cauliflower Arugula "Caesar" Salad (serves 4)

- Olive oil
- 1/2 a medium head of cauliflower
- Caesar dressing
- About 2 cups loosely packed arugula (wild arugula is delicious, if you want find it)
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and black pepper, to taste

Break the cauliflower up into fairly small florets - for this application, we recommend that you cut off most of the stem (maybe save it for another use - like soup). You can cut off the stem and then you should be able to break up the pieces with your fingers, keeping in mind that these are your "croutons." Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet, and when it's hot add the cauliflower and season with some salt and pepper. Cook until the cauliflower is slightly browned and tender but still has a bit of crispness (about 8-10 minutes). Set the cauliflower aside to cool.

When the cauliflower has cooled, put it into a salad bowl with the arugula, parmesan, and salad dressing. Toss, serve, and enjoy!

November 16, 2010

Aioli (or mayonnaise)

Mayonnaise has always been a bit of an enigmatic condiment. It's white. It comes in a jar. Some people love it. Some people hate it. The brand that Michael and put on our sandwiches when we were growing up on the East Coast is called Hellmann's there, but is Best Foods on the West Coast (really - they both have the blue ribbon on the jar, and if you click on both those links you will see the same video of Bobby Flay). But what is it, exactly, and how is it related to that delicious thing called aioli that fancy restaurants give us with our fancy French fries?

It turns out the answers to these great mayonnaise questions are pretty simple. Best Foods bought Hellmann's in the 1930s but decided to keep the already known names (thank you, Wikipedia). But onto the more important answer - mayonnaise is just egg yolk and olive oil, plus maybe a little lemon juice. Add pounded garlic and you have aioli (thank you, Alice Waters). It's surprisingly easy to make, and the homemade stuff is definitely more flavorful than the jarred stuff, whatever it chooses to call itself. It's also a pretty pale yellow color.

The key here is that you need to add the olive oil to the egg yolk very, very slowly at first. Just a few drops at a time until you can see that the oil and yolk are combining (actually they are making an emulsion - which means that little droplets of oil are being absorbed into the egg yolk and suspended throughout). If you add the oil too quickly, the ingredients won't combine (this happened on our first try).

Adapted from Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food

- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 cup olive oil (you can use up to a cup to make more mayonnaise)
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- 1 clove of garlic (if you want aioli)

Put the egg yolk in a large metal or glass bowl and have the olive oil ready to go in a container that has a spout for easy pouring. Begin whisking the egg yolk as you add the olive oil very slowly, drop by drop (you can whisk by hand but we used a hand mixer on medium speed to save our wrists. Actually, as you can see from the picture, we started with the whisk and then switched to electric mixer). When the mixture begins to thicken and lighten in color (it will not be white like commercial mayonnaise, but will be clearly lighter than the egg yolk by itself), you can add the olive oil a little bit more quickly (in a slow thin stream rather than drops), but continue to whisk vigorously. When all the oil has been added (one egg yolk will hold up to a cup of oil, so you can make more if you want), whisk in the lemon juice (and salt if you are not making aioli).

If you want to make aioli, pound the garlic and salt together with a mortar and pestle (this breaks the garlic down into a paste so that it can be distributed evenly in the mayonnaise), then stir it into your mayonnaise.

We put ours on delicious pastrami sandwiches with arugula and pepper jack cheese on Acme levain bread (we have gotten good use out of our panini press), then used some more to make Caesar salad dressing - recipe to come soon! We're also thinking of making something like Smitten Kitchen's spicy sweet potato wedges for a Thanksgiving appetizer, served with aioli for dipping.

November 11, 2010

Brown Butter Apple Tart

This summer, we tried an enticing recipe from Bon Appétit - brown butter raspberry tart. It sounded like a very good idea, and it was - the easiest tart crust we've ever made (no rolling - you just make a dough and press it into the pan), and a rich filling of browned butter, sugar, vanilla, a bit of flour, and eggs poured over raspberries. We've already gotten a little bit carried away talking about the wonderfulness of baked apple desserts (or, um "breakfasts"), so no need to go into that again, other than to say that if brown butter raspberry tart is a good idea, brown butter apple tart is an excellent idea.

This is one that we wanted to test out as a possible Thanksgiving dessert for this year, and though we still have some other ideas to try (warm gingerbread?), this one is definitely a winner. In my house, my mom always made a pumpkin pie and a classic French apple tart (which is much more virtuous than this apple tart). This dessert offers what I think are some of the best qualities of both: the rich fall-spiced custardy-ness of the pumpkin pie, plus the flavor and texture of baked apples. With the added bonus of rich, nutty brown butter. I would say that this dessert saves me from having to choose between the two, but the truth is I never chose between the two. I always ate them both. And then again for breakfast.

The only thing we would change from the first effort would be to add more apples; we would cut the slices as thing as possible and overlap them more in the bottom of the pan (but make sure to leave some crevices for the batter to fill up). Oh, and this is definitely a dessert that you want to eat hot. With ice cream.

Brown Butter Apple Tart (makes one ten-inch tart; serves 8-10)
Adapted from Lori Longbotham, Bon Appétit, June 2009

- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup and 1 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using a fork, stir together all ingredients until they're well combined. Put the dough into the tart pan and use your fingers to gently press it into the bottom of the pan and up the sides (start at the middle and work your way out).

Bake the crust for 18 minutes (it will be slightly browned and puffed), then let it cool in the pan on a wire rack. Keep the oven on for the next step.

- 2 medium apples (choose tart apples with firm flesh, like Granny Smith or Pink Lady)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (maybe a bit more, if you like cinnamon - we do)
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ginger

First, brown the butter by heating it in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently and monitor carefully to make sure that it doesn't burn. The butter will foam, then you will see the solids separate out (they look like little white clumps at the bottom of the pan). You will see the solids start to turn brown, but you will also be able to smell it - wait for a rich, nutty smell (this usually takes about 6 - 8 minutes). Pour the butter immediately into a mixing bowl (to make sure it doesn't burn).

Add the sugar, eggs, salt, flour, vanilla, and spices to the brown butter, and whisk together until smooth. Adjust the seasonings if you like - you might want to add cloves or allspice, or additional cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg.

Slice the apples into thin wedges and arrange them in the bottom of the tart crust (make sure that there are some spaces for the brown butter deliciousness to fill in). Slowly pour the batter over the apples, making sure to distribute it evenly throughout the crust (you can use a spatula to spread it out if you need to).

Put the tart pan onto a rimmed cookie sheet and bake 40 minutes (until the center has puffed up and browned on top, and a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean). Let the tart cool at least a little bit on a wire rack, until you can't take the smell any more and must douse it with whipped cream or ice cream and devour it!

November 8, 2010

Homemade Pita Bread

We made pita bread! It was pretty easy and quite good, with a slightly crisp outside and a nice chewy interior. We were having guests over for dinner on a rainy Sunday and had planned to make mujadara for dinner, so to go along with the Middle Eastern theme we were thinking we might go out to get some pita and hummus. Then I remembered seeing a recipe for pita bread in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, so we looked it up and discovered that we had all the ingredients on hand. And not too much later, we were sitting with our guests enjoying freshly baked pita (with store bought hummus because, though we've tried a couple of times, we've never made hummus as good as Sabra hummus. Any suggestions?).

Pita needs to be cooked at a high temperature and, like pizza or focaccia, comes out best if cooked on a stone (the stone absorbs some of the moisture from the dough, preventing sogginess and giving you a nice crisp outside). You can use a pizza stone if you have one, but an excellent substitute is an unglazed quarry tile, which you can buy for about a dollar in the flooring department at Home Depot or any similar place. It would also be very useful to have a pizza peel for transferring the pita onto and off of the tiles, though you could probably use a spatula.

The only problem that we had with the recipe was that the instructions on cooking time in the book are somewhat enigmatic. Peter Reinhart tells us to "bake just until they inflate and form a pocket. Count to 10, then remove the breads from the oven." This made us feel a little anxious - how do we know when the pocket has formed? What happens if we count to ten too slowly? But in the end, it all worked out. Here's what we did:

Pita Bread (makes 3 seven inch pitas)

The recipe is for Lavash Crackers, with a note on modifying it to make pita. To make the crackers, you would roll out the dough thinner, and bake at a lower temperature (350) for a longer amount of time (15 - 20 minutes).

- 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp instant (also called quick rise) yeast
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup water at room temperature
- Sesame seeds, if desired

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, yeast, honey, vegetable oil, and water, and mix until you have something resembling a ball of dough (it's okay if not everything is fully combined). Lightly flour a countertop or other work surface and put the dough on the surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough feels firm and stretchy (the book recommends kneading by hand rather than by machine, since it's a fairly stiff dough). It should also pass the "windowpane test" - if you pull off a small piece of dough, you should be able to gently stretch and knead it so that it is thin enough to be transparent (this shows that the gluten has been activated; if not, your dough will just snap when you stretch it).

Lightly oil a large boll and roll your dough around in it, coating it with oil. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment at room temperature for about an hour and a half, or until it doubles in size.

When you're ready to bake, make sure to let the oven preheat with the pizza stone or tiles inside. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.

Lightly flour your working surface and roll a piece of dough out to slightly less than a quarter inch thick (we made two eight inch pitas and one smaller one; it would probably work well to divide the dough into three even pieces).

Put sesame seeds on your pizza peel to help the pita slide on and off. Sprinkle more sesame seeds on top, if desired. Gently slide the pita onto the stone and bake until it has puffed up and is ever so slightly browned on top (about 5-7 minutes). Use the peel to remove the pita from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack.

We are still trying to solve the mystery of the pita pocket. Ours came out with a little bit of a slit between the outer crust and the doughy interior on one side, but it wasn't really a pocket. Mr. Reinhart led us to believe that it would magically appear. Wikipedia says that the baking process causes layers of baked bread to separate. My friend Kathryn says Greek pita has no pockets. Any insights?

November 6, 2010

Spicy Italian Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Ragu

I've written before about our Sunday night dinners, unplanned and assembled from whatever's left in the refrigerator from the previous week's cooking. This system not only lets us occasionally revert back to our favorite comfort foods (Amanda - mac & cheese. Michael - tuna melts) but also occasionally yields delicious and creative results by causing us to put things together that we wouldn't have thought to plan. This meal was born out of one of those Sunday night dinners. It's a perfect bowl of comfort for a cold fall or winter day. The broccoli rabe has a slightly bitter flavor which we find is a bit much on its own but blends perfectly with spicy sausage. We served ours with polenta but it could easily be eaten alone or with pasta or rice. Any dark leafy greens would be good here - swiss chard or kale could take the place of broccoli rabe.

Interesting things we learned about broccoli rabe: it's also called rapini, and is apparently more closely related to the turnip than to broccoli.

Spicy Italian Sausage and Broccoli Rabe Ragu (serves 2)

- Olive oil, for cooking
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/3 lb spicy Italian sausage, removed from casing and crumbled
- 1/2 a (28 ounce) can tomatoes, chopped (plus the juice)
- 1/4 cup white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Half of a bunch of broccoli rabe
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and, when it's hot, add the sausage. Cook until the meat is browned, then add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice and white wine and cook over medium low heat until the sauce has thickened.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the broccoli rabe and bring a pot of water to a boil. Put the rabe in the water and cook for 3 minutes, until it's bright green, then drain and rinse with cold water (everyone says to plunge it into an ice bath to stop the cooking, but we cheated here and didn't notice any adverse effects).

When the sauce is thickened and you are nearly ready to eat, add the broccoli rabe to the sauce and let it cook for just 2-3 minutes, or until it's hot again. 

Add the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper (depending on the sausage and can of tomatoes you use, you might not need much or any salt). Serve over creamy polenta (see our ratatouille post for how to make it) or pasta, with a generous sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese.