Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Convenience


When I was in Italy three years ago, the chef I was working with used this tomato paste.  I was immediately intrigued.  I use quite a bit of tomato paste in sauces, soups and pastas.  The problem is that most tomato pastes come in a can.  This means that the excess has to be stored in another container.  Unfortunately, I never remember when I put it in the fridge, I usually end up with moldy paste in my fridge.  Then I open a new can and the whole ugly cycle starts again.  Enter tomato paste in a tube.  This stuff is amazing.  I can sit in the fridge for a year and still tastes great.  My local Italian grocery store sells one tube for $2.99.  Check it out!  It is worth the cost.  Happy Cooking!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Something Different

I am not one who likes to try new things.  I know what I like and I like to stick to it.  I have friends and relatives who will try just about anything from animal parts to fruits that look like eyeballs with cockroaches in the middle of them.  All I can say is there is no way that I will put those things in my mouth.  Sometimes I tell myself that there are a whole world of flavors and textures that I will never know (at the end of the day, I am OK with this).  On a rare occasion, I try something new.  Well, while I was visiting a friend in Princeton, NJ,  I boldly tried an orzo dish that I thought I would hate.  My friend C.P. is a food dare devil.  She will try almost anything including a celery orzo salad on the back of  the celery package.  I wouldn't even look at the recipe let alone try it.  So here it is.  Try it, I think most of you will love it.



ORZO STUFFING WITH CELERY, CRANBERRIES AND NUTS (thanks C.P.)

1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 1/2 c. celery, diced
1 1/2 orzo, cooked in chicken broth and drained
3/4 c. cranberries
3/4 c. sliced, toasted pecans or almonds
3 Tbsp. sliced fresh basil
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

In a skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over med-high heat.  Add the onion, cook for 4 minutes or until the onions are translucent and golden brow.  Add the celery, cook for 4 minutes more.

Combine, cooked orzo, celery mixture, cranberries, nuts, basil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Toss gently to combine.  This may be served hot, room temperature or cold.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Regrouping

Sometimes when I am baking or cooking things go wrong for no apparent reason at all.  Recently this happened while I was preparing for my baby sister's wedding.  My cousin and I decided to make an elaborate cookie table as a special gift for my sissy.  This required hours and hours of cookie baking days before the wedding.  In the end, I was to bake 10 different types of cookies (10 dozen each).  Needlessly to say, this was a big task.  I was so fortunate to have an army of helpers that made the whole endeavor a great experience.  So what does this have to do with regrouping you ask.... well, while I was preparing the dough for a marzipan pine nut cookie, the dough decided to liquefy and there was no way on earth that I could have rolled it into little horns as the recipe said.  I quickly decided to change course and make a Chinese almond cookie in its place (this is not the kind of regrouping I am talking about).  Now I had a dilemma.  I had a liquid mess that I spent a fortune on (almond paste is not cheap).  I had to employ all my baking know-how to fix this one.  I knew that adding powdered sugar would only sweeten the dough and there was no guarantee that it would firm it up.  I also knew that freezing egg whites dries them.  So I decided to freeze the dough (loosely wrapped in cling film) with the hope that the dough would "dry" and then I would be able to mold it.  Plan B worked!!  The result was a tasty cookie that looked pretty fancy to me.
I should say, regrouping does not always work.  Sometimes things just don't work out and the only place for the dough is the garbage.  So, next time things don't work out, try regrouping.  The worst thing that will happen  is you will find out what doesn't work.


Chocolate-Dipped Pignoli Crescent    -from Great Cookies by Carole Walters

16 oz. almond paste, room temp.
3/4 c. sifted confectioners' sugar, spooned in and leveled
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 large egg whites, at room temp.
3 c. pine nuts

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the almond paste and sugars.  Mix for 6 to 8 minutes until the mixture forms a crumb consistency.  Add the salt to the egg whites and whisk.  Add the egg whites to the almond paste in four additions.  Continue to mix until it starts to liquefy and stick to the bottom of the bowl.  This should take about 15 to 20 seconds.  Cover lightly with cling film and chill for 1 hour. 
Position the shelves in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.  Heat the oven to 300 degrees.  Lightly butter two parchment lined baking sheets.
Place the pine nuts in a shallow bowl.  Have ready a bowl of ice water.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll into 1 1/4-inch balls, moistening your palms with the ice water to keep the dough from sticking.  Roll the balls in the pine nuts, pressing gently to adhere, then shape into crescents.  Place about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets.
Bake the cookies for about 28 minutes, or until lightly brown on the bottom.  Take care not to over bake.  If needed rotate the sheets half way through.  Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooking rack.
When the cookies are cool enough to handle, dip half into the ganache (recipe below) and place on a cooking rack set over a sheet of wax paper.  Let stand for 1 hour or until the ganache sets. 

Chocolate Ganache

6 oz. bittersweet Chocolate, cut into 1 inch chunks 
3/4 c. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Place the chocolate in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until finely chopped. 
In a small saucepan, over low heat, heat the cream and corn syrup until it is simmering.  Immediately pour the hot cream into the processor bowl.  Let stand for 1 minute so that the chocolate starts to melt.  Pulse three or four times, then let rest 1 additional minute.  Add the vanilla and pulse three or four more times. 
If the ganache's surface appears oily,  add the hot water, a few drops at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Ganache thickens as it stands.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Powdered Buttermilk???

There was a time when making a coffeecake was a real struggle for me.  The deciding factor was buttermilk.  I dreaded buying buttermilk, using half a cup and then having a carton rot in my fridge and then..... I stumbled upon this:
 

Powdered buttermilk!  What a great invention!  It is so easy to use.  Basically, for every 1/4 cup of buttermilk, you add 1 tablespoon of the powder to your dry ingredients and 1/4 cup water to your wet ingredients.  It works great.  I cannot detect a difference between this product and the liquid version.  So from now on, do not be afraid of curdled, soured dairy.  Buy this stuff and bake, bake, bake!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Apple Pie


I entered a apple pie and dessert contest two weekends ago.  Last year I won first place in the dessert contest.  I was so excited.  The chef and owner of my favorite bakery (Give Thanks Bakery)  was the judge and I was honored to bake for him.  This year was a different story.  There were no foodies as judges which really irritated me.  Instead two local newscasters and a guy from Whole Foods picked a Strawberry, Rhubarb, Apple Pie as the winner.  THAT IS NOT APPLE PIE!!  I am a sore loser.  I know I am a sore loser.  I was ticked.
Enough of that.  I must move one.  Below is my recipe.  I love this crust.  It always works out!

Apple Streusel Nut Pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Streusel  (I keep this in my freezer so that it is always ready for use on muffins, cakes and pies) adapted from here.

1 pound of butter (4 sticks) melted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
5 cups flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Stir together white and brown sugars with salt, flour and cinnamon.  Pour melted butter on dry ingredients.  Mix together with a wooden spoon until fully incorporated and the mixture  starts to form clumps. Store extra in freezer bag in freezer. 

Crust adapted from here
2 cup all-purpose flour2 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup ice cold unsalted butter, cut into tbsp pieces
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 Tbsp. ice water

Combine vanilla extract and ice water with 2 ice cubes in a small bowl and set aside.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, and salt and pulse six times.  Add cold butter and pulse until mixture looks like breadcrumbs.  Slowly add vanilla/water mix tablespoon at a time while processor is running.  I usually use about four tablespoons.  (This is the only tricky part to this recipe.  Once the dough starts to clump into big lumps - stop adding liquid.)  Dump dough onto counter and knead for 30 seconds to develop a dough that holds together and can be rolled.  On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to fit your pie plate.  Place in pie plate, crimp edges and dock (this is the word that means poke holes all over the bottom of the crust with a fork). 

Apple Filling

6-7 apples, peeled, seeded and cut into thin slices
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup apple sauce
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. instant tapioca

Combine all ingredients together and let sit for 15 minutes before placing in pie plate.

Assemble:  Combine, 1 cup Streusel, 1 cup pecans and 1 cup sliced almonds.  Set aside.
Pour apple filling into prepared pie crust.  Pour streusel mixture over apple filling.  Press down lightly.  Place pie on a baking sheet.  Bake pie for 15 minutes on 425 degrees.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 35-40 minutes.  Pie should be beautifully golden.  Allow the pie to cool for at least an hour.  It will settle and set during this time.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Baking Tip #1

I have quite a few baking tricks or tips that I use all the time.  I love sharing them and trying new tips that I collect from people, magazines, blogs and TV.  Here is tip numero uno: do not try to bake when you are in a sour mood.  Things will not go well for you.  I can bake when I am really mad. It actually helps me calm down and regroup.  When I am in a sour mood and generally irritated with things, the kitchen is not the place for me.  Somehow, the cake senses that I am not fully committed to it and FLOP!  I was baking for a church event on Friday (and I was feeling all boo hoo blah) and sure enough, my pie knew it.  Not only did it not turn out as I planned, but I also managed to break a glass and make a huge greasy mess.  I should have just stopped at Costco, picked up some chocolates and watched a movie instead.  Live and learn.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chocolate Cupcake


Along with reviews, I will also include some of my likes, dislikes, cooking/baking techniques as well as favorite recipes.
 
Let me start by saying I love, love, love chocolate.  I don't like working with it (it is one of the most temperamental ingredients I have ever encountered) but I love eating it.  Dark chocolate does something to me.  My favorite is from Perugina, Italy.  When I was in Tuscany several years back, I stocked up on it.  My stash lasted about a year and now I can only dream of the day when I return to Italy to eat it again. 

For all of you that love chocolate like I do, make Cook's Illustrated Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes .  These cupcakes are moist, chocolatey, and rich but not overly sweet.  The frosting is easy to prepare and so velvety.  They are quick and easy to prepare.  This recipe makes 12 beautiful cupcakes.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ME TOO!

I want to be a blogger too, so here I am!  My plan is to review cookbooks.  I love a good cookbook review.  Cook's Illustrated use to write them, but then they stopped.  If anyone out there knows why, do tell.

So... if you love to cook, and review and talk food, join me! 

That's my plan.  Are you ready?

P.S.  I can't spell to save my life so if you see something funky, pretend it is not.