Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tiramisu from Scratch, the most challenging Daring Baker's Challenge to date

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession and it was the most challenging yet. Everything we did was new to me! I successfully accomplished 3.5 out of 4 things, which isn't so bad. As usual a full recap and pictures are below.

After reading the trials and tribulations of other Daring Bakers with the Marscapone I thought I was in trouble late last Friday night but I skipped the double boiler and didn't have any issues beyond finishing it at 11:30 p.m. The next morning I made the Zabaglione in a makeshift double boiler substituting Bailey's, as I'm obsessed with it and already had it on hand, for the Marsala/Port Wine. To my surprise this was incredibly simple. I expected a disaster like the chocolate "soup" that developed when I attempted Malted Chocolate Pudding last year. Instead it gelled and was smooth, delicious and boozy; the pan was licked. The Pastry Cream was more work but also felt suspiciously easy and tasted delicious.

I placed both items in the fridge to chill and went out to enjoy the beautiful (almost 40 degrees Fahrenheit) Saturday feeling confident about making the Savoiardi Biscuits before dinner that night. I figured if I could handle Macarons I should be able to tackle the Biscuits no problem. I was so wrong. I suspect it was my decision to mix the yolks with the flour mixture, then fold into the egg whites instead of mixing yolks with whites, then the flour mixture as per the recipe but I won't know until I try again, which I will. The 12 not 36 biscuits weren't spongy and there weren't nearly enough to make Tiramisu.

Completely out of eggs and time, I headed to dinner and while drinking delicious cocktails like a Mango-Cinnamon Margarita, enjoying great company and eating good but uneven food at Poco decided make the rest of the "Tiramisu" with homemade "Oreo" wafers. A vicious hangover and laziness waylaid my progress until Sunday around 9 p.m. when I made the aforementioned cookies, stole some creme brulee coffee from my roommate (Sorry, Tracey!), brewed it extra strong in the microwave, mixed it with 4 shots of Starbucks espresso and the sugar, made whipped cream (Twice...because naturally I overbeat it the first time) and proceeded to follow the recipe to compile the "Tiramisu."

I use quotes because I've got to tell you I don't think my Tiramsiu was remotely authentic. It started so well and then sigh. However I liked my adapted version of boozy decadence with the dipped and layered "Oreo" cookies just fine.

Vera’s Recipe (Baking Obsession) for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese.
Savoiardi/ Ladyfinger Biscuits from Cordon Bleu At Home
Carminantonio's Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007

Makeshift Double Boiler for the Zabaglione
Attempted Savoiardi Biscuits
DELICIOUSNESS (Pastry Cream at the top, Marscapone in the middle and Zabaglione at the bottom)
Luscious Whipped Cream Mixture
The Final Result

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Salmon in Sesame-Mustard Marinade and Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Apples

I concocted a sesame-mustard marinade and used it on salmon last week combining it with spiced sauteed sweet potatoes and apples and baby spinach for a full meal. The cooked salmon ends up moist and flaky with a tangy flavor thanks to the mustard and apple cider vinegar, a hint of sweetness from the cooked onions and a little decadence from the sesame oil's richness.

It was perfect over a bed of plain baby spinach, which didn't need dressing thanks to the marinade. I just scooped up a leaf or two with each bite. Inspired by the sesame oil I spiced the sweet potatoes and apples prominently with Five Spice Seasoning, which is very pungent with what I assume is star anise. If you don't like hints of licorice skip this stuff. I found it nice in combination with the salmon but definitely won't be using it a lot. Unique flavors are good, licorice can be tasty and yet I'm just not that into it.

If you try this, my only caveat is make the amount of salmon you want to eat. It did not reheat very well for lunch the next day!

Salmon with Sesame-Mustard Marinade
Inspired by this Mustard, Onion, and Maple Salad Dressing Recipe

10-12 oz. Salmon (Ideally Wild Alaskan or like; I used frozen from Trader Joe's and defrosted it.)
.5 tbsp Sesame Oil
2 tbsp Olive Oil
1.5 tbsp Dijon Mustard
3 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Red Onion, diced

Combine the above ingredients, except the salmon in a small bowl, whisking to combine. Place the marinade and salmon in a ziplock bag or container. Let marinate for 20-30 minutes, occasionally flipping/moving around in the marinade to make sure the salmon soaks it up all over, while preheating the oven to 425 degrees. Pour the salmon and marinade into an oven-proof pan and cook for approximately 15 minutes or until flaky.

Spiced Sweet Potatoes and Apples


2 apples, peeled, cored and cubed
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
Chinese Five Spice Powder

Olive Oil (and the tiniest sliver of butter if you'd like)

Directions (Rough Ones)
Peel and cube the sweet potatoes. Heat the pan (with a lid) over medium-high heat once hot add a bit of oil and a tablespoon of water. Add the sweet potatoes sprinkle on salt, cinnamon and five spice powder. Flip so they are all coated in the olive oil/water combo and cover for 3-4 minutes. Peel and cube the apples. Remove the lid from the pan add a touch more of everything and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Eat.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Apple Cider Cupcakes/Mupcakes with Caramel Buttercream

Last Saturday night I felt super ambitious and decided to adapt not one but two cupcake recipes to make Apple Cider Cupcakes. Because I really needed that many cupcakes. It took a couple days and a little effort to give them away but the cupcakes are all gone at this point.

They, and kale chips, were the perfect accompaniment to viewing age inappropriate movies with friends, who I won't incriminate. Fortunately I had already seen High School Musical 1 and my taking on too much baking didn't make me miss out on anything new since I finished in time for the hilarious HSM 2. Next up is HSM 3 with either 17 Again or Grease. I'm so 28 going on 12 sometimes.

While both cupcakes were good, I felt like the Apple Cider "Mupcakes" (recipe below) were the clear winner: moist, light and not too sweet with delicious chunks of apple inside. They didn't even really need frosting though I certainly iced them with a Caramel Buttercream that I could, and did, eat by the spoonful.

The regular Apple Cider cupcakes, adapted from this recipe which I made last May, domed beautifully just like the original cupcakes with Bailey's. However, they didn't taste like apple cider and were a little dry and crumbly. Perhaps I should have balanced the ingredients differently. Maybe some other time.

Apple Cider Mupcakes i.e. Muffin-Cupcakes
(Adapted, as usual from the best cupcake recipe ever, Mango-Chile Cupcakes. Mupcakes coined by Leslie.)
Makes approximately 12 regular size cupcakes

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup 0% Fat Greek Yogurt
1/3 cup Apple Cider
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 egg, at room temperature
1 apple, peeled and cubed

Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour 12 wells in a cupcake pan. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg, mix thoroughly. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt to the butter mixture. Add the greek yogurt and apple cider to the rest of the batter and beat until well combined. Fold in apple. Fill each well 2/3 of the way full. Bake about 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted the center of a cupcake comes out mostly clean. Cool briefly in the pan, then remove cupcakes to wire racks to cool completely before icing. Ice.

Caramel Buttercream
For the caramel buttercream, I made Chef Jane's caramel sauce, which is the easiest caramel I've ever made; it doesn't even require butter. While it cooled, I creamed a room temperature stick of butter. Then I added spoonfuls of caramel sauce, 1/2 cup portions of confectionery sugar and splashes of half and half to taste. The end result was rich but not overwhelming. I don't feel right posting Chef Jane's recipe but I will tell you this one is pretty similar. 
 Recipe 1 on the right (lighter ones) and Recipe 2 on the left

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

While researching Mezze I found this Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta recipe. It seemed like the perfect use for (some of) the excessively large pound of feta I purchased at Whole Foods, the frozen shrimp in my freezer from I don't even want to tell you when and the leftover parsley. But there weren't enough hours for me to throw it into the Mezze mix, so I left it for this past weekend. If you like these ingredients, I don't think you should wait a week to make it.

This dish is rich and tangy thanks to the tomato and feta, slightly sweet from the cooked onions and garlic and you can actually taste the dill's pungent flavor, though not the parsley. In combination the flavors make my taste buds perk up with each bite. I recommend not using pre-cooked shrimp or after 12 additional minutes of cooking time they'll shrivel into imperfect little pink lumps. Then again you could just mix them in after pulling the skillet out of the oven and let it rest 5-10 minutes so the shrimp heat up.

Yesterday as I packaged up the bits from my halved version with brown rice I was going to say it made only three servings not four. Then I had a portion for lunch and was perfectly full with less than 2 cups of the Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta over Rice. The half bag of Butterscotch candies I consumed may have have helped with that sensation though so who knows? Either way I know I'll make this recipe again.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mezze with Homemade Pita, Hummus and More

Happy Valentine's Day! ♥

The 2010 February Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid. You can download a PDF with the challenge details and other helpful information here. Michele really did her research and provided lots of optional recipes in addition to the required homemade pita and hummus. Thanks so much for your hard work, Michele!

This challenge was nice as you could do the minimum or get really creative and it could be done in advance for leisurely entertaining. Of course, I didn't plan correctly and there was nothing leisurely about my experience. I started at 4 p.m. Saturday before last and didn't finish until 8:30 p.m. I mean why would I want to spread the work out over several days when I could exhaust myself cramming it into one action packed night? :) Thank goodness Jeff allowed me to change plans and came to me. I'm not sure what I would have done with all the food without him. 16 pitas for one girl?! Even with his help, I was able to take leftovers to a Superbowl party Sunday, eat them all week and STILL have 3 pitas left as of tonight (2/13).

My pitas were mostly pocket-less. Those with pockets were significantly lighter and more enjoyable, even though the others still tasted good. I'm not sure why so few puffed. I used the same methodology throughout but it must be some technicality. I will definitely try pitas again with a quarter or half of the recipe. I have a feeling getting the pitas to puff takes practice. Do any other Daring Cooks have tips? If so, please share them!

As for the hummus, it was a bit raw for my taste between all the lemon juice and the garlic's bite. The hummus also needed more extra liquid than in past recipes. I love making my own hummus but I'll probably stick to the basic recipe I have scrawled in a notebook somewhere in my room or this AMAZING cilantro-lime hummus.

The provided Cucumber Raita recipe was enjoyable; I always had wondered what went into it. I'm certain I'll revisit it perhaps amping up the cumin since I love it so much. Cumin is about to be my first non-baking related spice to have ever used up, which seems like a milestone in the kitchen.

I also served cubed feta, a simple salad with roasted beets and a pearl barley salad loosely inspired by this complicated and wonderful Eggplant Barley Salad. The roasted beets were very fresh and bright with the zest of one lemon, juice of half a lemon and fresh parsley; I thought of this simple recipe when I threw them together. For the pearl barley salad, totally trying to remember now as I was lazy and didn't outline promptly, I cooked the pearl barley and set it aside to cool. While it was cooling, I sauteed ground lamb in water, then set it aside to drain. Next I added onions, cumin and coriander to the same pan and sauteed until the onions were translucent. Finally I combined everything together with some freshly chopped parsley, quartered and seeded cherry tomatoes and, when I realized I omitted salt, some crumbled feta to compensate. It could use some work but it wasn't a bad variation and it took a LOT less time.

As for the three leftover pitas? They are so going in the freezer for the moment. Don't get me wrong. It was a great, tasty challenge but I have mezze fatigue. I'm certain I'll be back to them sooner rather than later though as they are fun to put together and make a healthy, portable meal.

Why I felt the need to put silverware in everything is beyond me since, hello, the joy of mezze is scooping up food with the pita and eating with your hands.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kale Chips

I'm with April; Kale Chips taste awesome and are amazingly nutritious. They are even easier than my usual method of dealing with kale: cooking it down in liquid until it is barely recognizable. And this way the kale ends up with a visually appealing tie-dyed appearance.

The chips are salty, crunchy and an excellent replacement for potato chips. I can see why Cathy of Not Eating Out in New York, whose recipe I used, garnished soup with them. Perhaps I'll do that next time but this time I just enjoyed them on their own.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rouge Tomate

Last Monday I joined Meg and Lara at Rouge Tomate to partake in Restaurant Week, which offers a prix fixe three-course menu with two or three choices per course at some of the city's best restaurants.Rouge Tomate has a warm, modern appearance -- very airy with lots of wood, vases of apples lining the walls and red uplighting.

As per their Web site, the restaurant is the first to fully comply to Sanitas Per Escam (Health Through Food), a nutritional charter developed by chefs and dietitians that focuses on providing optimal nutrition with optimal taste. Healthy cooking that tastes as good as theirs is definitely something to aspire to (how I would love to spend some time in that kitchen!); every dish features complex flavors that unfold as you eat.

Unfortunately the service was less than stellar. Usually with Restaurant Week the restaurant pushes you to finish quickly. Our experience at Rouge Tomate was the polar opposite; we had a leisurely meal that lasted 2+ hours. We sat for 30 minutes before our order was even taken. From that point forward, the table was bussed efficiently and water refilled but each course took a long time to come out. Needless to say, we were ready to go by the time the check reached us. But let's go back to the food.

Currently each table is started with a super smooth spinach-almond butter and a plate of subtly jalapeño spiced whole wheat bread as well as more traditional sourdough. The chef also sent out an amuse-bouche of rutabaga soup with apples, which was rich and warm with the spicy vegetal flavor of rutabaga. If the apples had retained a bit of their crunch I think the soup would have benefited. 

My appetizer was Tombo Tuna Poke with Asian Pear, Watermelon Radish, Oyster Mushroom and Sesame; from what I can tell a tuna poke is like tuna tartare without the carefully molded shape. It's a light appetizer where the tuna's silky texture contrasts nicely with the sesame seed, pear and radishes crunch. The pear's sweetness and radish's bite helped cut the heaviness that sesame oil can sometimes impart.

I couldn't reach Lara's Cranberry Bean Soup with Chorizo to taste it, but I did taste Meg's Chickpea Hummus with Roasted Peppers, Olive, Sesame and Flat Bread Crisps. The hummus was very smooth, though perhaps a touch oversalted, and the artfully arranged toppings allowed you to make each bite taste different. The flat bread was almost Zatar-like with an intense blend of spices that easily overwhelmed the hummus.

Lara and I both ordered the Atlantic Hake Fish with Winter Bean Stew, Fennel, Lacinato Kale and Provençal Oil for our main course. The fish was melt-in-your-mouth flaky perfection complimented nicely by the stew's beans, which broke up the smoothness of the fish and provençal (french olive) oil. Meg ordered the Cauliflower Risotto with Heirloom Cauliflower, Parmesan, Garlic, Lemon Confit. It was tasty but overwhelming as a main course with its tangy flavor that left the mouth dry like drinking a dry red wine.

To cleanse our palates, the Chef sent out kiwi sorbet. It was creamy, pale, free of seeds and had a crisp apple-like finish that left me refreshed and ready for dessert. I enjoyed the Market Apple Rosemary Shortcake with Golden Raisins and Buttermilk-Lemon Ice Cream. The buttery caramel sauce surrounding the shortcake and the apple balanced out the very rosemary dense shortcake well, but the tangy, sweet buttermilk-lemon ice cream was my favorite part. It was the perfect finish - sweet without being too much.

We also had amazing, innovative cocktails ($12 each). Meg and Lara enjoyed the Pear Crisp (Ten Cane Rum, White Pear Purée, Fresh Vanilla, Lemon, topped with Prossecco), which tasted crisp (obviously) and sweet almost like Apple Jacks. I had the Queen's Cup (Pimm’s, Cucumber purée, Mint, Lemon Juice), which was light and relaxing after a long day. I would love to go back and try some of the others; they had a whole section devoted to non-alcoholic cocktails as well since Rouge Tomate also has a juice bar.

If you have patience for the service and a penchant for fairly healthy creative food, I would recommend Rouge Tomate.

Location: 10 East 60th Street (Between Fifth and Madison Avenues)
Hours: Mon-Sat 12-3,  5:30-10:30
Cost: $$$

I know these photos aren't great but I don't like intruding on other people's dining experience with my camera's flash. These were taken using my camera's highest ISO setting to give an impression of the presentation.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Caper-Pea Risotto with a hint of Mint

Friday Britt, one of my oldest friends, came up to visit for the weekend. Since his train from Phillie arrived on the later side and he wanted to chill out with wine anyway, I made dinner.

I had been contemplating something mixing capers and peas since December but am always slow to attempt "original" recipes. The risk of wasting ingredients on something potentially inedible isn't appealing to me, especially not when cooking for other people, but I knew as a Southern gentleman that Britt would be kind regardless of the result.

I adapted the below recipe for risotto from Sally Schneider's A New Way To Cook (thanks for the book again Jaime!) to include capers, peas and mint. It was a successful risotto in my opinion, although I may play with the proportions in the future. The capers' tanginess does a good job balancing out the peas' sweetness while cutting the risotto's creaminess and the mint makes it all taste fresh and bright.

Simple Risotto

5-6 cups rich broth (mine wasn't so rich, I used Trader's Joes Free-Range Chicken Broth)
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or onions (I used onions)
1 1/2 cups of arborio rice (or any Italian rice for risotto)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tbsns sour cream (I used Trader Joe's 0% Greek-Style Yogurt)
1/2 cup freshly grated aged cheese (I used parmesean reggiano)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup capers (I used the kind in vinegar as that is what Key Foods had)
2 tbsp mint chiffonade

1. In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil over high heat; lower the heat to maintain at a simmer. (I always skip this and it seems fine, so eh.)
2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil over low heat. Add the shallots, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 4 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat to moderate, and cook, stirring until the shallots are golden. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains look chalky with a white dot in the center of each, about 5 minutes. (Do not allow the rice to brown.)
3. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until it has been absorbed by the rice. Stir in 1/2 cup of the broth. Cook at a very low boil, stirring frequently, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, 3-5 minutes. Continue adding the broth in this fashion, a 1/2 cup at a time, cooking and stirring until the grains of rice are tender yet still firm in the center and the risotto is creamy but not soupy, about 25 minutes.
*I added the peas, capers and mint after the last 1/2 cup of broth had reduced about halfway.
4. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the sour cream and 1/4 cup of the cheese, and season with salt and pepper. If you wish to add herbs, stir them into the risotto. You can stir any other embellishments into the risotto or spoon some-ragus, for example-right in the center of each serving. Serve at once, passing the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese on the side.

(Yes, I needed something else on that plate but I didn't have anything on hand to make a small salad. Or perhaps I should have made a bigger pool of risotto and stuck the chicken on top. Either way at least it tasted good.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Toasted Coconut Shortbread

I love butter and sugar but shortbread overwhelms me. It tastes good, especially my friend Meg's version, but it sits heavy on my palate, crumbles on my clothes and is mysteriously thick. Don't get me wrong I eat it up like all other desserts. It just has never been my favorite.

This weekend Courtney and Kimberly came over for a baking project. Having narrowed down the desired ingredient to coconut I sent four possible recipes from my bookmarks and these toasted coconut shortbread cookies were chosen. I was wary but this shortbread recipe caused none of my usual complaints. I demolished the cookies I hadn't sent home with them and Britt in a snap.

These cookies are light and crisp yet retain all of the sweet, buttery taste of shortbread. The coconut brings a slightly nutty flavor, but would need to be amped up in the future for me to consider them truly a coconut dessert. If you enjoy shortbread, or perhaps even if you aren't sure, I think these are an excellent choice.

Thanks to my fantastic co-bakers, Courtney, Kimberly and Britt, for their creative cookie cutting (a ski helmet, ski boots, skis, a brontosaurus, a whale, a dachshund, etc.) and for doing most of the work. :)