Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vanilla Mint Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies. The panna cotta was luscious and the crispy, sweet florentine cookies irresistible. It was a fun challenge without obscure ingredients or tedious steps. Thank you for hosting, Mallory.

In high school my favorite lip products were Victoria's Secret's Enchanted Pear Roll-On Gloss and Bath & Body Works' Vanilla Mint Lip Balm. They were tasty enough that their application was counterproductive to providing lip moisture as I licked them right off. I also sometimes offered flavor choices to boys I dated prior to kissing. What a catch! Ha. Remembering all this inspired me to flavor my panna cotta Vanilla Mint. The end result tasted more natural than that lip gloss but was still sweet, refreshing and, thanks to the recipe's high fat content, left my lips feeling (temporarily) moist.

The Florentine Cookies' impressive appearance belies the work involved. They can be baking in under 30 minutes and can burn quickly, so keep an eye on them once they are in the oven. The batter looks very wet but the liquid becomes a toffee-like gold. Trust me. Don't add dry ingredients or you will end up with a sad, heavy cookie. I didn't like them as much with chocolate since it overwhelmed the buttery, toffee flavor but feel free to try it. These Oatmeal Lace Cookies from when the Daring Cooks tackled Nut Butters are very similar and also delicious. For either cookie plan to eat them fairly quickly as they soften over time.

You can download Mallory's tips and all the related recipes here. My adjusted version of the panna cotta is below. The texture was good but I had a bit of trouble unmolding it. Maybe next time it will go more smoothly! But I will definitely use greek yogurt or similar in the future to reduce the fat. All that cream overwhelmed me.

Giada's Vanilla Panna Cotta

1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon (one packet)unflavored powdered gelatin
3 cups whipping cream (30+% butterfat)
1/4 cup agave nectar (this was 1/3 cup honey)
1 tablespoon granulated vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
3 stalks of mint
2 drops peppermint extract
pinch of salt

1. Pour the milk into a bowl or pot and sprinkle gelatin evenly and thinly over the milk (make sure the bowl/pot is cold by placing the bowl/pot in the refrigerator for a few minutes before you start making the Panna Cotta). Let stand for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
2. Pour the milk into the saucepan/pot and place over medium heat on the stove. Heat this mixture until it is hot, but not boiling, about five minutes. Add three stalks of mint. (I whisk it a few times at this stage).
3. Next, add the cream, honey, sugar, vanilla bean paste, peppermint extract and pinch of salt. Making sure the mixture doesn't boil, continue to heat and stir occasionally until the sugar and honey have dissolved 5-7 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, remove mint stalks, allow it to sit for a few minutes to cool slightly. Then pour into the glass or ramekin.
5. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight. Add garnishes and serve.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Hiyashi Soba and Tempura

First things first... Happy Valentine's Day! It may be manufactured holiday but I still enjoy it. There is nothing wrong with a reminder to say thank you and send "pink hearts" to those you love. Thank you to my friends, family and anyone who stumbles across this posts and reads it for your time and support. <3

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including,, and You can find her detailed notes on preparing the challenge foods and the provided recipes here.

Hiyashi Soba is a popular Japanese noodle salad that is served only during the summer. It is a flexible recipe - you can eat soba noodles just with dipping sauce and call it a day or serve up lots of veggies on the side to mix with the noodles and sauce. While I have made soba noodle dishes before, this was my first cold recipe and it was a pleasant change of pace that will be revisited.

I served the soba noodles with julienned cucumber, shitake mushroom slices (zapped for 30 seconds in the microwave), grated daikon and the spicy dipping sauce from the recipe Lisa provided. I especially loved the sauce's zingy flavor with the lightness of the cucumbers on the soba. As she says and, as I've learned the hard way, the most important thing with soba noodles is making sure they don't overcook and become a gelatinous clump. The big plate is snow pea shoots and mustard greens sauteed with sesame and veggie oil and some ginger. I found them a bit bitter so I'm not going to elaborate.

Instead of using the provided tempora recipe, I used the one listed on the back of my panko bread crumbs. The resulting tempora had a nice, crunchy breading that I was surprised to enjoy as I'm not a big fan of fried food, outside of corn dogs and funnel cakes. I preferred the sweet potato and broccoli to the squash and the decorative Sriracha was a fun way to spice up these bits. I don't think I will make tempora again as I find the cost of oil for deep frying somewhat prohibitive but at least I no longer feel the need to shun it. Thanks for a fun challenge, Lisa!

Panko Tempura

Vegetable Oil
1 package Panko Breadcrumbs (you won't use them all)
2 Tbsp Flour
1 Egg
2 Tbsp Water
Pinch Salt
1 yellow squash, cut into 1/3" slices
1 small sweet potato, cut into 1/3" slices
1 cup broccoli florets, separated into small bunches if necessary

1. Heat oil in a large pan to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. You should have 2 inches of oil present.
2. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet with a sheet of newspaper on top. Cover the newspaper with paper towels. 
2. Place panko breadcrumbs on a plate. Place 2 tablespoons of flour on a separate plate. Mix the egg with a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of water in a bowl.
3. Evenly coat each vegetable slice lightly with flour. Dip into egg mixture. Then dredge in the panko breadcrumbs.
4. Cook the breaded vegetables 4-5 at a time for about 2 minutes each until golden and crispy. Flip once or twice as they cook to get more even coloration.
5. Remove to the wire rack to let the oil drain. A long handled wire skimmer works well for this process as it lets excess oil drain off. It also is good for fishing out extra breading between batches.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange

I lied. This isn't cookies. It is a whole grain salad with greens -- much healthier! This Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange, sourced from Veggie Num Num, was a bright spot on an otherwise dreary Saturday. The caramelized squash and orange's sweetness are balanced by the arugula's sharpness, the creamy tang of feta and balsamic reduction's punch. The variety of textures brought by the combination of ingredients also plays well on the palate.

The original recipe involved pumpkin and walnuts. I substituted a butternut squash and its seeds for these items as pumpkin wasn't available and nuts aren't sitting too well with me these days. To make the recipe easier, you could use pre-packaged cubed butternut squash instead of dicing your own squash or pumpkin. If you do that revert back to the walnuts instead of squash seeds or substitute another roasted nut or seed of your choice.

Due to a scent aversion to reheated oranges, that I will be kind and not mention to you, I ended up discarding the orange in my leftovers but I can tell you that overall this dish reheats pretty well and, for me, it yielded about 6 meals. I will make it again even though it uses more dishes than I prefer for a single course as I loved the flavor and presentation.

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash and Orange
very minimally adapted from Veggie Num Num

1 cup quinoa
1.5 cups vegetable stock
2 oranges
2 pounds Butternut Squash, diced with seeds rinsed and reserved
1 cup Chickpeas (canned is fine)
5 shallots, quartered
2 cups Arugula
1/2 cup Feta Cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Balsamic Vinegar

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place the quinoa, stock and juice of 1 orange in a pot; bring to the boil. Turn down heat and simmer with the lid on for 10-15 minutes until liquid has been absorbed. Set aside.
3. Cut the remaining orange into wedges.
4. Place a large baking sheet drizzled with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the heated oven to warm the oil. Remove from the oven when oil is hot.
5. Place the butternut squash and its seeds, chickpeas, shallot bulbs and orange wedges on the tray the baking sheet; toss well to coat with oil.
6. Return to the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes until chickpeas are crisp and squash tender. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.
7. While the above mixture roasts pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until reduced by half and vinegar is syrupy. Set aside to cool.
8. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; dress with balsamic reduction to taste (2-3 tablespoons).
9. Serve over extra arugula with an extra balsamic reduction, if desired.

Yours will look even better if you don't overcook the quinoa. ;)

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This band is pure pop fun.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bailey’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know I just posted cookies last week but these were even better than I remembered so I needed to share them immediately. And I'm not going to hide it there may be more cookies on the horizon as I'm on a baking binge. I blame cold weather and academic anxiety. We'll just act like Spring isn't around the corner and that bikinis won't have to fit down the road. *cough*

Moving on. One of my former colleagues, Meghan, treated the office to these Bailey’s Chocolate Chip Cookies each year in December. When I first tasted them in 2008 I requested the recipe almost simultaneously as I love Bailey's. It wasn't until Tuesday night that I remembered I had it and decided it was the perfect dessert for Mom to share with the clinic.

These very tender cookies are boozy and sweet. While they are baked you would almost swear their middle is still dough (probably what these dough balls are going for). Their only redeeming value nutritionally is my use of white whole wheat flour...but who cares? They are delicious. Thanks so much the recipe, Meghan! I miss you and many others at the office (and in NYC in general).

Bailey’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
2.25 cups cake flour (I used White Whole Wheat; She used All Purpose for hers.)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz. chocolate chips (I used mini-chocolate chips
¾ c coconut flakes (skipped per Meghan's adaptation - why detract from the Bailey's?)
½ c. chopped pecans (skipped see above)

1. Cream butter and sugars until smooth.
2. Add egg, vanilla and Bailey’s; mix well.*
3. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; add to the mixture a little at a time until thoroughly blended. (I added the flour in thirds.)
4. Add chips, etc. Mix.
5. Drop by spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet.**
6. Bake in 375 degrees for 10 – 12 minutes.

*If you are me this is where you add milk to the measuring cup and drink milk with hint of Bailey's. Because you can.
**Using a 1 Tablespoon Scoop my yield was approximately 50 cookies, in spite of eating (plenty of) batter. Meghan's yield was 3 dozen. Presumably because dropping leads to a more traditional cookie shape.