Friday, April 27, 2012

Four Hour Baguettes and Roasted Radish Toasts

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Every Spring my parents reserved a corner of their garden for me. It was totally thrilling to my seven year old self to to tag along to the nursery and flip through the little seed packets and choose a few things to put into my tiny plot of land. Heck it would probably still thrill me, but living in the city makes gardening just a hair tougher.

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I remember taking my planting decisions very seriously. Thumbelina carrots or the ghost white ones? Red radishes or purple? The fate of our salads depended on me! The pride I felt when their little green shoots popped up was unbeatable, but when it was time to pull them from the ground and enjoy the fruits of my labor I don't think I ever ate the radishes. I always ended up picking out varieties that were too spicy for my kid palate.

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I do remember my dad eating those radishes though. He took them sliced up and sprinkled with salt and as an adult, when I discovered how much I enjoyed their spicy bite I ate them the same way. Then, like a lot of other folks, I discovered how adding a little butter to the equation made them extra special. These toasts are a riff on that idea, pumped up with some fresh herbs, toasty bread, and perfect for a little snack with drinks.

The baguette recipe is from Saveur Magazine's most recent bread-filled issue and for a "quick" baguette they are still really flavorful with a nice crispy crust, a perfect weekend project if you ask me.

Four Hour Baguettes
yield, 3 baguettes
from Saveur Magazine

12 oz warm tap water (115ºF)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
14 2/3 oz all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
sesame seeds and poppy seeds for sprinkling (optional)

1. Whisk the water and yeast together in a large bowl and let sit until the yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes. Add in the flour and mix with a fork until all of the flour is absorbed, let sit for 20 minutes to let the flour hydrate then add the salt.
2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. I should note here that I ended up adding quite a bit of flour to my work surface (maybe about 1/2c) because the dough was unbelievably sticky, more like paste than dough really. Transfer the dough to a clean, oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it is doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
3. Transfer the risen dough to a floured work surface and shape into an 8''x6'' rectangle. Fold the long sides of the dough toward the center, then fold the short sides of the dough towards the center. Return the folded dough to the oiled bowl, seam side down. Cover and let rise until it has doubled in size again, about 1 hour.
4. Place a cast iron skillet on the bottom rack of the oven. Place a baking stone on the rack above the cast iron pan. You will put ice cubes in the cast iron skillet to create steam while the bread is baking. This will help a nice crunchy crust form.
5. Heat oven to 475º and transfer the dough to a floured work surface and divide it into three equal parts. Shape each piece into a 14'' long rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper and arrange the three ropes on the paper with space in between them. Gently pull up the paper between the loaves and slide in tightly rolled dishtowels to support the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let the loaves rise until they are doubled in size, about 50 min.
6. Uncover the loaves and remove the dishtowel supports. Using a sharp knife or razor blade, slash the tops of the loaves 4 times. For the seeded loaf pictured above, I lightly brushed one of the loaves with water and sprinkled it with 2t sesame seeds and 2t poppy seeds before slashing. I highly recommend it.
7. Using the parchment paper as a guide, carefully slide the loaves (still on the paper) onto the baking stone. Place 1/2c ice cubes in the hot cast iron skillet below and bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp. This only took about 25 minutes in my oven, but the original recipe said it would take 30, so use your good judgement here. When you start to smell toasty bread smell, I would take a little peek in the oven to see what's going on. Cool before serving.

Roasted Radishes

1 bunch radishes, any type
2T olive oil
salt

Preheat oven to 400º

Trim the greens from the radishes and toss with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Place on a baking sheet and roast until light golden, 20-25 minutes.

Herbed Butter

4T unsalted butter, softened
2T mixed chopped soft herbs, I like chives, tarragon and parsley so that is what I used here.
pinch salt

Whisk all of the ingredients together until well combined.

To assemble the Toasts

Slice 1/2 of a baguette into 1/4-1/2'' slices and brush lightly with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and broil for 45-60 seconds per side until the toasts are golden.
Spread a bit of the herbed butter on each toast and top with a warm, sliced roasted radish. Sprinkle with additional salt if desired.

Other options

Top the toasts with herbed goat cheese or ricotta instead of butter and toss a leaf of arugula into the mix, delish.
If you don't feel like roasting, fresh radishes with herbed butter would be great too.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Strawberry Lime Tart with Apricot Glaze

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Last Friday morning, news hit the wire that strawberries and rhubarb had been spotted at the Union Square Greenmarket. New Yorkers swooped in and scooped up those sweet signs of Spring with the kind of fan fervor usually reserved for pop musicians and I think they were all gone by noon. I have to admit, I didn't drop everything to get to the market that day, but I cheered from the sidelines and hearing about it sure got my wheels turning about all of the good things to come.

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I have a bit of a ritual when it comes to enjoying my first local berries. I will eat the first of them fresh and unadorned, probably before I even get home. Then, I'll slice them up for a simple tart like this one, maybe with vanilla bean pastry cream in lieu of the lime, and slowly I'll start baking them into scones and churning them into ice cream. When they are at their peak I am going to convince someone to drive upstate with me to pick strawberries for my favorite jam. Who wants to come with?

Creamy Lime Tart with Strawberries

I have to admit, I made this tart a couple of weeks ago and the strawberries I used for were from California, patience is not one of my virtues. In my defense,  they were organic and still pretty flavorful after their trip across the country. The addition of a light coating of apricot jam made them all the better.

For the Crust

1 cup almond meal
1 cup spelt flour
5 Tablespoon melted butter
4 Tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325º

1. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl until well combined. Press the crust into a 9'' or 10'' removable bottom tart pan, making sure it goes all of the way up the sides of the pan.
2. Slide into the oven and bake until golden brown, about 15min. While the crust is baking, prepare the lime filling

For the Lime Filling
adapted from Cook's Illustrated

4 egg yolks
4 teaspoon lime zest
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (from 3-4 limes)
1, 14 oz can evaporated milk

1. Whisk zest and egg yolks together until the yolks are light in color and the zest has tinted the mixture light green, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the juice and evaporated milk and set aside to thicken while the crust bakes and cools, about 20 min.
2. Pour the thickened mixture into the baked and cooled tart shell, slide back into the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the filling is set, but still wiggly in the center. Note: If you use a 10'' tart pan the lime cream won't fill the shell all of the way, no big deal, you'll just have more room for the strawberries.
3. Remove from the oven and let the tart cool to room temperature then place it in the fridge for a few hours to chill completely before finishing with the strawberries.

To Finish the Tart

1 pint of the sweetest strawberries you can find, sliced in 1/8'' slices (these don't have to be perfect)
4T of apricot or any other light colored fruit preserves, warmed and blended until smooth. This will become a glaze for the top of the tart. I used the last of my Apricot Jam with Saffron and Rose and it was superb.
1c heavy cream whipped to soft peaks to serve (optional)

When the tart has chilled completely, layer the sliced strawberries on top of the tart in a decorative pattern, I like concentric circles. Then gently brush the top of the strawberries with the warmed jam.
Store in the fridge until you are ready to serve, then slice it up and top it with a snowy white dollop of whipped cream.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Brown Butter Blondies with Cherries, Chocolate, Cashews and Pecans

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I know browning butter is old news in the culinary world, but it's definitely a trick we should all have up our sleeves. It's an easy way to elevate both sweet and savory recipes and I love using it to give cookies, crusts and bars a deep toasty flavor. For this recipe I combined it with dark brown sugar, a hefty dose of salt and a splash of bourbon because I couldn't resist. Then I packed the already rich batter full of all kinds of good stuff, but feel free to switch up the additions to your taste, just keep it to about four cups. When all was said and done these blondies were wrapped up and sent away to a good friend out West and while I was sad to see them go, I was happy they weren't parked on the counter taunting me to eat them for every meal.

Have a great weekend everyone and don't forget to pop into one of your local farmer's markets. The first strawberries and rhubarb are trickling down to New York and people are going crazy for them, myself included.

Brown Butter Blondies with Cherries, Chocolate, Cashews and Pecans
yield 9x13 pan, cut into 16-24 pieces

1 cup butter
3 cups dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 Tablespoon bourbon (optional)
2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup roughly chopped cashews
1 cup roughly chopped pecans
1/2 cup dried cherries
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350º and line a 9x13 baking pan with foil and grease well

1. Brown the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until all of the milk solids turn golden and the butter has a nutty fragrance being careful to not let it burn. Remove from heat and stir in the dark brown sugar, set aside to cool slightly.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, bourbon and salt. Whisk in the cooled butter, sugar mixture then fold in the flour and baking powder.
3. Stir in the nuts, cherries and chocolate, but make sure the mixture is cool enough that the chocolate won't melt. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35min or until the top is shiny, set and slightly cracked around the edges. Place on a wire rack to cool completely then cut into squares.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring Firsts and a Rhubarb Pie

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I love these first days of Spring when we all start to shake off the chill of winter and stretch our limbs towards the sun. Every week more flowers pop open, trees get their leaves back after months of naked branches, and I watch as my lucky neighbors sweep off their patios and start replanting their tiny city gardens. One of the things that surprises me most about living on the East Coast is how much I have grown to enjoy the seasons and the transitions that come with them.

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This weekend marked a lot of Spring firsts. My first bbq of the season, my first rooftop cocktails, my first subway ride home when I smelled charcoal smoke in my hair and on my skin. I'm sure it doesn't come as a surprise to anyone when I say that the first pie of the season tops my list of favorites.

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While I made this pie last Sunday, I practically vibrated with excitement at the thought of eating it outside with the sun shining on my face. Add to that the novelty of trying out a new mixing technique in my quest to improve my pie crust and my favorite vegetable disguised as fruit and you've got my dream day all wrapped up.

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I am happy to report that this pie was as revolutionary as I hoped it would be. It was so tart and flaky and lightly vanilla scented that alternate titles I considered for this post included: We Don't Need no Stinking Strawberries, I am a Pie Ninja, and Holy Shit, This Is The Best Pie I've Ever Made. That last one was the exact phrase that popped out of my mouth when I pulled the bubbling beaut out of the oven. I didn't even have to taste it to know.

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I wrapped it up in a big cloth tied at the top and proudly carried it  on the train to its rightful resting place: a rooftop picnic table full of friends in the sunshine, with a view of the city in the distance.

For the Crust

This crust comes to you from Brandi Henderson of I made that! and The Pantry at Delancey where she teaches a class called "How to be a Pie Ninja" and she is not messing around. Brandi uses a technique called fraisage which creates long sheets of buttery flakes throughout the dough instead of little pockets of butter. Delightful!

12 oz pastry flour
8 oz cold butter
4 oz ice water
1/2t salt

1. Mix the flour and salt together, then pour the whole lot on a large cutting board or countertop.
2. With a bench scraper, cut in half of the butter until it is the size of lima beans, then cut in the other half of the butter until it is the size of quarters.
3. Using your fingers, flick the water on to the butter flour mixture and gently fold it in with your bench scraper. You have added enough water when you can pick up a handful of the dough and squeeze it together without it falling apart.
4. Then, get this, you smear the butter into the dough. With the heel of your hand push a section of the dough down and away from you. Congratulations, you have just created a sheet of butter which is going to turn delicious flaky crust. Scrape your sheet off of the board and place it in a bowl to the side. Repeat until you have worked through all of the dough, pushing it down and away from you in sections. Once you've gone through all of the dough gently remove it from the bowl, press it together, then split it in half, and wrap each half in plastic wrap and form into a disk. Chill the dough for at least one hour before using. I chilled mine overnight.

If this sounds confusing, check out the link above for a really helpful photo tutorial.

For the Filling

20 oz of rhubarb (about 5 slightly heaping cups), chopped into 1/2'' pieces (if your rhubarb is tough or stringy, remove the strings by pulling them down the stalk)
11.5 oz sugar
2.25 oz flour
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
1t orange zest
big pinch salt

For the Topping

1 egg, beaten
A few tablespoons of coarse sugar like turbinado or light demerara

To Assemble and Bake

Preheat oven to 450º

1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of the dough into a 12'' circle about 1/8'' thick and place it into a 9'' pie pan. Place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the pie.
2. Roll out the other piece of dough into a 12'' circle about 1/8'' thick and place it in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.
3. In a large bowl, rub the vanilla bean seeds and orange zest into the sugar to evenly distribute. Add in the rhubarb, vanilla/zesty sugar, flour, and salt and toss to combine evenly. Fill the prepared pie shell with the rhubarb mixture and top with the second crust, crimp the edges and cut a few vents. Alternately, you can top the pie with a lattice-style crust as I've done in the photos above. Here is a link to a great photo tutorial on Simply Recipes. When I make a lattice topped pie, I like to use nice thick strips of dough, so the one's pictured above are about 1'' wide.
4. If the crust seems soft or warm, slide the whole pie into the fridge or freezer for about 15min before you bake it. When you are ready to bake brush the top of the pie with a beaten egg and sprinkle with a healthy dose of coarse sugar.
5. Put the pie on a baking sheet to catch any drips and bake for 15min on the lowest rack of your oven, then lower the oven temp to 350º and bake for 40-50min or until the crust is deep golden brown and the rhubarb juices bubble. Cool at least 2 hours before serving.

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Thanks to Shawn for the shot of me holding the pie and to Ellie for the Holga shot on the bottom left.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rye Focaccia with Sweet Potato and Preserved Lemon

Rye Focaccia with Sweet Potato and Preserved Lemons
There has been a lot of soup eaten in this house recently. You see, after a glorious week in Seattle snuggling my new nieces (who are unfathomably adorable) my usually tough immune system took a hit. I guess these years on the east coast have weakened my ability to handle the Northwest chill, and I came back with a cold. Well, P and I both came back sniffling and sneezing. So, when we got home to NYC my first order of business was a trip to the grocery store for soup fixings and some lotion fortified tissues.

I whipped up batch after batch of soup and over the next week we slurped our colds away first with chicken and rice, his garnished with nutmeg and mine with a healthy dose of lemon juice. Then we moved on to tomato with roasted veggies and since soup needs a worthy accompaniment for dipping I pulled some slices of this focaccia out of the freezer and toasted them up. It is hearty from the rye, slightly sweet from the potato with a hit of tart from the chopped preserved lemons (my newest culinary obsession, they are good in everything from salad dressing to pasta sauce) and of course, a sprinkle of salt to top the whole thing off.

Rye Focaccia with Sweet Potato and Preserved Lemon
yield, one 15x10 loaf or two smaller circular loaves

For the Dough

1 1/3c cooked, mashed sweet potato cooled to room temperature (steamed or roasted)
1 1/2t instant yeast
9oz all purpose flour
8.5oz rye flour
1c warm water (about 110º)
2T olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 1/4t salt

For the Topping

2T olive oil
1/2 of a perserved lemon, cut into 1/4'' pieces
1t flaky salt

1. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer combine the yeast, 1/2c all purpose flour and 1/2c warm water. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until bubbly, about 20min.
2. Add in the rest of the dough ingredients and mix/knead with the dough hook on your mixer until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until the dough has doubled in volume, about an hour.
3. Oil a 15x10 baking sheet or two smaller pans if you are going to split the dough and gently press the dough into the pan. Cover and let rise again for 45 min or until the dough has doubled in volume again. While the dough is rising, heat the oven to 425º.
4. After the dough has risen, gently use two fingers to indent the top of the dough, drizzle the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped preserved lemons and flaky salt. Bake until the bottom is golden, about 25min. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly and serve warm. This bread freezes and reheats well if you manage not to demolish the whole thing in one sitting.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Michelada Brunch: Austin, TX

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A few weeks ago I made my way down to Austin, TX for the second time in as many years. My last trip was to celebrate the marriage of two of my favorite folks and bake them a wedding cake, on a ranch no less! This go-round was a more urban adventure because I was lucky enough to tag along with my boyfriend when he went down to work at SXSW.

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He and his crew had lots of work to do recording bands during the day, so I busied myself listening to music, eating tacos and bbq and drinking Micheladas wherever I went. I also dutifully stood by the gear while the guys went to get the van and occasionally fed the parking meter, you know, to earn my keep.

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Instead of a hotel, we all stayed together in a little cabin compound with cool modern furniture, outdoor showers for the adventurous and a white fluffy rug whose fibers I am still finding stuck to my clothes, like sand from a beach vacation. Tough life, I know.

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After a long week of work, those guys earned themselves a boozy, bacon filled breakfast and since we were staying in a house with a full kitchen and I love cooking a morning meal for a crowd,  I was happy to oblige. It's always a little disorienting cooking in someone else's space so I decided to keep it simple: soft scrambled eggs, a heap of crispy bacon, my favorite fluffy buttermilk biscuits, some Texas citrus, and lots of coffee and Micheladas. Have you ever had a Michelada? They are spicy beer cocktails that I've had a pretty serious love affair with since the last time we visited Texas.

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I spent the rest of our trip falling so in love with a man named Samsome Moonpies, the White Horse and beer koozies that I'll forgive Austin for what it's humidity did to my curly hair. Can't wait to see you again, Austin.

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Bonus dog photo! You can call him Dude, or maybe His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing. Special thanks to Shawn, Pete and Ellie for taking some of these photos while I was cooking for the crew.

Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from Alton Brown
yield 1 dozen

2c flour (White Lily brand if you can find it)
4t baking powder
1/4t baking soda
3/4t salt
2T butter, chilled
2T non-hydrogenated shortening (or butter), chilled
1c buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 450º

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
2. With your fingers, or a pastry cutter, mix the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it looks crumbly.
3. Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the buttermilk, mix until just combined. The dough should be sticky.
4. Dump the dough out onto a well floured surface and gently fold the dough over itself five or six times. Pat the dough out 1'' thick and cut with a 2-3'', floured biscuit cutter.
5. Place biscuits, barely touching, on a sheet pan and bake for 15-20 min or until golden brown on top and cooked through.

Michelada (Beer Cocktail)
Serves 1

This isn't really a recipe, but this is how I like to make them.

Take a chilled pint glass and rim it with salt (lime salt would be great here if you have it), if you have something larger than a pint, even better. Fill the glass half full of ice cubes and add a few tablespoons of tomato juice, the juice of a lime, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, as many shakes of hot sauce as you can stand (I like Cholula or Tapatio), a few grinds of fresh black pepper and a pinch of salt. Top with a 12oz Mexican beer (I like Modelo Especial) and half of one of the limes you squeezed for their juice, give it a gentle stir and enjoy. You won't be able to fit the whole beer in a pint glass, so if you use one just add the rest of the beer in as you drink the cocktail. I've also heard a few shakes of Maggi Seasoning are a delicious addition, but haven't been able to find it.