Friday, December 31, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie - spiced butter-glazed carrots

I love when I learn something new.  I also love when I cook with a new ingredient.  Dorie's recipe for spiced butter-glazed carrots introduced me to cardamom seeds.  I've never cooked with them before.  I'm sure I've eaten lots of things with cardamom, just nothing that came out of my own kitchen.

What I learned is that cardamom comes in pods and when you crack them open (they have a similar texture to pumpkin seeds) they reveal lots of tiny little black seeds.  Very cool!

OK, I will admit that when the recipe said to "bruise" the seeds, I first "bruised" the pods.  It was only after that tender bruising that I discovered that the pods popped open and there were seeds inside.

Then, I bruised those too!  I haven't used my mortar and pestle in forever (in fact, upon examination, it appears I may have never used this particular mortar and pestle), so it was nice pull it out from the back of a cupboard.

When I thought about bruising the seeds, my mind led me all sorts of places.  Like, how this year has left me slightly bruised.  And, it's funny, but the bruising that I endured this year has opened up new things in me.  Much like my bruising the cardamom pod revealed the seeds inside.  After bruising the seeds, the seeds revealed their aromatic secrets...I think some of my "aromatic" secrets have been revealed this year too.  However, I will say, I've had enough bruising for awhile and am hoping that 2011 is all about enjoying the new revelations.  We'll leave the ongoing bruising for another year, I hope.

All this over cooking a simple carrot dish.  Yep, it's the end of the year and I tend to get reflective, melancholy and hopeful.  What is it about a new year that makes everything seem possible again?  I love beginnings...saying goodbye to the past...moving forward.  I hope that 2011 brings much love, good health, and all that you wish for to you and yours.  Thanks for reading my ramblings.  I'm looking forward to many more in the coming year.

Oh, by the way...the carrots were delicious and I ate them all myself.  This was a test run for New Year's Day (when I always make corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots).  I'll actually let the rest of the family taste the carrots on the 1st.  To see how the rest of our French Fridays with Dorie participants are handling the end of the year, click here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Fresh Baked Croissants

For Christmas, my staff gave my family a truly great gift!  Knowing that we've been missing France and French bread and especially French Croissants, they gave us a three month subscription to William Sonoma's monthly croissant club.  What a thoughtful and yummy gift!  Our first box of Butter Croissants has arrived and I decided they would be perfect for breakfast this morning.

So, yesterday, I took 6 of the perfectly formed croissants out of the freezer and put them on a baking sheet to proof overnight.

This morning, when I looked in the oven, they had transformed into this.

All I had to do was bake them for 20 minutes.  They were light and airy, tender and delicious.  I do think I let them proof just a bit too long (they became humungous), so next time I'll stick to the 9 hours (I went about 13 hours...because I slept in).

Served warm from the oven with homemade strawberry jam, what's not to like on a drizzly winter morning.  If you'd like some lovely, home baked croissants without all the hassle, you can find them here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie - speculoos

On Friday it's Christmas Eve day, so what better FFwD recipe to showcase than Dorie's delightful holiday cookies... speculoos.  Speculoos or speculaas as they are known in Belgium, are thin, crisp spice cookies.  As Dorie mentions, it doesn't matter when you eat these cookies, they are going to remind you of the holidays.

I will confess, I didn't make these cookies right off the bat.  I waited until some fellow FFwD participants had made them and read their comments and hints.  They were very helpful.  I am not a rolled cookie person.  Rolled cookies stick and tear and make me tear up (like that little play on words?).  And crying in the kitchen is just so damn sad!  I've never been much of a fan of sugar cookies (either making them or eating them) and I thought the speculoo was probably just a brown sugar cookie.

And, actually, it is...but it's so much more than that too.  The spices really bring the cookie to life.  Dorie says you can make these big or small, thin or thick and spicy or spicier.  I went medium size, thin and just spicy.

 I also took her up on her Bonne Idee and made sandwiches out of the cookies too, using Nutella and Gingerbread Butter (idea stolen from another FFwD blogger, who it is I can't remember...I'm sorry).  I also bought dulce de leche, but when I opened up the jar...the seal had been broken and it was molded...YUCK!  I was going to share a picture and then thought better of it.  Serves me right for not having the guts to make my own by with this recipe.  However, the thought of boiling a can of condensed milk for 3-5 hours is more than I can handle!

With Nutella
The cookies were not that difficult to make, as long as you follow the instructions.  That means, make your dough, roll it out and then refrigerate for at least three hours.  I refrigerated over night, which made cutting the cookies very easy and I think melded the flavors together even more.  I used a great scalloped edge cookie cutter, but these cookies go soft very quickly and don't hold there shape perfectly.  So, I wouldn't use a fine detailed cookie cutter for these. 

With Gingerbread Butter

If you want a last minute holiday cookie that Santa will enjoy, try making these today!  To see what everyone else made this week, click here.  Happy Holidays!  I hope your holidays are filled with love and magic and cookies and lots of great food!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Holiday Cookies...maybe the best Chocolate Chip Cookie ever!

I know, I know...this is a mighty big claim!  The best Chocolate Chip Cookie ever!!  Let's just say that these cookies are as good as it gets.  Crispy around the edges, soft and chewy in the center and the flavor is butter and vanilla and sugar and CHOCOLATE!  I've been making a variety of chocolate chip cookie recipes, trying to find the one that makes me (and my boys) the happiest.  So far, this is the winner.

What's the secret?  The first secret is using exceptional chocolate.  I used the Belgian Callebaut chocolate and it was sooooooo good!  The second secret is refrigerating the dough for 72 hours (the recipe says at least 24 hours...but you really want to go for 72).  I read somewhere that the original Tollhouse recipe called for the dough to be refrigerated for 24 hours, but somehow it got left off of the package instructions many years ago.  So, even if you don't want to try Jacques recipe, try refrigerating your Tollhouse dough for a day.  The extra time gives the flavors a chance to blend and mellow and become delicious.

I baked these at a friend's house yesterday and we also made crescent cookies, snowballs and almond rolls.  We baked all day...and drank champagne as we baked and had a very merry time.  I took a few photos of her lovely holiday decorations too!

A little sea salt on top is the final secret!


Home for the holidays!

Here's the recipe.  Make it for your family or your friends and see what they say.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Jacques Torres, printed in the New York Times

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
Sea salt.

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.
Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

Friday, December 17, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie - my go-to beef daube

This is Dorie's go-to beef daube...and it will forever more be mine too!  This is one fabulous dish.  When we were in France this summer, friends had us over for our last night at the farm house and made Boeuf Bourguignon, which is similar to a daube.  The bourguigon is a fairly simple dish to make (unless you're following Julia's recipe) and the daube really is too.  Get a good cut of meat, season it with lovely winter vegetables and a bouquet garni, add lots of red wine and then braise for a couple of hours.  What you end up with is a little bit of heaven.

Gather your ingredients

Admire the lovely produce

Admire a little more

You have to admire the meat too, you don't want it to feel left out, after all it is the star of this show!

Put your herbs together in a bouquet garni (that's just fancy talk for wrapping up the fresh herbs in cheesecloth)

All tied up!

Everything is better when you start with bacon

Browning the meat in bacon fat...yum, yum

Onions and shallots get to sweat

Carrots and parsnips join the fun (don't leave out the parsnips, they're important!)

Almost forgot the garlic

Every thing's ready to cook for a couple of hours

When it's all done, here's what you get

Up close and personal...too personal?

I made Dorie's herbed spaetzle to go with and it was fabulous!

The spaetzle was so yummy!

The daube had layers and layers of flavor.  The smoky bacon was underneath everything, the herbs added just the right amount of perfume and the wine tied everything together.  I used Dorie's suggestion of a coastal syrah (from Kendall Jackson) and it was perfect!  I'm going back to the store and buy a case...this is the wine to use for stews.

If you are looking for the perfect way to show your family some wintertime love, this is the meal for you!  If you'd like the recipe, buy Dorie's book (don't worry, I don't make a commission...I just want to make sure Dorie sells enough books so she can write another one!).  If you'd like to see what everyone else at FFwD made this week, check it out.  If you are feeling inspired to join the club, do it.  It's so much fun and we are cooking so many great things...the more the merrier!  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tiramisu Cake

On Sunday, I made a Tiramisu Cake for my staff party.  It was from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From my home to yours.  It was scrupdilicious!    You start by making a yellow cake, but to get it to have the spongy texture of ladyfingers, it's very eggy.    You then make an espresso syrup to brush on the cake layers.  The fun part is making the marscapone & whip cream filling & frosting.  I have to confess that I licked the beaters more than once (but only after all the beating was done!!!)  This cake does take a bit of effort, but it's worth it in the end.

 With flash (cold and harsh)

Without flash (looks like a different cake...too dark)!

Under my outdoor simulation lights (looks a bit better)
See how the espresso syrup bleeds seeps down into the cake, as if it were a sponge.

This cakes gets better each day it sits!  And it's official...we now have too many sweets in our house!  HELP!!!!

Since the recipe has been published multiple times across the Internet, I've copied it here for you.

Tiramisu Cake by Dorie Greenspan
For the cake:
2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 ¼ sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk
For the espresso extract:
2 tbs. instant espresso powder
2 tbs. boiling water
For the espresso syrup:
½ cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbs. amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy
For the filling and frosting:
1 8-oz. container mascarpone cheese
½ cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbs. amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy
1 cup cold heavy cream
2 ½ oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, or about ½ cup store bought mini chocolate chips
Chocolate covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)
Cocoa powder, for dusting
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
To make the cake: Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low  and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in three additions and the buttermilk in two (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter.
Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.Bake for 28-30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool then for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
To make the extract: Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.
To make the syrup: Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.
To make the filling and frosting: Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth. Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.
To assemble the cake: If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – user about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.
For the frosting, whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add. If the frosting looks as if it might be a little too soft to spread over the cake, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate it for 15 minutes or so. Refrigerate the cake too.
With a long metal icing spatula, smooth the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top.
Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa, or top with shaved chocolate.
The end!

Friday, December 10, 2010

French Fridays with Dorie - Leek & Potato Soup

Friday is here at last!  This week I cooked the Leek & Potato Soup for my French Fridays with Dorie post.  In my family, we have a treasured Potato Soup recipe (see below), which we make on Christmas Eve (along with a big pot of chili).  I think the tradition started with my mom and grandma as something relatively easy to make and it will stay warm on the stove for relatives to drop by whenever they like on Christmas Eve.  My siblings and I have kept this tradition alive.

Last year, although a bit scared to do so, I actually made a couple of changes to the soup, just to liven things up a bit.  I added leeks and goat cheese.  The additions were a bit hit (especially the goat cheese)!  I was relieved, since messing with Christmas "taste" memories is a real no no.  You know what I mean.  All year long you've dreamt of that first bite of Christmas fudge, or a special holiday cookie, or a bite of Potato Soup and you want that bite to taste exactly the same way it has always tasted.  Many of us get stuck in a rut because of this and our holiday dishes never improve, they just stay the same, year after year.  So, knowing this...I wondered if Dorie's recipe would be good enough to bump our traditional Christmas Eve Potato Soup.

All the ingredients, except the garlic...where did the garlic go?

Dorie's recipe is different from my family's recipe in a couple of ways.  The ingredients are slightly different (for instance, Dorie's recipe calls for leeks, mine doesn't, which is probably why her recipe is called leek and potato soup and mine is called potato soup!).

And the way you cook the ingredients is different.  Mainly, in Dorie's recipe, after sauteing the onions and garlic, you add all the other ingredients, including the milk and cook until everything is tender.  In my recipe, there's no sauteing, you just cook the main ingredients in water, then add cream and spices at the end.  With Dorie's recipe, you can use water or stock and milk or water.  I decided in order to get the richest soup possible that I would use stock and milk.

Before knife!

After knife!

Ready to simmer!

The prep for the soup was super easy (pun intended!).  When the soup is finished, you can puree it until smooth or leave it chunky.  You can also serve it hot or cold.  I decided to leave it chunky and serve it hot.  I followed Dorie's suggestion and made giant croutons to sit on top of the soup.  I also cooked thick cut bacon and chopped it up and served that on the side as a garnishment (my boys are okay eating a vegetarian meal, but they prefer a little meat/bacon with everything they eat).  (If you are wondering where the pictures of the soup with the bacon on top are, the bacon got gobbled up in the soup before I could get a picture of it!)

When I made the croutons, I sauteed the bread slices in the bacon fat and then added a bit of parmesan on top.  Can I just say...these croutons were DELICIOUS!

What's the verdict? 

St. James said Dorie's soup is better and should replace our family recipe (although he only eats chili on Christmas Eve, so I'm not sure his vote should count).  Ethan thoroughly enjoyed the new recipe (as did our guests).  I think I'd add a little cream and a little butter to "fatten" it up a bit.  I do love the fresh herbs that gently simmer into the broth as the soup cooks.  I think I'll ask my sisters if they are okay trying this new version for the holiday.  Although, I won't be surprised if they say no.

For a simple, yet delicious soup, try my grandma's recipe.  She should would get a kick out of knowing that I am sharing her recipes across the internet world!

Grandma's Potato Soup 
(grandma's note in margin "good!!")

4 cups cubed potatoes
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup chopped onions
2 cups water
2 tsp salt

Simmer 20 mins, mash once or twice.  Then stir in the following ingredients and heat through.

1 cup milk
1 cup cream
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs parsley
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp pepper

Wondering what everyone else made this week at FFwD?  Check them all out here.  Tune in next week for my go-to beef daube.