Saturday, December 26, 2009

my #1 recommendations

While I'm at it, I might as well tell you about my #1 must-haves in your cooking library. These people are geniuses. And they do all of the work for you. You just have to follow their instructions. I've had this book for about 3 years now, and I seriously turn to it at least a few times a week for recipes, inspiration, information, or just plain good reading:) I am a completely different cook because of them.
If you don't know much about the good people at America's Test Kitchen, let me tell you a little about how they work. They slave away for hours, days, weeks, sometimes months at one recipe to get it perfect and fool-proof. They test different methods, ingredients, products, utensils, appliances, anything you can think of in the kitchen, to tell you what's best and why. It's amazing. And recently they came out with this book:
Another new Christmas addition to my library. And I seriously think I sat and just read it for a couple of hours straight yesterday. They have all sorts of classic recipes, explained and simplified. I love these people. This book is a little more complex, I think, than the cookbook counterpart, but mostly just because by nature baking is more complex than cooking. I love that this book has a little note next to recipes that are "great for beginners", and almost every other page has little "don't make this mistake" explanations as to why this certain bread recipe won't rise if you make this mistake, or why your frosting won't go on in a clean layer if you make this mistake. I love it. This is definitely another must-have in your home. Honestly, I think that if you were to only buy 2 cook/baking books for your kitchen library, I would say these are the 2 to get.

my first book review/recommendation

My very generous in-laws bought me this fascinating book for Christmas:
And this is what resulted:Isn't it gorgeous? I'd give you the recipe, but since it's more of a concept book, I'm going to have to tell you to just go out and either borrow it from your library or buy it. It's SO ridiculously easy, and gives you amazing results. So this is my first cook book review. And it is definitely a positive one. They're not kidding when they say 5 minutes a day. Of course including baking and resting time it's a lot longer, but you really only put in probably less than 5 minutes of hands-on work a day. And it's a no-knead method, so you can't even really call it work. And with this basic method, you can make a boule, baguette, ciabatta, b√Ętard, couronne, pain d'epi!, and basically whatever you can dream of. Those are just the ones I'm the most excited to create. We had leftover Christmas roast beef sandwiches on this bread for lunch today, and I just melted. It was too good to really have come out of MY oven!

Reading through this book can seem a little dry, though, so be warned. It's a lot of language (fascinating language, but a lot of it), and very few pictures. But this concept really needs a lot of explanation, so it's justified. And I'm the kind of person that loves to just sit and read cookbooks from cover to cover, so I have to admit I had a lot of fun studying it.

If you love good, crusty, chewy, delicious artisan bread (and who doesn't?), I highly recommend this book to you!

Friday, December 25, 2009

christmas eve-eve

My cute sister and her family started a family tradition a few years back where they watch one of our family favorites, "Scrooged" (vintage Bill Murray--can't get much better than that!) and get Chinese take-out for Christmas eve-eve dinner. If you've seen the movie, you'd understand. Back during my single days they always invited me, and even after I was married and lived only and hour away. But the last couple of years, since we live in a totally different part of the country, my husband and I have decided to continue that tradition for ourselves. But we don't know too many good Chinese take-out places around here, so we make our own. And this year we decided on some dim sum. Spring rolls and gyoza (pan-fried/steamed and deep fried). And I think I ate my weight in dim sum. It was delicious.

The food before it was cooked:
ohhhhhhh .... and after. mmmm.
All spread out on the table, ready to be eaten.
It was glorious! If you want my gyoza recipe, look here. And here's a basic spring roll recipe:

makes 9~12 spring rolls

spring roll skins (9~12, depending on how much or how little filling you put inside)

about 1/4 lb ground pork
1/2 t sake
1/2 t soy sauce
pinch of corn starch

1 scallion, minced
1/2 can bamboo shoots, cut into thin strips or chopped coarse
2 cabbage leaves, cut into thin strips
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in warm water, and sliced into thin strips
1/4~1/3 C super thin rice noodles, soaked in warm water until softened

vegetable or canola oil for deep frying, and for sauteing

1.5 T flour
1 T water

cooking sauce:
1 T sake
1 T soy sauce
1/2 t sugar
salt & pepper to taste
1 t sesame oil
  1. In a small bowl, combine the ground pork with the 1/2 t sake, 1/2 t soy sauce, and pinch of corn starch.
  2. In a wok or deep skillet, stir fry the pork in a little oil until cooked through. Add the bamboo shoots, cabbage, mushrooms, and cook until cabbage softens. Add the noodles and sauce and cook until evenly coated. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Clean out the wok and fill with about 1/3 with oil. Heat oil to about 320°~330°F (160°~165°C). Meanwhile, wrap the spring rolls.
  4. Prepare the "glue" in a small bowl. To wrap the spring rolls, place the wrapper in front of you, with a corner facing you. Place a small amount of filling close to the corner closest to you, in a line-shape. (parallel to your shoulders, if that makes sense) Fold the corner closest to you over the food, roll over once, then fold in the 2 side corners and keep rolling. Using your finger, place a little of the flour glue into the corner furthest from you (the only corner showing at this point) and finish rolling and make sure the glue sticks and seals. Repeat with all of the rolls.
  5. Deep fry the spring rolls, about 3~4 at a time, in the oil until golden brown. Let drain on a wire rack over a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Serve warm with hot rice.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

i think i'm in heaven

Ok, so these aren't the most fantastic pictures because it's late at night ... but I couldn't resist taking some and sharing the pure joy I just experienced. For a romantic after-the-kid-goes-to-sleep treat for my husband, I made a simple yellow bundt cake with caramel sauce and super lightly sweetened whipped cream. I've been meaning to use the beautiful bundt pan my sister bought for me a while back, and I seriously wondered why in the world I hadn't done it sooner. It was decadent, rich, not too sweet, divine! Just perfect. And seriously, very simple to make. Just takes a little patience (at least for the caramel sauce). Give it a try. You won't regret it.

Yellow Bundt Cake (from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook--which you must own someday) & Glorious Caramel Sauce
makes 1 bundt and about 2 C of sauce
Pan coating:
1 T unsalted butter, melted
1 T all-purpose flour

3 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T vanilla extract
3/4 C buttermilk*
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
18 T (2 and 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 C sugar
  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle positon and heat oven to 350°F. To coat the pan: mash the butter and flour together into a paste then brush evenly over the inside of a 12-cup bundt pan (be sure to get all of the crevices).
  2. For the cake: whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a seperate bowl, whisk lemon juice, vanilla, and buttermilk together. In a thrid bowl, gently whisk eggs and yolk together.
  3. Beat the sugar and butter togethe rina alrge bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs in 2 batches until incorporated, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in 1/3 of the flour mixture until just combined, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat this process again using half of the remaining flour mixture and all of the remaining buttermilk mixture. Mix in the remaining flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking (do not overbake).
  6. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.
For the caramel sauce, go here. This girl is a genius. And she makes a genius caramel sauce that even makes me want to drink it. And I'm not a huge caramel person. So that's saying a lot!

For the whipped cream, really only add like 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar. The caramel is so sweet and the cake is so dense and rich that you won't want all that sweetness in the cream, trust me. And beat to soft peaks. Please.

*if you don't have or don't want to buy buttermilk, use 3/4 C milk and scant 1T white distilled vinegar or fresh lemon juice, stir, and let it thicken. And you can use that in place of buttermilk in any baking recipe. 1 C milk to 1T vinegar/lemon juice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

finally a new post!

So the bread I've been making a few times a week now, has become a dinner table staple. I make it substituting 2~3 C whole wheat flour, and it still turns out chewy and soft and fluffy. And I feel a little better about feeding it to my family. I also make it into 4 smaller loaves instead, and it bakes for about 15 minutes. Really good. Try it.

Anyway, this morning we had a couple loaves in the freezer, and my cutie is home from work this week, so I had to make his favorite, French Toast. I served it with lingonberry jam and honey-vanilla whipped cream.

And I'm going to get on a bit of a soap box here. Let's not over-whip our cream, my friends. Over-whipped cream is greasy and lumpy. That's when you go beyond stiff peaks. And what's happenening is you're starting to make butter and whey. Not what you want when serving it over pies, tarts, crepes, or anything! So keep an eye on your cream, the difference between stiff peaks (which isn't necessary for this dish anyway, you want soft peaks) and over-whipped cream is a matter of 30 seconds sometimes. Or less. If you're making whipped cream in your kitchenaid, don't walk away. Please.

French Toast with jam and honey-vanilla whipped cream
And the festive little girl decided to dress up like Santa for breakfast:) I think it may have been her first taste of whipped cream. Definitely like her mommy.
1 loaf crusty French bread, cut into 1 inch slices
an array of tart jams

2 eggs
1 C whole milk
1 t cinnamon
1 T pure vanilla extract
2 T honey or sugar

butter or oil for the pan
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F and place an oven safe platter in the oven.
  2. In a deep plate or a small baking dish, whisk the custard mixture until well blended.
  3. Dip the bread slices into the custard, making sure it's coated on both sides, and place on a griddle or large frying pan over medium heat. Cook on the first side until lightly browned, flip over and repeat with the other side. Once cooked through, place on the platter in the oven. Repeat with all bread slices. Once finished, you can serve the whole warm platter so the cook can eat, too!
honey-vanilla whipped cream:
3/4 C heavy cream
1 T honey
1 t pure vanilla extract
  1. Pour the cream into a medium bowl. Using a hand-held mixer, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the vanilla and honey and continue to whip until they cream reaches soft peaks again. Serve.
Serve French toast with a tart jam and the whipped cream:)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

more bread

I've always said I'm decent at cooking, but I don't do bread. And living here can be a little sad sometimes (when it comes to bread) because there aren't too many places to buy good artisan bread. Actually I can't think of anywhere. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough ... I got pretty good at making bread machine bread;), and Irish soda bread, but that isn't a yeast bread so I feel like it doesn't count. And then my sister came to visit when my daughter was born and taught me how to make my aunt Carolyn's perfect rolls. I can't seem to get them quite like either of them do, but they're still amazing, so I'm not complaining. But that experience made me realize that (some) bread isn't as intimidating as I always thought. So I started researching breads, and for Christmas I'm getting myself a new bread book.

Anyway, in the midst of all of this, I discovered a French bread recipe I wanted to try. It was so easy and amazingly puffy and chewy and delicious! And it took me maybe a total of 2 hours, start to finish. Now, if you're a purist and you like the traditional "real" French bread with a super crispy crust and an airy interior, call it something other than French bread and make it for your family. But if you don't experience the joy of real French bread too often, and your definition of it is an oblong loaf with slits cut on top, this will be your new favorite recipe and you'll never want to buy a loaf at Walmart again!

But someday I will learn to make "real" French bread. And ciabatta. And brioche. And croissants. And foccacia. (Not the wannabe that I made, but the real thing) And all sorts of beautiful, more famously temperamental breads.

But for now, this Americanized French bread works perfectly for me. I'm going to try it with 25% whole wheat flour today. Hopefully that turns out:)

fluffy, chewy, easy French loaf
makes 2 large or 4 small loaves
2 T active dry yeast
2 T granulated sugar
1 T salt
3 C warm water
2 T butter (softened) or oil
8 C flour

egg wash:
1 egg white
2 T water
  1. Place the first 5 ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until combined. Switch to the dough hook attachment and add flour. Knead until elastic.
  2. Let dough rise for 10 minutes, punch down and let mix for a few seconds. Repeat this 5 times (50 minutes).
  3. Shape the dough into 2 rectangles (or 4, if you're making 4 smaller loaves) and roll up into a log shape. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and let rise to double in size. Brush with the egg wash and with a very sharp knife, cut 3~4 diagonal slits on the top.
  4. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes (less if you're making the smaller loaves, of course). The bread is done when golden brown.
Keep in mind that the bread will flatten a bit if you eat it right out of the oven. So if you want it to maintain it's shape, let it cool a little bit. If you don't care (and why should you? Fresh bread is so worth it!), eat it right out of the oven with butter. Or even better, honey butter!