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Archive for the ‘Baking’ Category

So, how’re things?  What’s that?  Where in the hell have I been?  Uh…

Well, it began with THE LAWN. I’m pleased to report that, aside from a little edging and compost-adding, the garden has grown. As soon as it’s pretty enough to post, it’ll be here in all its glory. My seedlings are still doing really well (thanks, Ikea!), so I can’t wait to put them in the ground now that things have warmed up around here.

Then the project-monster expanded his reach. He crept inside the house, approached the kitchen, and knew he’d found his prey. In reality, Chris gave me the lovely Valentine’s Day present of re-vamping my kitchen – new paint, new grout, new shelves, new butcher block table, new everything. I was tickled pink at the idea and so pleased to see the results, but in between I got a little cranky and impatient. It’s tough to take a girl out of her favorite room for a week and a half!

Anyway, it’s almost all done and beautifully shiny and bright. I’ll be making up for lost time in the days to come!

Before the turmoil, I had been reading Julia Child’s My Life In France, inspired by a book club on The Kitchn. Although I don’t have half the patience or ambition of this amazing woman, I was inspired to get a little French up in this biz.  Enter the soufflé.

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Dude!  Souffles aren’t that hard – I had no idea! 

Provencal Goat Cheese and Herb Soufflé (adapted from Epicurious)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 cup crumbled chilled soft fresh goat cheese (such as Montrachet)
1/2 cup (packed) grated Gruyère cheese (about 2 ounces)
8 large egg whites

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Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400°F. Generously butter one 10-cup soufflé dish or six 1 1/4-cup soufflé dishes (I used six individual soufflé cups and had overflow, so I filled the above dish also.  This makes a lot – invite friends)!  Heat olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and minced garlic. Cook without browning until mixture begins to bubble, whisking constantly, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in whole milk, then white wine. Cook until smooth, thick and beginning to boil, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix egg yolks and salt in small bowl. Add egg yolk mixture all at once to sauce; whisk quickly to blend. Mix in 1 tablespoon basil, 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 teaspoon rosemary. Fold in cold goat cheese and Gruyère cheese (cheeses do not need to melt).

Using electric mixer, beat whites in large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm souffl
 base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites. Transfer soufflé mixture to prepared dish. Sprinkle with ground black pepper.

Place soufflé in oven; reduce heat to 375°F. Bake soufflé until puffed, golden and gently set in center, about 35 minutes for large soufflé (or 25 minutes for small soufflés). Using oven mitts, transfer soufflé to platter and serve immediately.  And they mean immediately.  I snapped some pictures before the sagging happened, and it happened so quickly! 

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Oh yeah – a rimmed baking sheet is helpful.  Forgot to mention that.  Add some nasturtium-studded salad, and you’ve got a beautiful meal that even Julia would be proud to serve – Bon Appetit!

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A bake-tastic recap

So, before I decided that I needed to fit into my jeans, I was on quite the baking kick for a while, and my new cookbook goaded me on with pictures of gooey, crumbly, chewy, chocolatey madness. It was a beautiful time.

As I bite into my morning apple, I can think back on the days when I consumed my fruit in bar form:

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Mmm, applesauce spice bars. Those were the business.

And then there were the blondies. Oh, the blondies. I think I’ll miss them most of all.

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Oh man. Butterscotch-y, crispy yet chewy delectables.

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking:

Chewy, Chunky Blondies

2 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
6 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into chips
1 cup Heath Toffee bits
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 325° and butter a 9×13 baking pan.  Cream the butter in a mixer until smooth.  Add both sugars and beat for another 3 minutes, or until well incorporated.  Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each one, then beat in the vanilla.  Reduce mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing until they just disappear into the batter.  Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate, toffee, nuts and coconut.  Spread the mixture into your prepared pan.

Bake 40 minutes or until golden.  Start on your second batch, as these won’t last.

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Don’t get me wrong – I haven’t given up on the sugary treats.  I’m just trying to stay away from those 2-sticks-of-butter-kind-of-cookies.  I am currently experimenting with cocoa nibs, and am three batches in to developing my new favorite not-so-sweet chocolate cookie.  Stay tuned, but in the meantime, indulge for me!

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Here it is, January 3rd. You may have faced the end of 2007 with new resolutions in mind – go to the gym more, stop biting your nails, eat more cheese, whatever. If your resolution was to drink less, I’ve got a great recipe to get rid of your stash.

I’m not a big drinker myself, and we had some friends for dinner who brought over a bottle of red wine to share, leaving a good half-bottle behind. I remembered our trip to Providence, RI, when we tasted some really interesting red wine biscuits in an Italian market. They’re slightly sweet, but mostly spicy – perfect for an after-dinner coffee. Unless you’ve given up caffeine, in which case I can’t help you.

Red Wine Biscuits

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp black pepper
3/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg white, whisked

Process or mix together the flour, sugar, pepper, fennel, and baking powder. While blending, slowly add the oil and wine and process until the mixture forms a dough. It should stay together pretty well, and you shouldn’t need a floured surface to work on, as it’s not sticky at all. Traditionally, these biscuits are made in ring shape, and you should have enough dough for 2-3 dozen, depending on how small they’re made. Keep in mind that the smaller the ring, the crispier the biscuit – I like them pretty firm, like a good biscotti, so the next time I make them, I’ll probably shape them a little smaller. They’ll spread a tiny bit, but not much on a baking sheet. Brush with the egg white and bake at 350° until the bottoms are golden brown, about 25 minutes. As these cool, they’ll firm up even more and the spiciness will increase, so you may not get a good sense of them straight out of the oven.

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They’re mini, hard, spicy donuts filled with wine. What’s not to like?

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As my sister said on her way through the security line at the airport: “I’m not eating again today.  Well, not until I get home”.  As is tradition, we spent the majority of three days being uncomfortably full, and now we’re hoping to take a break from overeating for a few days.   We had a spectacular experience though, and took advantage of our family’s diversity by having Persian cuisine one night, Norwegian the next, and good ol’ American to finish it off.  Pictures to come.

In case you’re not sick of feasting yet, have I got a beautiful meal for you.  This isn’t one of those recipes where your guests will think you’ve spent all day cooking, but in fact it’s just been whipped up last minute.  You’ll actually be putting in some labor time on this one, but it’s well worth it for the right occasion.  Ours was a lovely dinner with lovely friends before we all dispersed for Christmas.  I’d recommend doing it in stages – make the sauce and roast the squash the day before, and you’ll be golden.  I’m not usually too excited by white sauces, but the combination of the sweet, caramelized squash with this rich decadent sauce is too much to pass up.

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Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Garlic Lasagna
adapted from Cooking Light

8 1/4 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (3 pounds or so.  I had a bigger squash, so just added an extra layer to the lasagna to use it up)
 Cooking spray
4 cups fat-free milk, divided
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (8-ounce) package no-boil precooked lasagna noodles
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
1/2 cup whipping cream

Arrange butternut squash in a single layer in a large roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Coat squash with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 25 minutes or until squash is just tender, stirring once. Set aside.

Lower oven temperature to 350°.

Combine 3 1/2 cups milk and rosemary in a medium saucepan and simmer on medium heat 5 minutes or until mixture begins to boil. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain milk through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard rosemary.

Lightly spoon all-purpose flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk, stirring flour mixture with a whisk until well blended to form a slurry.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute or until tender, stirring constantly. Stir in steeped milk, and increase heat to medium-high. Gradually add slurry to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 15 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Combine milk mixture and squash, tossing gently.

Spread about 1 1/2 cups squash mixture into the bottom of an 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 noodles over squash mixture; top with 2 cups squash mixture and 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layers once or twice with 3 noodles, 2 cups of squash, and 1/4 cup of cheese. Top with 3 noodles.

Just before your guests are due to arrive, beat whipping cream and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt with mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Spread the whipping cream mixture over noodles; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes.

I’ve got another week off from work (eat that, suckas!), so am planning to tend to the winter garden (artichokes are so happy right now, but the beets, chard and turnips have been a little neglected), clean the house, and generally nest, getting ready to start 2008 on the right foot.

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Can’t stop baking!

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In the oven directly after posting this: almond biscotti (with coarsely chopped raw almonds and a dash of almond extract), with mini chocolate chips on one side, and extra fennel seed on the other. That plus plenty of hot cocoa and it should be a pretty warm winter. Yeah.

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Biscotti

Why did no one tell me how easy it is to make biscotti? I’ve been on a bit of a cookie craze, and the folks at work are starting to get plumper!

Last week it was Mint Chippers (yummy – shortbread-like texture, minty chocolate flavor – delish) and Coffee Meringues (speaking of easy – I’d never made meringues before, and they’re so very simple – who knew?), and this week – biscotti.

I feel a habit coming on, because after this first batch, my mind is spinning with flavor combination possibilities – almond and fig, mini chocolate chips and pepper, pistachio dipped in white chocolate… These might just be coming out of my oven soon. Anyway, for the recipe that started it all, I used a basic biscotti recipe and doctored it with fennel seed and walnuts. Since walnuts have such a strong buttery flavor, I loaded up on the fennel seed to give these crispy cookies some bite.

Walnut-Fennel Biscotti

1 1/2 cups sugar
10 tablespoons melted butter
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons ground fennel seed
1 cup coarsely chopped lightly-toasted walnuts

1 large egg white

Biscotti means twice-baked cookie, so this is a two step baking project – perfect for these chilly San Diego winter days (shut up, it’s cold)!

Mix sugar, butter, 3 eggs, vanilla and ground fennel seed in a large bowl. add flour, baking powder and salt and stir until well blended. Stir in walnuts. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a loaf, about a foot long and 3″ wide. It’ll spread a little in the oven – here’s the size of a baked loaf:

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Put both logs on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of each dough log – that’s what will give you that golden sheen on top of your cookies.

Bake logs at 350° until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool logs completely, but leave your oven on – you’re not done yet!

slices.jpgUsing a serrated knife, cut logs on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool. Brew the hot beverage of your choice, dig in and begin plotting your next biscotti adventure.

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Mom’s Masterpiece

I got to travel up north last week for Thanksgiving, so spent some good time playing games, shopping and eating with the fam.  Ahhh.  The day I came in, my mother was undertaking a serious challenge: to replicate the amazing burger cake that she’d made for my cousin’s 6th birthday (he’s now 23).  Behold, the original:

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Aww, adorable!  And such a beautiful cake!  Mom had a special request this year to make a burger cake for another 7 year old’s birthday, and this time she was determined to improve on the original.  Luckily, I was there to help, laugh and take pictures.

First, we spent way too long getting the colors just right.  We added food dye, brought the bowl over to the photo album to compare, then adjusted.  It was painstaking, and involved lots of sentences like “Buns are mostly orangey, with just a hint of brown”.  The cheese and lettuce were made with almond paste mixed with dyes:

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It goes without saying that mom and I had some funky looking hands at the end of this adventure.  Once the frostings were all right, the building could begin:

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I’m pretty proud of my decision to texture the patty layer.

A sprinkling of pinenuts went on top to simulate the sesame seeds, and the world’s biggest birthday burger cake was complete.  Our friend Greg likes it:

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Yum.  Meat cake.  The cheese color may have been a little off, so we thought it looked like old cheese – the stuff that’s been sitting out a little too long at the barbeque. 

Here’s my beautiful mother in front of her masterpiece.  I have no idea how they ended up cutting into this behemoth, but it doesn’t really matter, does it?

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