Friday, May 30, 2008

Spring has sprung at Jean-Talon!

As you can see from these pictures (click on each to enlarge), our beloved Marche' Jean-Talon is back in full swing! Ok, so only the potatoes and the cherries above are local, but at least all the stalls are set up and selling something. We're making progress on the season at last. I was supposed to go to a dog show in New Jersey last weekend, but there was only one other class male (non-champion) entered, so I figured it wasn't worth the gas money to go down. Instead, we headed north to Montreal, as we are so wont to do, especially now that the weather has become quite lovely. And sure enough, everyone in Montreal was out and about, walking and biking and shopping and spilling out of all the cafes. It was just wonderful; there was a familiar, palpable energy of people making the most of what little non-winter they get each year.

As for me, I bought myself a cute polka-dot rolly-bag just like a real city dweller (or perhaps like one of the grandmas from the old country), and we worked our way through the whole market, filling my new wheelie cart with all sorts of edible treasures of the season. We got new fingerling potatoes called "La Ratte" which are reputed to be very nutty and buttery-tasting, tender young asparagus, fresh snap peas, carrots, brussels sprouts, some greenhouse-grown tomatoes, peppers and basil, and of course, that fleeting harbinger of spring, fiddleheads. My friend Cyd is especially fond of fiddleheads, though you'd never know it from her description of them. Allow me to quote her: "Fiddleheads are small, greenish-brownish things that seemed to have recoiled upon themselves to escape their own aroma of marshy rot. They are vegetation as Tim Burton may have imagined it." Tee hee. I suppose it's very fitting that the first time she ever heard of fiddleheads was in a Stephen King story where a girl was lost in the woods and ate fiddleheads to survive. Cyd continues: "These unopened fronds of a variety of fern are not for the culinarily cautious. They are somewhat elusive and daunting. Indeed, one may need to be lost, cold, starving and delusional to purposefully walk up and try one." Geez! If she hasn't completely turned you off to trying this somewhat asparagus-tasting delicacy, Cyd's favorite method to prepare them is quite minimalist. Simply saute' them in butter with some minced garlic for a few minutes until the fiddleheads are crisp-tender and the butter has begun to brown, season with salt and pepper, and if you really want to gild the lily, finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. The quintessential taste of spring!

Once our cart was overflowing with produce, we headed back to the entrance to hit one of our favorite places where we always end up spending way too much money, Petit Olivier. There we bought the most amazing red pepper sauce, some artichoke dip, this awesome spicy marinated eggplant (and I thought I hated eggplant!), and of course, some roasted garlic-stuffed olives. At this point, we decided to break for lunch. We had a couple of our beloved Romanian hamburgers called "mici", then bought some extra ones to take home and grill ourselves, along with a pint of their wonderfully crispy housemade sauerkraut. YUM! To wash down our mici, we made our way over the Mangue & Melon for two most excellent smoothies. I had a triple berry/orange concoction that was delicious, except for the seeds that always vex me. And Cyd had something called the Mediterranean--their signature mango and melon smoothie but with a whole fistful of mint blended in. Cyd loved it so much, she declared it the official drink of the summer, and rushed right back into the market to acquire mangoes and melons to make her own frothy beverage at home. She urges you to try it as well. The "recipe" that we developed requires you to add about one cup of chunked cantelope to the jar of a blender along with the flesh of one ripe mango (also about a cup), one cup of orange-mango juice (try new Tropicana Pure=good stuff), six ice cubes, and to quote Cyd one last time, "as much fresh mint as you're man enough to take" (I recommend the leaves from 4-5 big sprigs). Blend, drink, and sigh with refreshment.

Before we departed Jean-Talon, we had one more important stop to make, at Au Pain Dore' for some more confidences. (I told you I was gonna do it!) Cyd got her favorite chocolate ones, but I had to have some of the ones sandwiched together with lemon curd. Man, oh, man! Now I really am going to have to figure out how to make those scrumptious little buggers at home! I haven't yet cracked the code, but I did get some new and valuable clues at the bakery. According to the little sign posted near the cookies, the ingredients included whipped egg whites, almond paste, powdered sugar, and as I suspected all along, flour. Surely, I will be able to work with that short list to make a reasonable fascimile of this addictive pastry.

Speaking of pastries, we had another sweet destination to visit in Montreal, a bakery called Fous Desserts (Crazy Desserts!). According to some learned folk on Chowhound, they have the best croissants in the city. Well, we tried the plain, the almond, and the chocolatine, and they were darn good. But I think my favorites are still to be had at Patisserie Belge. What we did discover at Fous Desserts, though, was an incredible nut tart that one of the Chowhounders claimed was their finest dessert. It has a buttery short crust (one of the best I've ever had, truly), and it's filled with a soft, fleur de sel caramel, and three kinds of nuts--almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios. So delicious! In fact, I'm afraid that this is another thing that I'm going to have to try and recreate at home. I think I'd like to try it with macadamia nuts in the mix.

All of this to say, we had a lovely outing over our Memorial Day weekend. I hope you did, too, before it was back to the grind. I started teaching the first summer session this week, so no rest for the weary. Oh well, cheer up...Fourth of July is right around the corner!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In search of....confidence.

That title sounds like I need therapy, or at least a decent self-help book. And maybe I do, but that's a whole 'nother Oprah show! No, this is a request of my readership to help me do a little culinary detective work. Now that we've got the Levain chocolate chip cookie sorted out, I need another copycat project. Actually, the Levain discussion continues over on Anna's blog and elsewhere, as someone decided to remake it with yeast as a leavener. I might give it another try, but the baking soda version was so wonderful, I figure, what's the point? Oops, I've gotten myself off track...

First, a wee bit of orientation to the topic (can you tell that I teach public speaking?). Years ago, I was hopelessly searching for a brioche loaf. Martha had put it in my mind that I needed to try making French toast with a loaf of brioche (she gets hers from Balthazar in NYC, of course). And this was long ago when I was too nervous to try and make it myself (hmm...maybe confidence is the theme after all!). So I searched many bakeries, but if I found brioche at all, it was always the traditional molded ones, not loaves. That was until I moved here and began exploring the bakeries in Montreal. One of the first boulangeries/patisseries that we discovered was a chain called Au Pain Doré, and lo and behold, they had a nice loaf of brioche for me! Joy of joys! A happy ending to be sure, IF that were the point of this anecdote. (Teacher, teach thyself that brevity is the soul of wit!)

The point is, and I do have one, is when I went to the counter to pay for my brioche loaf, they had a little basket of these delectable-looking cookies next to the cash register, and we bought a couple to try. They were called confidences, and they were sort of crusty and flaky on the outside, but so delicate and soft on the inside, not unlike angel food cake. Then they were sandwiched together with a rich chocolate ganache and dusted with powdered sugar. So good! Ever since then, probably for eight years now, we regularly stop at Au Pain Doré to procure les confidences. However, the last time we bought some, they had really shot up in price. With the cost of flour and eggs through the roof, I suppose it's to be expected. But by the time you factor in the gas money to get us to Montreal, those become some seriously expensive cookies! So I'd really like to be able to make them at home. And that, friends, is the thesis of my narrative.

Pictured here is the object of our desiring (I should mention that this is my roommate's favorite cookie in the world!). Sadly, extensive internet research and a sweep of the many cookbooks on my shelves have yielded no information about a cookie or pastry called confidence. I am guessing that they are a close cousin to French almond macarons--not the American macaroons made of coconut, but not exactly like macarons either, as these are crackly on top, not smooth. And though they surely involve egg whites and sugar, they are more than just straight meringues. There is some sort of flour, I think, maybe something delicate like rice flour, or perhaps it's almond flour. In fact, someone over at Egullet suggested that they looked very similar to Italian amaretti cookies, so maybe almond paste is involved? This is where I turn to you, the foodie community, to help me identify this cookie and, hopefully, a recipe that would yield a similar result. Can anyone help me out? I mean, come on, I shared the world's best chocolate chip cookie recipe with you. Don't you owe me now? Pay it forward, people! (Tee hee.) Seriously, though, if you can offer any clues to point me in the right direction, I would really appreciate it.

Here's what they look like inside with the ganache, though an Egulleter in Montreal reports that Au Pain Doré is now offering a version with lemon curd inside! Oh, man! Now I'm gonna have to make a trip to Montreal on the weekend--unless one of you can help me figure out a recipe before then. So please, I beg you, put your thinking caps on and load up the comments with your opinions and suggestions. I thank you in advance.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Blogga Bandwagon--Get on Board!

A few weekends ago, I was watching Food Network, as is my way, and I caught one of Bobby Flay's Throwdowns. This one was with the women of Levain Bakery who are reported to bake the best chocolate chip cookies in New York City. Poor Bobby tried, but he simply could not best the best. Before watching this progam, I had only heard of these infamous cookies via Anna's blog, but I think I kind of tuned it out because I didn't understand what she was talking about. But now I get it. Apparently, these much-heralded cookies have several mesmerizing qualities. First, they are GINORMOUS at six ounces apiece. Secondly, they are chock full of chocolate chips. Also, they are very tall and puffy, both cakey and dense. And lastly, they are very, very moist, to the point of being underbaked (cookie dough lovers, take note).

Ever since that episode of Throwdown was aired, the food blogs have been electrified with attempts to replicate a cookie like Levain Bakery's. One of the most promising early leads came from Su Good Sweets and one of her loyal readers named Lisa. Lisa felt she had cracked the code, and many bakers were happy to test her recipe with good results. I was one of them. I had a committee meeting coming up at school, the end of a very long search process to fill an important position at the college. Therefore, I thought each committee member deserved a BIG cookie for a BIG job well done! The cookies were very good, but unlike Levain's or even Lisa's copycats, they were not tall and puffy. I did make them a bit smaller (four ounces), but I think the main problem was that I formed them by hand into hockey puck shapes, and they ended up spreading a lot. Still, they were quite yummy, enough to justify a repeat attempt. I thought maybe I'd try the recipe again with a little more leavening and by mounding up the dough before baking. But before I got around to doing it, Anna jumped into the fray to perfect Lisa's recipe.

Like me, Anna had never actually tasted the real deal from Levain Bakery. But one of her readers from NYC was kind enough to ship some samples to her via express mail. (Levain does do mail order, but it's $40 for four cookies!) And as is befitting a Bake-Off winner, Anna set herself to task, baking micro-batch after micro-batch of Levain copycats until she found the winning combination. As it turns out, the cookie is most successful when it contains baking soda as the only leavening and...brace yourself for the shock...bread flour instead of all-purpose! Most importantly, to get that desirably craggy mountain of goodness, you need to bake the dough in tall, shaggy haystacks, preferably on the back of a rimmed cookie sheet. And of course, they MUST not be overbaked. That is critical.

As Anna has never led me astray, I did a test batch this afternoon. I made six four-ounce cookies, following Anna's revised recipe pretty closely. The only changes I made were to start with cold, cubed butter instead of room temperature (because that's what the Levain ladies did on the Bobby Flay show), and I added vanilla. Be advised that the Levain bakers said that they do not add any vanilla, because they don't feel that it adds anything to the flavor of the cookie. But I just could not bring myself to omit it! Well, let me tell you, the resulting cookies were terrific!

Of course, I have never had one of the real Levain cookies, but these look identical (Anna's photo of one of the cookies from Levain is below so you can compare to my pic above), and they taste awesome. The only thing I would do differently next time would be to pull them a minute or two earlier. I was concerned that they looked a little too underdone when I checked them at 15 minutes, so I left them in for another four minutes when two would have probably done it. Still, they are delicious--especially when still warm from the oven, but 15 seconds in the microwave the next day will bring them right back to soft and gooey. Try them!

(<----Photo credit: Anna Ginsberg)

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie Copycats (via Lisa and Anna)

8 ounces (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature--I prefer to start with cold, cubed butter as the Levain bakers do
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional, but I prefer it)
3 cups BREAD flour (13 1/2 oz)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 to 1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped, untoasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat butter and both sugars just until they come together. Don’t overbeat. Add the eggs one at a time and beat just until incorporated. Blend in the vanilla, if using. Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda. When thoroughly mixed, add to batter and stir just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. The dough should be neither sticky nor dry.

Divide dough into tall mounds, but keep them kind of raggedy. (That is, don’t smash them into compact balls or disks.) Bake on ungreased insulated cookie sheet or an upside down rimmed cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 17-18 minutes for four ounce cookies or 19-20 minutes for six-ouncers. Cool on sheet for about 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This should make a dozen four-ounce cookies or eight six-ounce cookies.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

It's over! It's over! WHOO-HOO!!

Like crashing into a big brick wall, it screeches to a halt. The school year ist kaput. Over. Finished. Stick a fork in it, it's done! YIPPEE! That was a long one and a tough one, to be sure. But I survived year #17 in higher education. Celebrate me! I wish I could say that I don't have to go in next week, but I have one more class (out of seven) to finish grading, plus a couple of annoying little end-o-the-year evaluations to tend to. Still, no biggie. I can knock those out either Monday or Tuesday afternoon. And then I am blissfully free of obligations for about a week and a half until summer school starts! Yeah for me! I am looking forward to sleeping and reading and playing with the dogs and watching movies and cooking and blogging and catching up on emails and such. And surely, we'll squeeze in a trip to Montreal as well...Jean-Talon must be in full swing by now!

I've been so busy with the end of the semester that I haven't been making too much to blog about. It's all been about quick meals and, I'm afraid to admit it, eating out a lot. But I did make some stupendous enchiladas the other night. You see, my dear friend June is out of town for awhile, tending to her mother who is in the hospital. And her husband, Tom, is at home, holding down the fort while she is away. He's been really wonderful, helping her long-distance to get her finals grades done and submitted, so I thought I might make him a pan of enchiladas to keep him from starving to death while his wife is away. And since it's just as easy to make two batches of enchiladas as one, I figured I'd make us some, too. I began with two roasted deli chickens, skinned and boned them, and chopped up the meat. Then I sauteed a large chopped onion in a little oil until soft, and added some taco seasoning and water to make a sauce. Because Tom likes things very spicy, I added a couple of tablespoons of habanero hot sauce, and poured the completed sauce over the chicken. Finally, I added a can of black beans and a can of corn to the mixture along with salt and pepper to taste, and that was it for the filling.

For Tom's batch, I poured some red enchilada sauce from a large (28-30 oz.) can in the bottom of an oblong baking dish, then I used 14 small corn tortillas, filling them with a couple of tablespoons of the chicken, corn and black bean mixture and some shredded Mexi-cheese before rolling them up and placing them seam side down in the pan. Then I poured the rest of the red sauce over the enchiladas, topped them with at least a cup of shredded cheese and some sliced black olives, and baked them at 350 for 30 minutes. For our batch, I decided to try green chile enchilada sauce instead of the traditional red, and I used eight large flour tortillas instead of corn (which Cyd prefers). Man, were they GOOD! The green sauce was tangier and fruitier than the red, and also a bit spicier. Slathered with sour cream (and topped with eggs today for brunch!), they were just scrumptious.

My second cooking obligation of the week was to make the dessert for the divisional party yesterday afternoon to celebrate all of my colleagues with summer birthdays. I was torn between making the Devil's Food White Out Cake on the cover of Dorie Greenspan's baking book, or perhaps finally trying the carrot cake cheesecake from the Junior's Cheesecake Cookbook that I got months ago. I decided on the latter, a rich carrot cake with luscious cream cheese frosting and a whole cheesecake sandwiched in the middle. It may be one of the most delicious and decadent desserts EVER! However, it may also be one of the most time-consuming undertakings ever*, so don't even attempt it if you don't have a LOT of free time on your hands--two or three days' worth! My theory is that Junior's makes their recipes SO long and laborious that you'll give up, say screw it, and just go buy your cheesecake from them. But I persevered, did it in stages, and somehow managed to complete the wretched thing by the end of finals week. And I think it was all worth it. Everyone at the party seemed to think so, anyway. ;-)

Junior's Carrot Cake Cheesecake
(Source: Junior’s Cheesecake Cookbook, Alan Rosen and Beth Allen)

For the cheesecake:
3 eight-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cups heavy or whipping cream

For the carrot cake layers:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins (optional!)
boiling water
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups carrots (about 4 large), peeled and finely grated
3/4 cup apple (about 2 medium), peeled, cored, and minced
3/4 to 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped

For the cream cheese frosting:
3 eight-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and generously butter or spray the bottom and sides of a nine-inch springform pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil, both the bottom and up the sides.

In a stand mixer on low speed, blend one package of cream cheese with 1/3 cup sugar and the cornstarch until creamy, about three minutes. Blend in the remaining cream cheese, one package at a time, scraping down as needed. Increase the mixer to medium and add the remaining cup of sugar and the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in the cream just until fully blended.

Gently spoon the batter into the springform pan and place it into a large shallow pan with hot water coming about an inch up the sides of the pan. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours until the edges are light golden brown and the top is golden tan. Remove from the water bath and cool in the pan for two hours. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for about four hours until completely cold. Then freeze overnight.

To prepare the carrot cake layers, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously butter or spray the bottoms and sides of three nine-inch cake pans and line them with rounds of parchment paper (just the bottoms). Sift the dry ingredients and set aside. If using raisins (longtime readers of this blog will know that I hate them and therefore omitted them!), plump them in the boiling water for 15-20 minutes in a covered pan. Pour off the water and drain further on paper towels.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a stand mixer on high until pale yellow, about five minutes. Gradually add the sugar, then drizzle in the oil, then the cream and vanilla. Beat for 15-20 minutes(!) until golden and airy. On low speed, blend in the flour mixture, then the carrots, apples, walnuts and raisins. Divide the batter evenly among the three pans and bake for about 45 minutes or until the tops spring back when touched and a tester comes out with moist crumbs attached. Let the cakes cool in the pans on wire racks for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto the racks and remove the paper liners. Let the cakes cool completely, about two hours, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to assemble the cake.

When ready to assemble, remove the cheesecake from the freezer and let stand at room temperature for ten minutes while you make the frosting. Beat the cream cheese and butter on high until well-blended. Add the powdered sugar, then the vanilla, and beat until smooth. With the mixer running on low, gradually add the cream. Unwrap the carrot cake layers and break the least attractive one into crumbs.

To assemble, place one layer on a cake plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Remove the cake from the springform pan (try heating the bottom over a low flame for thirty seconds and then breaking the vacuum with a thin spatula). Place the cheesecake, top side down, on top of the frosted cake layer and spread the bottom of the cheesecake with frosting. Top with the remaining cake layer, top side up. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Decorate the top edge of the cake with a ring of crumbs about two inches wide. (The next time I make this, I think I'd rather put the crumbs around the sides of the cake and leave the top plain, or decorated with carrot designs as tradition dictates.) Refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the cheesecake to thaw enough to easily slice. Use a sharp, straight-edged (not serrated) knife to cut it. Cover and refrigerate leftovers or freeze up to one month. (I think I will freeze a piece for June when she comes home.)

*Seriously, by my calculations, this project will consume at least 20 hours of your life. To make it a more humane experience, I strongly suggest making the cheesecake on day one, the carrot cake layers on day two, and the frosting and assembly on day three, preferably the day before you intend to serve it. Yes, that's right--begin FOUR days before your party for best results and less stress on you!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Too Much Alone Time Makes for Good BBQ

So my roommate abandoned me for several days last week as she had to go to Minnesota (of all places) to the "home office" for work. So I spent some quality time with the dogs, and we watched a lot of movies and Food Network together over the weekend. We especially enjoyed a Down Home with the Neelys marathon. In one of the episodes, they made New York strip steaks with a homemade steak sauce. Now we prefer ribeyes in this house, but that beer-and-molasses steak sauce looked amazingly good, and I had never thought of making my own steak sauce. So I whipped up a batch, and though I accidentally put apple cider vinegar in it instead of apple cider, it turned out great--sweet and spicy, just like I like it. We had it on steaks to celebrate Cyd's return home, but there was a lot of sauce left over. Then I had a vision. As the homemade steak sauce and barbecue sauce seemed to be indistinguishable from one another, I thought I might make some pulled pork in the crock pot with it. I credit my inspiration to Nicole at Baking Bites. You see, another project that I undertook while Cyd was gone was to bake some of her soft yogurt sandwich rolls. It is an excellent recipe that yields large, tender rolls that can stand up to everything from French dips to BBQ pulled pork.

To make the pulled pork (a la Baking Bites), I sliced up an onion and put it in the bottom of the crock pot. Then I put in a six pound pork butt that I seasoned liberally with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I poured in a scant cup of water around the roast, and added about a cup and a half of the Neely sauce on top of the meat. Then I put on the lid, and set it on low to cook for about 12 hours. When it was done, I pulled the meat apart with two forks and dressed it with some additional sauce. I served it on the homemade yogurt rolls that I had toasted and topped the pulled pork with fresh cole slaw. Delish!

FOLLOW-UP (5/13/08): My new Gourmet magazine came in the mail today, and we cracked up when we saw the cover. It looks almost exactly like the picture above--a pulled pork sandwich topped with cole slaw! I guess great minds think alike...tee hee.

The Neelys' Beer and Molasses Steak/BBQ Sauce
Food Network)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup apple cider--I used apple cider vinegar on acccident, but I'd do it again!
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup lager-style beer
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper--I would start with a teaspoon and taste it for your preferred heat level!
1 tablespoon paprika

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add onion and garlic and saute for 3 minutes, until softened. Add the rest of the ingredients; bring to a boil, then simmer until sauce is reduced to 2 cups, about 30 minutes.

Soft Yogurt Sandwich Rolls
Baking Bites)

3 1/2 - 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour--I used white whole wheat
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup warm water (100-110F)
1 cup yogurt (nonfat/lowfat is fine; Greek-style is preferred)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour, the active dry yeast, the honey and the warm water. Stir well and let sit for 10 minutes, until slightly foamy.

Stir in yogurt, vegetable oil, salt and 2 cups of the remaining flour. Gradually stir in more flour until you have a soft dough that sticks together pulls away from the sides of the bowl (This can all be done in a stand mixer with the dough-hook attached as well).

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking, until dough is smooth and elastic, or about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn risen dough out of bowl and onto a lightly floured surface. Gently deflate, pressing into a rectangle. Divide dough into 10 even pieces with a board scraper or a pizza cutter. Shape each piece into a round roll. To do this, take all the corners of one of the squarish pieces you just cut and pull them together, pinching them to create a seal. This will pull the rest of the dough “tight” across the top of your roll, giving you a smooth top. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Once all rolls have been formed, press down firmly on each one to flatten. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for 25 minutes. Bake for about 20 minutes, until rolls are deep golden on the top and the bottom. Cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container. Makes 10 rolls.

Of course, we had a LOT of pork left (a four pound roast would be have been sufficient!). So this weekend, after being sucked into multiple episodes of Diners, Drive-In's and Dives, I was craving homemade corned beef hash, and I wondered if I might make it with pulled pork instead. I browned some country hash browns (the diced kind) in some of the fat that had rendered from the pork roast. Then I topped the potatoes with shredded cheddar cheese, the pulled pork, minced onions, chopped tomatoes, basted eggs, hot sauce, and a dollop of sour cream. KILLER! (Perhaps literally...but it's going on my imaginary diner's breakfast menu regardless!)

And there was still MORE pulled pork! So tonight for dinner, I made yet another dish featuring the leftovers. Since I made the matzoh toffee a couple of weeks ago, I've had a spare box of matzohs sitting on my counter, and I didn't know what to do with them. But while Cyd was gone, I didn't feel like cooking a fancy meal just for myself, so I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, brushed two matzohs lightly with olive oil, topped them with marinara sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, onions and mushrooms, and baked them for about ten minutes in the very hot oven. Crispy and delicious! So tonight, I made matzoh pizzas with the homemade BBQ sauce on the bottom, then a mix of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, then minced onions, and finally, the pulled pork. Yummy! I guess Cyd should go away more often, eh? Alone time gives me bursts of culinary creativity! ;-)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Thinking sweet thoughts to get me through finals!

Yep, it's that time again, folks. Finals are upon us, and I am pert near frazzled to death! I actually have been doing some interesting cooking and baking along the way to keep me sane; being in the kitchen is a great stress reliever for me, and an opportunity to to re-energize and get my creative juices flowing again when I'm overextended with work and other commitments. So I always make time for cooking and baking, even when I'm harried--I just don't have the time to blog about it! Hence, this post will be a bit of a catch-all and a catch-up. But there will be a unifying theme of sugary incentives to power you through this super-busy time right at the end of the semester.

First, I must share with you a recipe that I made from the April issue of Gourmet (see how behind I am, since the June issue is already on the newsstands?!). The issue was all about Italian cooking, and they had a recipe for a decadent chocolate hazelnut cheesecake (Nutella lovers, listen up!) that I just had to try. I did put my own spin on it, of course, but it came out absolutely delicious! It's dark and extremely dense and, in that European way, not overly-sweet. The changes I made were to make an Oreo crust, as I did not have any Wheatolos around (though I know they would be great for this recipe). Also, I used macadamia pieces instead of hazelnuts and doubled the amount called for (personal preference here--and any nut would do, I think, but only hazelnuts will give you that Nutella taste). And finally, though many people like that this cheesecake is not very sweet, I still think it needs a boost in that department. I served mine with a thick mantle of powdered sugar to compensate which worked fine, and that let people control their own level of sweetness. But personally, I would up the granulated sugar a little next time. Nevertheless, I highly recommend that you give this recipe a try. It's not difficult, it's elegant, and it's delicious--a chocoholic's dream!

Perugian-Style Chocolate Hazelnut Cheesecake (Torta di Cioccolata al Forno con Vaniglia e Nocciola--you do, and you'll clean it up!)
(Source: Gourmet, April 2008)

For crust:
1/4 pound wheatmeal crackers finely crushed (about 1 cup)--
I used crushed chocolate Famous Wafers
1 ounce fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), grated--
I omitted this for my Oreo-type crust
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

For filling:
1/2 pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), chopped--I used Ghiradelli bittersweet chips
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 pound 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2/3 cup superfine granulated sugar--
I used regular granulated sugar and it worked fine, though next time, I would up this to a full cup!
1 cup hazelnuts (4 1/2 ounces), toasted loose skins rubbed off in a kitchen towel while still warm, and nuts chopped--
I used 2 cups roasted and salted macadamia pieces

Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream--I garnished with powdered sugar

Combine all ingredients for the crust, then press onto bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Preheat oven to 325°F with rack in middle.

Melt chocolate with butter, then remove from heat and whisk in cream cheese until smooth. Whisk in sour cream and vanilla. Whisk together eggs and sugar in a large bowl until mixture has a mousse-like consistency, then stir in chocolate mixture and nuts. Pour filling into crust and bake 1 1/2 hours. (Top will be slightly cracked.)

Cool to room temperature in pan on a rack, about 1 hour, then chill at least 1 hour. (Cake will sink slightly.)

Cooks' notes:
•Wheatmeal biscuits are British-style whole-wheat crackers. Look for Carr's (labeled "Whole Wheat Crackers" and found at most supermarkets) or McVitie's brand (found at some specialty foods shops).
•Chocolate hazelnut cheesecake can be chilled up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Secondly, I thought you might like to see the cake that I made to celebrate my friend Judy's 15th anniversary of teaching for the college where I work. At the recognition ceremony, she came down from the stage after receiving some token gift or another looking very vexed, muttering to herself, "15 years here, and I didn't even get a cake!" (She was kidding...kind of.) So of course, I took it upon myself to celebrate her properly in the manner that she desired. This had to be kind of a shortcut cake, as I decided on a whim to make it on a Thursday night to take to school on Friday. But I think it turned out very well. Judy loves citrus, as I discovered when I made a lemon and orange curd years ago and shared some with her. So that "sunshine curd" became the flavor inspiration for her 15 year cake. As I had done before with a similar lemon-blueberry cake, I simply zhooshed up a French vanilla mix with extra vanilla, lemon juice, both lemon and tangerine zest, and a soupçon of Fiori di Sicilia (which has a bit of a creamsicle quality to it). Then I split the layers and filled them with my homemade honeybell vanilla bean marmalade, and frosted the whole affair with a luscious cream cheese icing that I enlivened with a little lemon oil. Finally, just for fun, I topped the cake with a big, polka-dotted one and a five, and decorated it even more whimsically with some citrus candy slices. Cute, huh? Oh, and then her card read: "ORANGE you glad you've made it 15 years? We sure aren't LEMON-ting it! Survive another 15 years? PIECE OF CAKE!" I know...I am nothing if not clever and amusing, and I do so love a theme to play with! ;-)

But if you really are in the weeds and can't muster the time or strength to think up fruity puns or to make even a boxed cake mix, let alone a cheesecake from scratch, then I have one final recommendation. I realize that this is at the end of a long post, and therefore, likely to be overlooked. But gather around, my beautiful babies. Mama's got something important to say to you. As you know, I only offer product recommendations on this blog once in a blue moon, and only when something makes a real impression on me. For example, have you tried the McSkillet Burrito at McDonald's? I'm not a fan of fast food as a general rule, but their newest breakfast burrito is pretty tasty. And I would like to shake the hand of the genius from Mt. Olive who came up with the Kosher Dill Petites Pickle Pak! They give you a little fruit cup-size pack of teensy little cornichons, and I keep them chilled in the mini-fridge in my office to eat with sandwiches at my desk. Yum! But these items pale in comparison to my latest discovery of the greatest food product ever known to man or woman. My only hesitation in sharing this revelation with you is that all my fellow Plattsburghers may descend on our handful of grocery stores and deplete the local supply before I can buy more for myself! Friends, listen to me. Hear my words. Häagen-Dazs Reserve Fleur de Sel Caramel Ice Cream. I'm going to say it again. Häagen-Dazs Reserve Fleur de Sel Caramel Ice Cream! "Reserve" translates to "costs a dollar more," but this is one of the few products where the exorbitant price is more the justified in my mind. Indeed, I'm boldly declaring this the best ice cream in the history of humanity! The base is caramel, but not overbearingly so (I usually prefer a vanilla base for this kind of thing), and there are soft, swoopy (not sticky) swirls of salty caramel throughout. And just when you think it couldn't possibly get any better, it is also chock full of miniature dark chocolate-covered fleur de sel caramels! I was anticipating that the candy would be superfluous, but I was wrong...dead wrong. They actually remind me of the wonderful sea salt caramels that Trader Joe's carries around the holidays, but these are Lilliputian in scale. All in all, it is a SUBLIME, nay, even SURREAL combination! If you dig the sweet-salty thing like I do, this is going send you over into going crazy (name the movie...anyone?)! If you need something to live for, something to make getting out of bed worthwhile in these trying times, something to give you the energy to survive to the end of a long school year, this is just the ticket. Mark me well, friends. (And save me some at the stores!)