Tuesday, February 28, 2006

HAPPY MARDI GRAS, or Damn you, Emeril!

So I don’t get home until 7:00pm, after my stupid roommate insists that I make a trip to the store in subzero windchill factor weather for Hawaiian Punch of all things! Then she announces as I walk through the door--frozen, tired, hungry: “June called. She wants you to make some sort of cake for some holiday tomorrow.” My heart sank to my toes. Now, I have always wanted an excuse to try my hand at a king cake for Mardi Gras, but starting a yeasted, decorated bread at 7:00pm on a school night? Cyd declared the obvious as I got out the flour and sugar canisters: “You’re a better person than I.” (Duh.) Now, to whom does one turn in her hour of desperation on the eve of Mardi Gras? Why, Emeril, of course! I chose the recipe in his Every Day’s a Party: Louisiana Recipes for Celebrating with Family and Friends. I must confess, though, that I was suspicious when the directions said to melt a stick of butter and add it to the yeast and sugar. Hmm…pouring melted butter directly onto yeast? That can’t be right. And after I added all of the flour that the recipe called for, the dough was like a cement block! I couldn’t even get the Kitchen Aid to knead it. I had to take it out and try doing it myself…TRY being the operative word. Nor could I manage to shape it into a smooth ball! And after two hours in my homemade proof box (see previous post from Feb. 7), it was still the same size and unfortunate density. So into the trash the vile rock of dough went, and at 10:30pm, I started again (after my sobs subsided somewhat—dig that alliteration!). I did a quick search online, and found “The Official Mardi Gras Cake Recipe” submitted by Dena Conner to The Soulard Renaissance. I have no idea what (or where) Soulard is, and what makes Dena Conner the definitive authority on king cakes, but I liked that it was basically the exact same recipe as Emeril’s, but with an added half cup of warm water and (potentially) less flour. And most importantly, instead of melting the butter, the recipe had you form a soft dough, and then add softened butter, one tablespoon at a time, as in a proper brioche. I felt MUCH better about that method, and indeed, the dough came out beautifully. However, Emeril had a cream cheese filling for his king cake (as opposed to just a sprinkling of cinnamon), and I liked his icing better, too. So this is a hybrid of the two recipes that worked out very well. Oh, and don’t think that I wasn’t exceedingly pleased with myself for making my own purple, green and gold sugars! ;-) Laissez les bon temps rouler!

KING CAKE (Gateau de Roi)

½ cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 ½ - 4 ½ cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated, please)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ cup warm milk
5 egg yolks
1 stick butter, cut in slices and softened

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 pound cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar

1 tiny plastic doll (not more than 1")

5 tablespoons of milk, room temp, divided
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar

purple, green and gold sugar sprinkles

Pour the warm water into a small shallow bowl and sprinkle yeast and 2 teaspoons sugar into it. Allow the yeast and sugar to rest for three minutes, then mix thoroughly. Set bowl in a warm place for 10 minutes until yeast bubbles up.

Combine 3 ½ cups of flour, remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt and sift into a large mixing bowl. Stir in lemon zest. Separate center of mixture to form a hole and pour in yeast mixture and milk. Add egg yolks and using a wooden spoon (I used the trusty Kitchen Aid with the dough hook!), combine dry ingredients into the yeast/milk mixture. When mixture is smooth, beat in 8 tablespoons butter, one tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat two minutes or until dough can be formed into a medium soft ball. Place ball of dough on floured surface and knead, gradually adding up to 1 cup more of flour. When dough is no longer sticky, knead 10 minutes more until shiny and elastic (again, I did this in the stand mixer). Form the dough into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a bowl with the vegetable oil. Place the dough inside of the bowl and turn several times to coat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap, set in a warm, draft-free place, and let rise until doubled, 1 ½- 2 hours.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese and one cup of powdered sugar. Blend by hand or with a mixer on low speed. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or use a Silpat).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat or roll dough into a rectangle 30 inches long and 6 inches wide. Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Shape the dough into a cylinder and place it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. Shape the dough into a ring, and pinch the ends together so there isn’t a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough. Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of the risen cake with two tablespoons of the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the icing. Combine the remaining three tablespoons of milk, the lemon juice, and three cups of powdered sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugars, alternating colors around the cake.

The cake is traditionally cut into 2-inch-thick slices with all the guests in attendance. And whoever gets the piece with the baby (or pecan or bean) in it, is king or queen for the evening!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Brown the hamburger, an onion, and add a can of cream o' soup...

Dear readers, I have been struggling with a moral dilemma lately. I wanted to do it...it was soooo tempting, but I worried: What would they think of me if I did? But then I visited anapestic's web site and saw that HE did it, so I figured, why shouldn't I? If the most urbane and droll anapestic can do it, then it must be ok! (Refer to his Feb. 19th post and recipe for Chile con Queso.)

Though I can make brioche with the best of them, and I am undaunted by puff pastries and phyllo doughs and the like, sometimes, especially in the cold, dark, dead of winter, I long for menu items that are quick (it's too COLD in my kitchen to tarry there for long), hearty, and above all, comforting. And that's when I turn to the genre of church potluck cuisine, to be politically correct about it. When I am being less sensitive, I refer to these as my "trashy" recipes! In fact, one memorable New Year's Eve, my best friends and I hosted an entire trashy buffet that included things like green bean casserole with Durkee french fried onions, tuna casserole with potato chip topping, tater tot casserole, and of course, the ubiquitous bucket of KFC! (My dearest friend, Kurt, brought this, in honor of his tackiest extended family members who always bring the KFC to their potlucks and reunions!) I must tell you that we had a ball that night eating the declassé food, listening to a "horrible hits" mix cd that I made (think "The Pina Colada Song"--it's wrong, but you know you love it!), and after dinner, learning some country line dances. Brilliant!

So I have decided to share my personal canon of trashy cuisine with you today. You know the ones...they always seems to start with "brown a pound of hamburger with a chopped onion and add some cream o' soup..." Like anapestic, I will warn you not to tell anyone where you got these recipes. If you do tell, I'll only deny it! But I know, secretly, in the privacy of your own kitchens, when no one is watching, you will unearth the cream o' soup from your pantries and do what you know you want to do!


1 large whole chicken (3-4 lbs.)
5 or 6 tablespoons chicken soup base (or bouillon)
1 teaspoon of pepper (or to taste)
2 or 3-12 oz. packages of frozen egg noodles (like Ream’s brand)
2 or 3 cans cream of chicken soup

Remove giblets from the thawed chicken. Add chicken to a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then simmer the chicken for at least an hour (maybe two-or “until you get home from church!”). Remove the chicken from the broth, and when it’s cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and break the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set aside. To the broth, add enough chicken soup base/bouillon until it tastes like chicken soup. ;-) Also, add enough black pepper to suit you, and whisk in the cans of cream of chicken soup until well blended. Bring the broth back to boil, and add one package of frozen noodles*. Bring to the boil again, and then add the other package (you could even add a third package if you have more folks to feed). Reduce heat to medium and cook until the noodles are tender. Add chicken pieces back to the pot, mix well, and serve. (Midwesterners will insist upon serving this over real mashed potatoes=CARB OVERLOAD!)

*Try as I might, I cannot find frozen egg noodles here in the northeast, and believe you me, I have asked my local groceries stores to order them for me to no avail. But I have found a decent substitute. At the Super Wal-Mart (yegads!), they sell a one pound package of homestyle egg noodles called Country Pasta. They’re not as good, I won’t lie, but they do quite well. Don’t try this recipe with just any old pasta that you have on hand, though--it won’t be the same (you'll end up with something more like chicken noodle soup).

This next recipe comes from Kurt, or more precisely, from his mother, Muriel. To quote my roommate, Cyd, “This really sounds like sh*t if you read it before you taste it.” And that might be true. But every time I make it for a group function, people rave about it. One of my former colleagues used to refer to it as “The Glop,” but she asked for the recipe and began making it regularly at her house! In fact, people always ask for the recipe for this one, and it’s always embarrassing to give, but here it is:

CAMPFIRE STEW (aka Muriel’s Winter Stew)

1 lb ground beef, browned with a minced onion

1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 can of creamed corn (or 2!)

Then add a 2 lb. bag of thawed tater tots, 2 tablespoons of flour, and (up to) one quart of milk. Cook over medium heat until the tater tots break up, and the whole thing heats through and thickens somewhat.


For an easy chicken pot pie, cut four chicken breasts into chunks and brown them, perhaps with a chopped onion. When the pieces are mostly cooked through, mix them with any number of canned things. You’ll need some sort of cream o' soup(s)--cream of chicken and cream of celery is my favorite combo. Then any canned vegetables of your choice. I like creamed corn and regular corn, carrots, green beans, and those little whole potatoes, halved. I also throw some frozen peas in there if I have them on hand (I hate canned peas-so mushy!). Add salt, pepper, maybe a little garlic powder, and then spoon the goo into a pie plate lined with one refrigerator crust (oh, the blasphemy!). Top with the other crust and pinch/crimp the top and bottom together to seal. You can even egg wash the pie if you feel strongly about it. Bake at 350 for about an hour or until GB&D (golden brown and delicious). Let it sit for a while (15-20 min?) to cool, or all the molten lava will run out when you try to cut a piece.

That reminds me of another guilty pleasure that I sometimes throw together, the MANWICH PIE! For that sophisticated gem, brown a pound of hamburger and maybe a chopped onion as well, add a can of Manwich sauce, and a can of corn (drained). Fill one prefab pie crust with this mix and top with at least a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. (I suppose you could turn this into a two-crust affair if you prefer, but I rather like the open-faced pie topped with cheese.) Bake in a 350 degree oven until the crust is done, about a half an hour.


4 boneless/skinless chicken breasts--cut into chunks and then browned

Add and cook until heated through:
one can cream of mushroom soup
one can cream of chicken soup
one can green chiles*
one can jalapenos (or less than a full can for a milder effect!)*

shredded cheese

8 flour tortillas (though you could try it with corn, too)

Add 2-3 spoonfuls of the mixture to each of the eight tortillas along with some shredded cheese. Roll and place side-by-side in a 9x13 baking dish, and cover with the remaining sauce and more cheese on top. Bake at 375 for 30 min (I cover it with foil until the last 5-10 minutes, so that the cheese doesn't get too brown.)

*Note: One tme when I made this, I didn't have regular green chilies or jalapenos on hand, so I used one chipotle in adobo sauce (minced) from a previously-opened can. It was spicy and DELISH! Feel free to improvise on this one--the next one, too.)

This last one is not quite as "trashy" as the others, as it has no cream o' soups involved. (I always mistakenly think it does like the previous, similar recipe.) But while we're on the enchilada theme, I am reminded of this, another one of my favorite recipes. We LOVE this one at my house!


one pound of ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 large)
1 t. salt
1 cup (8 oz.) prepared taco sauce
1 cup shredded cheese (or more…LOTS more!)
8-six-inch flour tortillas
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 teaspooons instant chicken bouillon
1 1/3 cups water
2/3 cups sour cream

Brown the beef and onion together and stir in salt. Divide the meat into the tortillas and top each with some taco sauce and cheese*. Roll and place seam side down in a 9x13 baking dish. In a saucepan, melt the butter--blend in flour and bouillon. Stir in the water. Cook and stir until thickened. Gradually add the sour cream. Pour the sauce over the tortillas. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and return to oven until melted.

*Note: I find it easier to just combine the meat with the taco sauce and cheese and then spoon this combined mixture into the tortillas. I have also been known to throw some beans--black beans or kidney beans--into the meat mixture. Again, use your imagination!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sports drool, but the Olympics rule!

Here’s the weird thing. I hate sports, but I love the Olympics. In fact, during the ladies’ gymnastic finals in 2004, my friend and I were camping on Cape Cod. I actually had to seek out a sports bar in Sandwich so that we could watch—imagine that—me, at a SPORTS BAR! Boggles the mind! Tee hee. This time around, as I am nocturnal, I find myself watching the repeat of primetime broadcasting from Turin/Torino/Tarantino/whatever until the wee hours of the morning. And I can hardly wait until ladies' figure skating, my favorite!

In honor of the Olympics, I would like to share a wonderful recipe from my brilliant colleague and friend, Dr. Becky Kasper. She was kind enough to invite me to her Christmas party this year. It was held at her parents’ gorgeous house on Lake Champlain (you could see right across the water to the lights of Burlington, Vermont). There had been a light snowfall, a fire was lit in the big stone fireplace, there was wonderful company—not the least of which was her precious mom, Lillian—and the food, mercy, the FOOD! Becky and her mom really put out a remarkable spread, and I actually spent part of the evening engaged in culinary espionage, rummaging through their cookbooks to unearth the recipes for the wonderful things that they served. Among my favorites were the blue cheese popovers (from Martha’s hors d’oeuvres book), risotto cakes served with pesto (from Italian Classics by Cook’s Illustrated—a wonderful book!), and assorted cheeses including Maytag blue and a lovely aged gouda. The desserts included a chocolate-topped cheesecake, the best sugar cookies I’ve ever had, and a gorgeous buche de noel crafted from some sort of pumpkin gingerbread. Oh, and the most divine homemade eggnog, too, from an old military wives’ cookbook. It was a truly magical evening!

But one of the best recipes that I managed to pilfer from my hosts was the one that Becky was most proud of, as she developed it herself for the last summer Olympics, in honor of the return to their birthplace of Athens, Greece. She aptly named it Chicken Olympic, and though it is rich, it is just scrumptious, and if you only partake of it every two years, you should live to see the next Olympics roll around! ;-) Below is my version of her recipe with only minor adjustments (as her notes were a bit sketchy!). I hope you try it and enjoy some while you are rooting the U.S. team onto the gold!

Chicken Olympic

3 boneless chicken breasts, cubed
½ cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped
2 packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons parmesan, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice (or to taste)
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 tablespoons dried oregano
¼ cup (4 or 5) green onions, chopped

20 sheets phyllo dough, thawed (one sleeve of 9”x14” sheets from a “twin pack” box)
butter, melted (less than one stick)

Marinate chicken pieces in lemon juice for at least two hours, then cook in olive oil until about halfway done (still somewhat pink inside). Set aside. Saute onion in olive oil until softened. Add spinach, and cook until heated through. Cool mixture to room temperature before adding cheeses, and mixing in the beaten egg. In a separate bowl, combine the mayo, lemon juice, salt, oregano, and green onions. Set aside.

Take one sheet of phyllo dough and brush lightly with butter. Top with another sheet and butter that one. Continue until you have completed five sheets. In a row on the long side of the phyllo (at least an inch from the edge and each end), place half of the spinach and cheese filling. Top with half of the chicken cubes, and then top with half of the sauce. Cover with another five sheets of phyllo, one at a time, tucking each sheet down and around the filling, then brushing lightly with butter before adding the next sheet. Fold in the ends, and roll like a jellyroll to the end. Place the finished roll on a lined baking sheet, and butter the top. Repeat this entire process to make a second roll. Bake them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Cut into thick slices and serve.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY, dear readers! Romantic times call for romantic cuisine, and I have an enchanting menu for your consideration.

First of all, can you beat a steak dinner for the ultimate date night fare? I think not. And my personal passion is the rib eye. My sweet friend and mother figure, Dr. Ruth McDowell Cook, was the first one to introduce me to the joys of the succulent rib eye steak. At the university where we both taught years ago, they used to give us a turkey for Christmas as a gesture of holiday spirit. And they would always present us with the ten-pound bird at our semi-formal Christmas Tea. As you can imagine, none of us really enjoyed hauling a frozen carcass around in our finery! So eventually, they switched to giving us gift certificates to a local butcher instead. As Ruth and her husband Cecil were empty nesters, they didn’t really have much use for a big turkey. So it was their custom to use the gift certificate for two juicy rib eyes instead. I thought them silly until they made me one. WOW! Up until that point, I thought the best steaks were New York strips or T-bones. Boy, was I mistaken! And after tinkering with my special marinade for the past decade or so, I think I have achieved carnivorous perfection.

This is more a technique than a precise recipe, but here’s what you do. Drizzle each thick rib eye steak with olive oil (about a tablespoon?). Then pour on a little balsamic vinegar, also about a tablespoon. Next pour on maybe a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and about a teaspoon of Dijon mustard (preferably whole-grained), and about a teaspoon of freshly minced garlic. Massage these items into the meat like a wet rub. Sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper and a little of your favorite herb blend (Italian, or Herbes de Provence, or dried thyme leaves), and then flip the steaks and repeat all of this on the other side. Do NOT be tempted to mix the ingredients up like a vinaigrette beforehand and just pour it over. I don’t know why, but it just tastes better if you apply one ingredient at a time and then massage everything in (we are all better after a tender, loving massage, right?). Marinate for about 30 minutes at room temperature, or for several hours in the fridge. Then the steaks can be grilled or pan-seared. Incredible!

The perfect accompaniment to the special rib eyes is a baked Yukon Gold potato with butter and sour cream and chives (I also enjoy a little lemon pepper on mine, thank you). And then you’ll want a nice salad. One of my very favorites comes from my wonderful friend, Rob (who is also a dear friend of the infamous Salsa Derek!). I think Rob got the recipe from one of his favorite restaurants in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, but I am a bit fuzzy on the details. In any case, again I will share more of a methodology than a specific recipe. You should sauté some sliced mushrooms in butter with some freshly minced garlic. When the garlic is soft and the mushrooms take on some color, deglaze the pan with a good splash (or two!) of sweet vermouth, though white wine would do in a pinch. Then you put all of this atop a bed of baby spinach, along with some crumbled cheese (Rob prefers feta, but I like buttermilk blue myself). Drizzle the salad with a little balsamic vinegar, and garnish with some cashews. Delish!

Finally, there is the matter of dessert. Of course, a chocolate recipe is absolutely de rigueur, as Martha would say. And as I pride myself on my pound cakes, I have chosen double-dark mocha pound cake in mini-bundt molds to be served with a generous dollop of homemade raspberry curd. Now for these things, I WILL give actual recipes! ;-) The first is one of my most cherished recipes. It is from one of my “dog friends” who has PBGV’s as I do, and it is an heirloom recipe from her “Mamaw.” I have added cocoa powder and espresso powder to make a mocha version, but omit these things, and you will have the most incredible golden vanilla pound cake that you have ever wrapped your lips around! And of course, there are endless variations on the theme. Lemon pound cake with a lemon glaze, cranberry pound cake with an orange (or blood orange!) glaze, or an eggnog version served with a sugared plum sauce for the holidays. Use your imagination! But I think dark chocolate is best for Valentine’s Day, don't you?

Double-Dark Mocha Pound Cake

2 sticks butter, softened
1/3 cup shortening
5 large whole eggs
3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour (measure on the 3rd and last sift)
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (to make it doubly-dark, use 5 tablespoons of black cocoa instead)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1 cup whole milk (If you want to live dangerously—and I always do—half and half makes it melt in your mouth! But for the chocolate cake, I often use buttermilk here instead of milk or half-n-half.)
1 teaspoon vanilla (or 2!)

Preheat oven to 325. Spray bundt pan and lightly flour entire surface. (Or the Pam with flour for baking makes it even easier!) Cream butter and shortening together at slow mixer speed. Add sugar and eggs, one at a time, alternating with the sugar. Begin and end with sugar. Scrape bowl often. When all added, set mixer on high speed for exactly four minutes. Sift flour three times, adding baking powder and salt on last sift, then measure 3 cups. Add vanilla to milk and stir. Add milk and flour to mixer bowl, alternating ingredients, beginning and ending with flour. Spoon batter gently into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Depending on the size of your bundt pan, you may want to put a foil covered cookie sheet under the cake rack in the oven. Sometimes it runs over through the center tube of the bundt pan about 1/2 cup. The cake will take from 1 hour 15 minutes to 90 minutes to cook depending on your altitude, humidity and oven calibration. Test by inserting a knife. It's done when it comes out a little oily but no batter. You may also use mini-bundt pans, baking for about 30 minutes. Cool on rack precisely 10 minutes and turn immediately out on a plate.

Raspberry Curd (adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts)

(makes 2 cups, enough to fill one 9" tart shell).

3 half-pint baskets raspberries
about 1/2 c. sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks.

Puree the raspberries and put them through a fine strainer to remove the seeds. Measure 1 1/2 c. puree, heat it in a non-corrosive saucepan, and stir in the sugar and butter. Taste and add the lemon juice to taste. Whisk the eggs and egg yolks just enough to mix them, then stir in some of the hot puree to warm them. Return to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thick--it shouldreach a temperature of 170 degrees. Remove from heat, then I personally add two more tablespoons of butter to enrich the curd and make it truly supple! Chill. Serve with vanilla or chocolate pound cake, or you might use it to fill a tart.

I hope you all get a chance to share this romantic menu with a special person of your choosing (or the one you chose long ago). XOXOXO--Gina

Friday, February 10, 2006

Another spicy (Indian) dish for a cold night...

About five years ago, my roommate Cyd and I were visiting the Boston area, and it had taken us too long to get there (traffic!), and we had gotten very lost trying to find the hotel (I'm afraid that names were called and tears were shed), and then we had to try and find a place to park in Cambridge (good luck!). So by the time we got into our room, we were exhausted and NOT looking forward to venturing out again for dinner. All we wanted to do was take a hot shower and veg in front of a pay-per-view movie in the room. So while Cyd showered, I went down to the lobby to forage for take-out menus. And to my shock and delight, there was an Indian restaurant called India Pavillion right nearby that delivered. Now you must understand, we live out in the middle of nowhere, in a tiny town where no one will even deliver a pizza to you--let alone Indian food! Of course, we weren't very familiar with the cuisine at the time (Cyd made me order because she was frightened of the foreign menu items), but we were so enchanted with the idea of someone delivering such an exotic cuisine to our doorstep, that we decided to give it a try. Well, after sampling a feast of veggie samosas, paneer pakora, aloo naan, tandoori chicken, beef vindaloo, chicken tikka and butter chicken, as well as the most delicious chutneys and other interesting condiments, we were hooked! The problem is, we have no Indian food in our town, and the one place across Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT is "just okay" IMHO. Now, there are some great Indian places in Montreal (Bombay Palace is our favorite, and it's conveniently located right next door to my favorite movie theatre). Still, one hates to drive an hour for one's butter chicken and the like, so I have made it business to start learning to make my own Indian dishes. And in fact, I became proficient enough to prepare an entire Indian meal as a cultural diversity event at the college where I teach. We watched Bend It Like Beckham, and then discussed it over dinner afterward (yes, of course, I made the aloo gobi!). My only gaffe, pointed out very tactfully and kindly to me by my colleague, Mohan Chandhoke, was that I did not toast the pappadums! (OOPS! Who knew?) Still, the food was very well-received, and some folks that attended still use the recipes that I circulated that evening. In any case, I myself got a hankering for Indian food last night, so we made the much-beloved butter chicken from a recipe that I have been tinkering with for a few years. For example, the original (British) recipe called for heavy cream, but I have found that yogurt works just as well and adds a nice tang (and less fat, if you care about that kind of thing). But this spicy dish, served over fluffy, nutty, jasmine-scented basmati rice, is just the ticket on a cold winter's night; it will fill you up and warm you up! Plus, you won't have to call for take-out either! :-)

Butter Chicken (Murg Makhani)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 finger fresh ginger (about one tablespoon), peeled and chopped
3 large cloves garlic (about one tablespoon), peeled and chopped
1 medium jalapeno pepper (whole, fresh), seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 small can tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
1 6-ounce carton plain yogurt
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1" chunks
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
4 tablespoons butter (divided), cut into pieces
¼-½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (to taste)

1. Heat vegetable oil in a large (preferably, nonstick) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno, and cook for about three minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened and slightly browned. Add in garam masala and cook for another minute.
2. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the jar of a blender. Add tomato paste, chicken broth, and yogurt, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
3. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Wipe out skillet with a paper towel, removing any remaining vegetable bits or spices. Melt two tablespoons of the butter over high heat in the same skillet, then add the chicken. Cook for about three minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink, stirring often.
4. Pour in the blended vegetable mixture, reduce heat to medium, and cook for another five minutes. Turn heat to low, then stir in the remaining two tablespoons of the butter until melted and the cilantro. Serve immediately with steamed (preferably, jasmine-scented basmati) rice.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Happy Birthday, Lee Ann (but no cake)!

I posted yesterday WITHOUT a recipe, which simply won’t do. So I have one for you today. It was my officemate and dear friend Lee Ann’s birthday today. Interestingly, she’s not a cake person. In fact, instead of cake, she and her husband had an ice cream sundae bar for their wedding. People after my own Breyer’s-saturated heart—although have you folks tried Edy’s DOUBLE VANILLA? Incredible! Anyway, I decided not to make a cake to celebrate her. (Too bad for her, as I was going to make Chocolate Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese-Butter Pecan Frosting! YUM! I'll get around to posting that one eventually...) Well, it wasn't all that bad for her, because I decided to make a cheesecake instead. And as she loves lemon, I thought I might adapt a regular cheesecake recipe into a Ginger-Lemon version. If I do say so myself, it turned out FABULOUS! It looked lovely, too, and I did try to take a picture to share, but the vultures at my workplace had already hacked into the poor beastie, rendering it quite…un-photogenic! But it was delicious, and despite popular misconceptions about cheesecake, not hard to make. Let me know what you think…

Ginger-Lemon Cheesecake with Honeyed Sour Cream Topping

The Crust:
10 ½ oz. (2 packages or about 60) Swedish ginger thin wafers, crushed
2 tablespoons sugar
1 stick of (unsalted) butter, melted
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients for the crust and press into the bottom and halfway up the sides of a 9- or 10-inch springform pan. (Tip: Use a metal measuring cup to help you press and shape the crust in the pan.) Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes until slightly brown. Cool the crust while you prepare the filling.

The Filling:
2 lbs. (4 eight-ounce packages) of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons (unsalted) butter, melted
4 eggs
zest of two lemons
1 tablespoon lemon extract
pinch of salt

Place cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium-low speed for a minute or two until completely creamy. Add sugar and butter, and mix again until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, just until blended. Add zest, extracts, and salt, and mix just once more, briefly. (You don’t want to overmix and incorporate too much air into the batter.) Pour filling into the cooled crust, and return to the oven for 40-50 minutes or just until it’s no longer wobbly in the center. Remove cheesecake from the oven and let it cool a little bit and settle back down into the pan while you make the topping.

The Topping:
1 ½ cups sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 tablespoons honey

Mix topping ingredients by hand, then carefully pour over the cheesecake, covering the entire top. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes. Let cheesecake rest until fairly cool, then cover and refrigerate for several hours, or preferably, overnight. (The flavors get better the next day! This can easily be made a couple of days ahead of time, too.) Run a knife around the edge of the springform pan before removing the ring. Garnish with candied ginger before serving.

I see the cold bread rising...

Good grief! I became so involved all my Super Bowl musings that I forgot to share some pics that I took over the weekend. As usual, I begin with an anecdote. You see, the house I live in out in the country is a drafty old farmhouse built in the 30’s. No one has electric heat out in these parts, as it is exorbitantly expensive. In this house, we have a combination of a fuel oil furnace in the back (love it—so toasty!), and a propane monitor in the front (hate the thing—a glorified space heater that may as well run on gold bullion!). We try to sit out in the living room running the propane heater, and an electric space heater, while trying to snuggle under sleeping bags for additional warmth. But when it becomes bitterly cold, or those jackals at the propane company won’t bring us any more until we pay $250 up front (OUCH!), we retreat to what we affectionately call “the winter room.” For a few months, the back/guest bedroom plays host to two people, four dogs, and whichever heat-seeking cats happen to wander in. This is how we stay alive until spring finally comes (sometimes not until May around here!). All this to say, for a gal that vowed to bake more bread this year, living in a veritable refrigerator makes that promise to oneself very difficult to keep. For example, when I made the brioche and sticky buns recently, it took THREE DAYS to complete the project! Granted, those long, slow, cold rises made for excellent flavor development, but who has the time for all that? So I was surfing around the net, hoping to find some kind of electric proofing box for home use, but all I could find was a huge commercial unit for about $1000! (This is a great idea, though. Someone could make millions with a countertop proofer, say, about the size of a humidifier? Someone hustle off to the patent office, pronto!) But in my web surfing, I found quite a lot of good advice about how to make a proofing box at home, using materials that you probably already have on hand, or perhaps with a few inexpensive additions. To start with, many bakers recommend using a Styrofoam chest as a proofer, but I worried about heating Styrofoam (the fumes and potential melting were concerns). So I used a regular plastic cooler. The heat source that most folks use is one of those electrical cords with a socket on the end, adding a light bulb, and dangling it over the edge and down into the cooler. But I used a metal clamp-on lamp that I happen to have and a purple reptile heat bulb (don't ask). Next, you’ll need a thermometer to monitor the heat, as the main danger of this Easy Bake Oven-type proofer is overheating your dough and killing the yeast. What you ideally want is a temperature of about 85 degrees. If you have one of those digital thermometers with an external probe, that works great to dangle down into the cooler, leaving the rest of the device outside so you can monitor the temperature without opening and closing the lid. Or, better yet, turn on the temperature alert, set it to 90 degrees, and it will let you know if it gets too hot. To regulate the temperature when it starts to get too warm, just use a tea towel to vent the lid (adjust the number of folds as need be). I can tell you, this worked like a charm! My sweet potato brioche doubled in two hours instead of two days! Whoo-hoo! So I just thought I’d share this idea with anyone else who may be struggling to get your breads to rise during the winter months. Hope it helps…

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Trashy Treats for the Big Game

Well, it’s here at long last—Superbowl Sunday--and the Food Network can finally move onto chocolate pornography in anticipation of Valentine’s Day and be done with tail-gaiting shows for a bit (though, in my none-too-humble opinion, both are infinitely preferable to the sanctimonious low-cal programming that they subject us to for most of January!). As I mentioned in a previous post, I detest nearly all sports, but as I adore both a big media event and cooking into a theme, I eagerly anticipate the Big Game along with most of the rest of America. Of course, I will not be watching it, per se. No, in fact, I will be found reading a good book instead (currently, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, which I am shamefully behind on for my “Happy Hour Readers” club at school) and only foregoing it intermittently to catch the commercials and the halftime extravaganza! I will also be grazing happily throughout the afternoon and evening on the wonderfully trashy fare that I have lovingly prepared for this most testosterone-laden “holiday.” Indeed, Superbowl Sunday may even be trashier than that other delightfully tacky food celebration, the Fourth of July BBQ/picnic (don’t even get me started bragging about my show-stopping, three-layer, red-white-and-blue Jello mold flag!). This is not a time for (sorry, Martha!) coconut and lemon grass-infused prawn tostadas with a pickled red onion garnish. Yes, yes, I know it sounds good, but on today of all days, we must not attempt to gild the proverbial lily, but stick religiously to the four basic food groups: devilled eggs, seven-layer dip, cocktail weenies, and wings. (I heard that gasp, and DON’T roll your eyes!) I’m sure that the erudite and sophisticated foodies out there will be horrified, but I think it’s lots of good fun! And at least I didn't buy a football-shaped crockpot, though I was secretly tempted to! Of course, I can’t help but zhooszh up the menu items a wee bit. The devilled eggs are jazzed up with a bit of curry or, my favorite, minced pickled jalapeno slices (props to my friend, Mike, in Vegas who conceived of that welcome amendment!), although minced pepperocini is also great. Oh, and what’s that you say? You DON’T have your own backyard flock of beauties who have just recently started back to laying the most gorgeous, tastiest brown and blue eggs for you? Well, I know you at least have the Tupperware-type carrier with the egg-shaped depressions, so critical for potlucks and parties. ;-) Then the cocktail weenies (Nathan’s, naturally!) luxuriate in a crock-pot bath comprised mainly of the onion-garlic-pepper jelly made from all 30-something varieties of peppers that grew in my garden last year. The wings...well, I don’t imagine anyone can really improve upon the definitive recipe on the back of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, except by adding a heaping tablespoon of freshly-minced garlic…yum! However, instead of the deep-frying-and-dousing methodology, I am sometimes given to using my signature spice rub and then baking the wings. Now, Paula Deen (LOVE her—that infectious giggle and her penchant for using butter and/or mayonnaise in everything!) has a “house seasoning” that is simply salt, pepper, and garlic powder. My own house seasoning would probably be the following BBQ rub, lifted largely from the man who should have been my husband, Alton Brown. We use this on EVERYTHING—ribs, of course, but also to coat a chicken before baking, to grill rib eyes or pork chops, or thrown into a dip for shrimp. And in fact, I packed this in little Christmas tree-shaped bags and gave it away for holiday gifts a couple of year ago at work! I would probably bathe in it if it didn’t stain so horribly. ;-)

Gina’s Sweet-and-Sassy BBQ Rub
(I use 1/8 cup as my “part” which yields, oh, 3-4 cups of the rub)
8 parts brown sugar
1 ½ parts (kosher) salt
3 parts chili powder (I prefer dark!)
1 part Old Bay seasoning
½ part cumin
½ part ground coriander
½ part cayenne (I would call this rub medium-hot, so adjust this to taste)
1 part onion powder
1 part celery salt
2 parts garlic powder
1 part thyme (rubbed or leaves look pretty in it, too)
1 part paprika (smoked, if you can find it)
½ part black pepper (preferably, on the coarse side)

Next is my favorite layered Mexican dip. This recipe comes from a little church cookbook. I am, as I’m sure many of you are as well, an AVID cookbook collector. And my very favorites are the home-spun recipes prepared by Christian women, and then also, those kitschy ones from the 50’s with congealed salads (YEGADS!) and “ethnic” foods like Italian spaghetti and meatballs or Chinese stir-fry to delight your man with exotic cuisines when he gets home from work. Tee hee. But I digress. Here is the Layered Mexican Dip that is, admittedly, only about five layers. I believe the sixth should be tomatoes, which I am philosophically opposed to eating except in September and October. (One day, I will have my own restaurant called The September Tomato!) Plus, I prefer to add salsa to the refried bean layer to make it more flavorful and also tenderer so that it doesn’t bust up your chips. And the seventh layer should be lettuce, but this party-sized dip lasts us a few days, and the lettuce doesn’t.

Layered Mexican Dip
31-oz. can refried beans
½ cup salsa (optional)
hot sauce, to taste (optional)
3 avocados, mashed (Haas, of course!)
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon granulated garlic (optional)
16 oz. carton sour cream
1 pkg. taco seasoning
8 oz. grated cheddar cheese (or a Mexican blend of cheeses is yummy)
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 bunches green onions, chopped (or chopped red onions are good)
16 oz. black olives, sliced

I mix the beans with about a half cup of salsa and a good glug of hot sauce. Then spread it on the bottom of a 12- or 15-inch tray or platter (I use a 9x13 baking dish myself). Mash the avocados with lemon juice (which I up to at least 2 T and then add lots of garlic powder). Layer this on top of the beans. Combine the sour cream and taco seasoning (or some of the house BBQ rub!), then spread this on top of the avocado layer. Toss the cheese and chili powder together and sprinkle on top of the sour cream layer. Top with the onions and black olives. Serves with corn or tortilla chips (if you can afford them without taking out a second mortgage, I highly recommend Tostitos Gold).

Last but not least, we need something sweet. Keeping to lazy afternoon/trashy game day cuisine, I just made cupcakes from a box mix. (Again, I ask you to refrain from rolling your eyes and sighing.) Normally, I make all manner of complicated desserts from scratch, but once in awhile, nothing beats a good old box mix. First of all, as good as a homemade cake is, the texture is never as fine as a box cake, as the industrial machines they use can get a much, much finer grind on the dry ingredients. Plus, you can always throw a few things to make the cake your own, like chocolate chips or the scrapings of a vanilla bean or citrus zest, and so on. The trick is, I feel, to bake the cake from a mix, but make the frosting from scratch. From the time I was a wee girl, my mom always frosted my birthday cakes with whipped cream, because I HATED frosting! But what I have come to understand as an adult is that I hate canned frosting or institutional bakery frosting—that thick, gritty, cloying abomination. But I am all about a proper butter cream or decadent ganache. The chocolate frosting below is one of my favorites, and is basically just a whipped ganache that becomes like a truffle topping once it sets up a bit. So frost your box mix cupcakes with this frosting, and no one will be the wiser! (Now why do I suddenly feel like that culinary poseur and pretender, Sandra Lee?)

Chocolate (Truffle) Frosting
1 ¼ cup whipping cream
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup (1 stick) butter
1 lb. chocolate, chopped (semi-sweet, bittersweet, or milk chocolate if you have use for that wimpy stuff!)

Combine cream, corn syrup and butter in heavy large saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until mixture begins to simmer. Add chopped chocolate. Reduce heat to low and whisk until frosting is smooth, about 1 minute; transfer to large bowl.

Fill another large bowl with ice. Set bottom of bowl with frosting atop ice. Whisk until frosting is cool and begins to thicken, about 8 minutes. Place bowl of frosting on work surface. Using electric mixer, beat until color lightens and just until frosting becomes thick enough to hold peaks when beaters are lifted, about 2 minutes (frosting will continue to thicken as it stands).

Ok, that’s the entire menu for the Big Game. I hope you’ll try some of these fabulously trashy recipes while you watch and root for your team. GO, Seahawks! (I don’t really care, except that I lived in Seattle for two years while I attended grad school at UW, and I miss it so!)

Friday, February 03, 2006

Brioche, brioche, brioche!

Good heavens! WHY did I say I would do this? My carpal tunnel has been severely exacerbated by this exercise, but here you go, as promised. First, the master brioche recipe, then the sticky bun variation, and as a bonus, the much-heralded pumpkin/sweet potato brioche. (Now I've got myself worked up into such a fervor that I feel compelled to go right home from work and start a batch of the latter which I may make with winter squash puree this time!)

Master Brioche (“Brioche is the gateway to the land of bread. Once you master it, everything else seems easy.” –Sherry Yard, The Secrets of Baking)

For the sponge:
¾ ounce (1 cake) fresh yeast or 2 ½ teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
½ cup bread flour (or all-purpose)

For the dough:
3 cups bread flour (or AP)
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ pound (2 sticks) butter, softened, but still cool

For the egg wash:
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

Sponge: Combine the yeast and milk in the bowl of standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and whisk until the yeast is dissolved. Stir in the sugar and flour, forming a thick batter. Cover with plastic film and let rest in a warm environment for 30-45 minutes. As fermentation begins, bubbles will form.

1. Add the bread flour and salt to the sponge, then add the eggs. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes, or until the eggs are absorbed. Increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 5 minutes. The dough will eventually begin to slap around and pull away from the sides of the bowl. Then it will form a ball on the paddle. Finally it will relax and reach back out to the sides of the bowl. At this point, it will be a shiny, satiny dough. While all of this is going on, don’t walk away. Watch the transformation and hold on to the mixer when necessary, since it may jump around. (Gina’s note: I had to switch to the dough hook for this part!)
2. On medium speed, add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Knead until the dough is shiny and smooth, about 5 minutes. Scrape out the dough, wash and dry the bowl, and coat it lightly with oil.
3. Place the dough in the oiled bowl and turn it so the top is coated with oil. Cover with plastic film and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
4. After the dough has doubled in volume, press down to deflate, folding one half into the other. Fold two or three times, either in the bowl or on a lightly floured surface. Cover with plastic film and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight. (If you don’t have that much time, you can let the dough rise for the second time at room temperature. It will take 45-60 minutes.) This is the second rise.
5. Spray two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans or three 7- or 8-inch brioche a tete pans with pan spray.
6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough evenly in half. Cover one piece with plastic film while you shape the other. Dust the top of the dough lightly with all-purpose flour. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle equal to the length of the pan and double its width. Starting from a short side, roll up the dough seam side down in the prepared pan. Gently work the dough into the pan with your fingers so that it touches all sides. The dough should fill the pan halfway. Repeat with the remaining dough.
7. Cover the dough with plastic film coated with pan spray and let rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size and filled the pans completely. It should take 1 ½-2 hours, depending on the temperature of your room. (If the dough has risen at room temperature the second time, the final proof will be only 15-20 minutes.)
8. Toward the end of the proofing, preheat the oven to 400F. Adjust the rack to the center of the oven.

Egg wash: Whisk together the egg and egg yolk in a small bowl. This will give the finished bread a dark golden brown crust. Gently brush the surface of the dough with the egg wash.

1. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn down the oven temperature to 350F and bake for 30 minutes, or until the brioche has a dark golden crust, has an internal temperature of 180F (stick an instant read thermometer into the bottom of the loaf to hide the hole), and makes a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
2. Remove the brioche from the pans as soon as they come out of the oven and cool on a rack before serving. When cool, the loaves can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen for up to 2 weeks. To use a frozen loaf, defrost at room temperature, wrap in aluminum foil, and refresh in a 350F oven for 10 minutes. Tightly wrapped loaves will stay fresh at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Sticky Buns (from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking)

½ recipe master brioche, prepared through step 4, the second rise

For the topping:
¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped

For the filling:
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ cup sugar
¼ cup raisins (optional)
2 tablespoons milk, at room temperature

While the brioche dough is rising, generously spray a large muffin pan with pan spray, both the cups and on top. Or spray a 9- or 10-inch cake pan and line with parchment paper, then spray the paper.

Topping: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, combine the butter, brown sugar, honey, and the sugar on medium speed until smooth. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the topping in the bottom of each muffin cup. If using nuts, divide them evenly among the cups and sprinkle the topping over them. (Gina’s note: try using both walnuts and pecans, and use a whole cup!)

Filling and buns:
1. Combine the cinnamon, sugar, and raisins (if using—Gina says, ICK!) in a small bowl.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll it into a rectangle approximately 12x16 inches. Use a pastry brush to coat the entire surface of the dough with the milk. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch margin at the top edge. Starting from the long side closest to you, roll up the dough like a jellyroll. Transfer the log to a baking sheet, cover withy plastic film, and freeze for 10 minutes. This will make cutting the buns clean and even.
3. Using a bench scraper or chef’s knife, cut the log crosswise into 12 pieces, about 1 ½ inches thick. Place a bun in each muffin cup, cut side up or arrange them 1 inch apart in the cake pan.
4. Cover the dough with plastic film and let rise for 1 ½-2 hours (10 to 20 minutes if the second rise was at room temperature), or until the buns have doubled in size. At this point, the sticky buns can be wrapped tightly in plastic film and frozen for up to a week. Defrost slowly in the refrigerator before baking.
5. Toward the end of the proofing, preheat the oven to 400F. Adjust the rack to the center of the oven, with a baking sheet on the lower rack to catch drips.
6. Bake for 10 minutes. Turn down the oven temperature to 350F and bake for 15-20 minutes more, or until the crust is golden and the topping is bubbly. Immediately invert them onto a serving platter. If they are not removed immediately, the topping will harden, making them impossible to remove nicely. Do not touch the topping; it’s hot! Let the buns cool before serving. Wrapped airtight, sticky buns will stay fresh for up to 2 days at room temperature or frozen for up to 1 week.

Pumpkin* Brioche (from Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking)
*can be made with winter squashes, sweet potatoes, yams, or carrots

Yield: three pounds (three large loaves) of dough

¾ cup whole milk at room temp.
¾ oz. fresh yeast (or 2 ½ t. active dry yeast)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup flour (bread or AP)

Combine milk and yeast in a mixer bowl with the paddle attached until yeast is dissolved. Let mixture stand for five minutes, then stir in the puree, sugar and flour to form a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 30-45 minutes or until bubbles form.

5 cups flour (bread or AP)
2 t. salt
6 eggs, lightly beaten
½ lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1. Add flour and salt to the sponge, then add the eggs. Mix on low for two minutes or until eggs are fully absorbed. Increase to medium and knead for five minutes (the dough will begin to slap around—hold the bowl in place if necessary). Gina's note: I had to switch to a dough hook for this!
2. On medium-low speed, add butter, two tablespoons at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape it down occasionally. Knead until dough is shiny and smooth, about five minutes. Scrape out the dough, wash and dry the mixer bowl, and then coat it lightly with oil.
3. Place dough in the bowl and turn to coat in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about two hours.
4. Press down to deflate, folding one half of the dough over the other. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least four hours or overnight. (This is the second rise.)
5. Spray three 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.
6. Remove dough and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into thirds (covering two of the pieces while working with the third). Dust the top of the loaf lightly with flour. Roll into a rectangle equal to the length of the pan and double the width. Starting from the short side, roll up like a jelly roll and pinch the seam closed. Place seam side down in the pan and work gently with fingers until dough touches all sides of the pan (it should fill it halfway). Repeat with the other two loaves.
7. Cover with plastic wrap coated with nonstick spray and let rise at room temperature until doubled and pans are completely filled, about 1 ½- 2 hours.
8. Preheat oven to 400F and place a rack in the center of the oven. Brush loaves with an egg wash of one egg plus one yolk, lightly beaten.

1. Bake for ten minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F and bake for 30 minutes or more (until they have a dark, golden crust and an internal temperature of 180 degrees and make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom).
2. Remove from pans immediately and cool before serving.

*For rolls, make 2 oz. (golf ball-sized) pieces, and roll into smooth, tight balls. Proof in a pan with sprayed, paper-lined cups. Egg wash the rolls and then cut a cross on top with scissors. Bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Oscar Speech, or Buttering Up the Bakerina ;-)

I know I just started this blog, but I feel that I have already been remiss in giving proper thanks—and after all, it IS the Oscar season, so allow me a brief speech of gratitude? As is my way, I must start with an anecdote…

So I was in New York City over Columbus Day, and I was, as usual, trying to make it both a culturally and gastronomically edifying tour. One of the places on my must-visit list was the Bonté Patisserie on the Upper East Side. Before venturing out of my friend Tony’s apartment in what we affectionately call Dominican Harlem, I paused to Google the bakery to confirm its hours of operation. Unfortunately, one of my hits informed me that the Bonté Patisserie had closed, having lost its lease in some sort of coup orchestrated by neighboring store, Ann Taylor. Boo hiss. But the silver lining to this cloud was that one of my Google hits was for the wonderful website, Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina, and I have been a faithful reader of her delicious prose ever since! And though it has never been my fortune to meet the Bakerina in real life, I still consider her a kind of mentor, both in baking and blogging. In reading her posts (and others as well, such as that of the wise kitchen Mage and also, the witty stylings of Anapestic), I was inspired to create a blog of my very own.

Moreover, I must also thank the Bakerina for introducing me to the most excellent baking primer, The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard (Wolfgang Puck’s pastry chef at Spago). I love this book not only because Yard is so precise and descriptive that it’s hard to fail (I successfully made brioche on my first attempt!), but because of the innovative structure of the book. She disregards typical chapter categorization such as cakes, cookies, pies and tarts, etc. and instead organizes recipes by family trees, explaining how many related items descend from the same master recipe and vary only in the proportion of ingredients or the techniques of preparation. For example, there is the master recipe for brioche, but if you cut back on the butter, you might have challah; add more, and you could have panettone. Fascinating stuff! Indeed, between the Bakerina’s trusty rice bread and her explorations with cookies of Dutch origin and then the Yard book, I was a baking fool over winter break! It may also be a factor that I lost my very much-loved mother right after Thanksgiving, and I threw myself into a self-taught pastry workshop as a way to keep myself busy and get through Christmas and New Year’s. In fact, one day, I may write a self-help book entitled, Grieving through Butter-Filled Doughs. Tee hee.

In the meantime, let me share some pictures (from my crap camera--sorry!) of a couple of my recent culinary projects. After great success in producing three gorgeous loaves of Yard's pumpkin brioche (though like the Bakerina, I swapped out sweet potato mash for the pumpkin purée), I was feeling very emboldened. So I backtracked to the master brioche recipe--an even richer dough--from which I made one large brioche loaf and a dozen of the most SINFUL sticky buns that it has ever been my guilty pleasure to consume. And though my camera does them no justice, I can report that they were tender, rich and buttery inside with a crispy exterior shellacked with a brown sugar and honey glaze and topped with both walnuts and pecans (doubling the amount of nuts that the recipe called for, naturally!). And before you deluge me, YES, I will post the recipe for those who upon seeing the glorious buns must have them or die trying! Because just as the Bakerina has enriched my baking repertoire, I feel it is my duty now to "pay it forward" to others of like mind and culinary will. :-)