Friday, June 24, 2011

Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato & Strawberry Salad

Today’s French Fridays with Dorie assignment was Mozzarella, Tomato & Strawberry Salad from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.  It is light, delicious, and colorful - a traditional Tomato Mozzarella Caprese salad, with a twist!  The end result was excellent – although I think the salad could have benefited from end-of-summer ripe tomatoes rather than hothouse tomatoes that I was forced to use.  Unfortunately it’s still too chilly in Chicago for fresh garden tomatoes in June.  However the not so perfect tomatoes were contrasted with absolutely gorgeous miniature strawberries from Mick Klug Farms – yum!

While I followed the recipe to the letter except for using black peppercorns instead of the more unusual pink peppercorns – I did go the extra mile.  This Mozzarella, Tomato & Strawberry Salad finally pushed me to use the present our dog “gave” us for Christmas – a cheesemaking kit!  And yes… I did say Christmas.  So I was happy to finally dust off Ricki’s Cheesemaking Kit and get to work!

The box contains recipes for making fresh mozzarella or ricotta and includes everything you need to make 30 batches!  (Citric acid, rennet tablets, cheese salt, a thermometer, cheesecloth, and instructions.) All you need to supply for the mozzarella is a gallon of milk and some pots and bowls.  In about 30 minutes I had this lovely ball of mozzarella – close to a pound’s worth!  

This kit was purchased from the Amazon online store, and you can find it on here.  I highly recommend this as a hands-on family activity or as an affordable way to make your own mozzarella and ricotta.  This kit should pay for itself after two or three of the thirty batches you'll be able to make.

Back to the Mozzarella, Tomato, and Strawberry Salad - the assembly of this salad takes just a couple minutes after you’ve washed your strawberries and tomatoes.  Again this is more of a method than a recipe.  Slice tomatoes and strawberries, dress lightly with oil, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar if desired – and serve alongside mozzarella drizzled with olive oil.  Top with fresh basil and pepper and you’ve got a guest worthy salad or first course.  I will definitely be making this one again, and other variations too with freshly made mozzarella of course!

Please come check out how the other French Fridays with Dorie participants fared with their salads!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Date Nut Loaf & Bread Pudding

This Tuesdays with Dorie baking assignment was the Date Nut Loaf  (pp.228) from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.   I was excited because I love dates, and walnuts, and loaf cakes!  The additional of cream cheese in the batter for this cake made me think it would result in a super moist loaf. 

But I have to say that unfortunately the final result was a lot drier than I normally enjoy my breakfast breads.  It could be the curse of my wonky oven temperature again… although I did cut out the final five minutes of baking.  But a total of 120 minutes in the oven… it had me nervous as soon as I read those instructions!  If you do bake this cake make sure to start checking the texture way before the end of the second 40 minute round of baking.

The loaf, while a bit too dry on it’s own, was firm enough to be toasted in a standard toaster and tasty enough to stand up to a good smear of cream cheese as recommended.  One slice of this dense cake and I was definitely full until lunch.

The rest of this Date Nut Loaf has a better future however – the taste is too nice to be wasted by the dryness.  And walnuts and dates are not cheap ingredients.  So – I took the foolproof way of improving any dry bread – and turned it into a bread pudding! 
This is a great bread pudding recipe that is pretty versatile, it uses up ½ to ¾ of a standard loaf cake such as this Date Nut Loaf – and it’s AMAZING when made with banana bread. 

Date Nut Loaf Bread Pudding
Approximately ¾ of Date Nut Loaf, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 cup whole milk
½ cup heavy cream
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
¼ cup sugar (plus a bit more for shaking on top)
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp cinnamon
5-6 oz. of melted chocolate (in this version I used milk chocolate, but white chocolate would be great too)

1)   In a medium saucepan place the milk and ½ cup cream.  Bring to a boil – then turn off heat and whisk in cinnamon. 
2)   In a heatproof bowl put the eggs, egg yolk, ¼ cup sugar, salt, and vanilla – whisk all together.
3)   Temper the eggs with the milk by slowly adding a small bit of the hot milk into the egg mixture – whisking constantly.  Repeat multiple times until the milk and egg mixtures are fully incorporated.
4)   Melt your chocolate (chopped into small pieces or chocolate chips) over a double boiler, or melt in a microwave at half power (in 30 second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds).
5)   Add the melted chocolate to the prepared custard mixture – whisk together.
6)   In a lightly buttered 8 inch square or round cake pan place the cubed Date Nut Loaf pieces and then cover with the custard.
7)   Use a spatula to dunk all the pieces of the Date Nut Loaf into the custard – you want them totally wet.  Let rest for between 20 minutes to an hour.
8)   While the bread pudding is resting preheat your oven to 325 F.  Also make a hot water bath by adding hot water (either from a really hot tap water faucet or by boiling water in a kettle) to a roasting pan or ovenproof dish that is larger than your 8 inch cake pan.  Water should come halfway up the side of your 8 inch cake pan.  No need to cover this with foil or plastic wrap!

9)   Top bread pudding with a splash of more heavy cream, and a sprinkle of sugar over the whole surface.
10)    Place the bread pudding into the hot water bath and bake for about 1 hour, until the bread pudding looks pretty firm and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
11)    Serve warm or at room temperature – alone or with ice cream and/or caramel sauce.

Please check out how all the other Tuesday with Dorie bakers fared with their Date Nut Loaves too!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Roasted Rhubarb

Today’s French Fridays with Dorie recipe was Roasted Rhubarb – very seasonal and less than five minutes of hands on work.  The Roasted Rhubarb is featured on page 397 of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table.  By the way, Around My French Table just won the IACP's 2011 Award for best cookbook in the General category!  If you don't have this book yet, don't wait any longer!

I remember moving into a house in Montreal when I was around 10 years old where we lived for about 4 years. Every year on the left side of the house where there was a sunny patch some tall green and red shoots would grow in the Spring.  My father and I looked at them curiously each year, and I remember him telling me to absolutely not touch them because they were poisonous.  So I never touched them.  This rhubarb patch grew, flourished, wilted, died down, and grew back every year without human intervention (or consumption) and without realizing their full potential.  It was not until this spring that I’ve ever touched rhubarb… so I guess I’ve got a lot of missed rhubarb to make up for! 

To make excellent roasted rhubarb simply slice the rhubarb into small pieces – add sugar & citrus zest to marinate for a few minutes– and roast in a very hot oven until a bubbly syrup has formed.   (And of course, don’t include any of the toxic green leaves!) More of a method than a recipe really!  These same steps work to transform many firm fruits, such as peaches, into a nice topping.

This is meant as a finishing touch or accompaniment rather than a side dish – it’s sweet but also tart so a little goes a long way!  I think it’s best served with dairy products to cut through the sweet-tart zing.  Today we had some over a coconut ice cream, which was delicious.  Tomorrow morning the rest will be spooned over plain yogurt for breakfast!

Please stop by French Fridays with Dorie to see how everyone else’s Roasted Rhubarb turned out!  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Indian Potato Samosa Salad

This was my first month eligible to participate in a Daring Cook Challenge – and the challenge dish for June was Potato Salad! 

Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

It is always fun to create a recipe from scratch.  As it is summer I knew that I would like a cold potato salad – and that generally I lean towards those that are creamy, rather than vinegar based.  I’m also a big fan of spice… So I opened my fridge for inspiration and saw some leftover Indian food from dinner the night before.  Indian is a reoccurring theme in my kitchen, as my husband is from Goa (what used to be a Portugese colony on the west coast of India) – so we’ve got every spice imaginable in the house.  Good time to put them all to use!  Even before we were married I tended towards heavily spiced cooking as spices can add flavor without adding fat or calories, and many spices have healthful benefits.  Therefore I decided to do an Indian themed potato salad, one loosely based upon the flavors found in one of my favorite Indian snacks: a potato samosa with mint chutney.

Potato samosa are basically India’s version of savory turnovers or empanadas.  The classic version includes cooked potatoes, peas and spices – enrobed in a dough shell, deep fried or baked, and then eaten accompanied with a chutney such as mint or cilantro. Obviously as we are attempting a healthy potato salad any deep frying or sautéing would need to be eliminated!  But besides the samosa shell I thought I’d remain pretty close to the flavorings, just adding some tomato and chickpeas for added vitamins, protein, and color.

The following recipe makes a tasty, healthy, and interesting Indian Potato Samosa Salad.

Serves 4 generously

6 medium sized red potatoes (approximately 1.5 pounds)
1 cup of chickpeas (cooked, rinsed, and drained - it’s okay to use canned as well)
1 cup of frozen peas (briefly boiled, rinsed, and drained – do not use canned peas as those will be mushy in the salad)
1 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 diced tomato (a plum tomato is recommended as there are minimal seeds)
½ tsp lightly toasted black mustard seeds
½ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp tumeric
¼ tsp hot curry powder
½ tsp salt
Lime juice from ½ of a freshly squeezed lime
Fresh Mint leaves (approximately 5), finely chopped or julienned

1)   Place potatoes in a large saucepan filled with lightly salted water, the water should cover the potatoes by one inch.  Bring to a boil – then reduce the temperature, and simmer the potatoes until tender, approximately 12-15 minutes.
2)   Let potatoes cool – and then chop the potatoes into small cubes.  (Leave the skin on, don’t discard it, it’s good for you!)
3)   In large bowl add the cooked peas, chickpeas, and chopped tomato.
4)   Add the potato cubes and yogurt – fold all ingredients together gently with a spatula.
5)   Add dry seasonings (mustard seeds, coriander, tumeric, curry powder, salt, and any desired pepper).  Taste!  And feel free to add more spices if you can take the heat!
6)   Add fresh lime juice and most of the chopped mint leaves.  Stir potato salad all together gently with a spatula.
7)   Serve with some fresh mint sprinkled on top.

This is a potato salad that should be kept refrigerated and served cold or at room temperature.  It should last for a few days in the refrigerator if well wrapped.  Enjoy and feel free to add additional spices or vegetables, Indian or otherwise!

Please visit The Daring Kitchen to see what all the other Daring Cooks have created for their healthy potato salads!

Chocolate, Almond & Dried Cherry Biscotti

I usually only make biscotti once a year – my Christmas themed white chocolate, dried cranberry, and pistachio biscotti!  For some reason the thought to make them at any other time of the year never strikes my mind.  So it was a pleasant task to find this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie assignment was a Chocolate Biscotti (from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours, p. 144).

Biscotti are a very rewarding cookie in that they keep for a very long time (since they are baked twice and therefore dry by design) and that they are very versatile.  These Chocolate Biscotti are perfect to stir your morning coffee, snack on during the day, or use as a spoon with a nice bowl of gelato for dessert.  You can also dress them up with a drizzle of melted chocolate, or dip them into melted chocolate and then affix any sort of edible decoration to the chocolate glue (like sprinkles, chopped nuts or crushed peppermint).

The raw dough, rolled in sugar and shaped into a flat log
The Biscotti after the first baking
Sliced and baked for the second time

All biscotti seem to have the same method: 
1) Combine all of the dry ingredients together (in this case flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt). 
2) Cream the butter and sugar together, and then add the rest of the wet ingredients (eggs and vanilla). 
3) Combine the dry and wet ingredients. 
4) Mix in your flavor additions (chocolate, nuts, and dried fruit) until well combined.
5) Form dough into long logs and flatten them slightly.
6) Do a first bake of the logs – and then cool.
7) Slice the logs with a serrated knife into the characteristic biscotti shape, separate the cookies and bake for another 10 minutes or so until further dried.
8)  Dip in chocolate and toppings if desired.

The one hint that I wish this recipe had was in shaping the logs.  The chocolate biscotti dough is quite moist and sticky.  In order to roll it into the log shape with the least amount of mess it is helpful to cover your work surface with granulated sugar.  (Because this is a dark chocolate colored biscotti you do not want to use white flour here as you might with a light colored dough - otherwise you'll coat your dark chocolate color with white and ruin the look of the cookies.)  Then simply dump the dough onto the sugar, shape, and roll!  This also encrusts the biscotti with a nice crunchy dusting of sugar.

This recipe called for almonds and bittersweet chocolate – and I added some dried cherries per the “Playing Around” suggestion since I had some in the pantry.  These would surely be great with any combination of nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit.  As one recipe makes three dozen cookies (less or more, depending on how thinly they are sliced) I’m very happy to have these crunchy, flavorful biscotti around for the next week!  And as for those Christmas biscotti?  This was a good reminder to bring that recipe out (and post it) as we get closer to the holidays!

Please visit Tuesdays with Dorie to see how the other bakers in the group fared with their biscotti!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Blueberry Brown Sugar Plain Cake & Caramel Sauce

Another winner from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours:  Blueberry Brown Sugar Plain Cake (p.36) is a perfect breakfast, snack, or dessert!

This cake came together pretty quickly – swapping brown sugar in lieu of plain white sugar, and allowing the use of frozen blueberries.   (Thankfully, otherwise this blueberry cake would have had to be a raspberry cake!)  A bit of an extra step was required to separate the eggs and whip up the whites, but I’m sure it added a bit of airiness to the final product.  The crumb was light and moist with extra hits of blueberry juiciness hidden throughout (the bottom) of the cake.

I happened to have some wonderful homemade Caramel Sauce left over from a dinner party last night, so instead of the dusting of confectioner’s sugar that was recommended, I poured the last 1/4 cup of caramel over the cake batter and swirled it in.  Excellent decision… it complemented and reinforced the brown sugar flavor already included in the batter.  The caramel probably also added an extra layer of moistness to the cake as well. 

This week’s recipe selection was chosen by Cindy of Everyday Insanity, please visit her blog here for the full recipe.  Below is my recipe for the Caramel if you’d like to add it to your Blueberry Brown Sugar Plain Cake, or make it to top some ice cream instead!

Makes about 1 cup of caramel

              1 cups sugar
              1/2 cup water
              1 cup heavy cream
              3/4 teaspoon salt

 1.      Place the water and sugar into a small heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat.  Stir the mixture until the sugar crystals dissolve in the first minute and then do not stir any longer – just swirl the pan.
2.     When the caramel has turned a golden brown and the first smoke starts to come off the surface – remove from heat.
3.     Carefully add in a bit of the heavy cream – it will bubble up violently.  Whisk to combine once the steam and bubbles have died down.
4.     Continue to add a bit more cream at a time, whisking, until all has been added.
5.     Return to heat and whisk the caramel until the mixture thickens slightly and all the sugar is completely dissolved. 
6.     Add the salt – whisk.
7.     Let cool slightly before using.

Come see the final results of other Tuesdays with Dorie participants here too!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weeknight Mint Mojito

On a hot summer day sometimes all you want is an iced cold drink.  But not one with caffeine, or one that is too sweet, or too thick, or too filling.  Just a simple drink that is refreshing, crisp, and thirst quenching.  Weekday Mint Mojitos are such a concoction!

My balcony herb garden is the gift (to myself) that keeps on giving. Not only has it helped elevate many of my recent savory dishes with a fresh sprinkle of dill, a few chops of rosemary, or a fragrant handful of basil – it has now inspired our new sweet house cocktail.  Two small mint seedlings from Home Depot have morphed into a glorious knee high mint bush!  Thank goodness I remembered that this herb grows like a weed and have planted the mint in its own separate pot.  This container of mint has now been renamed the Mojito Bush! 

This recipe is for Weekday Mint Mojitos since we rarely keep hard alcohol on hand in the house.  This is a non-alcoholic drink, but it can easily be spiked with a shot of white rum or vodka, just leave a little room in the glass.  But really – I have found it is absolutely perfect without the booze.   I’ve made this drink for three days in a row already, so it’s definitely a winner in my books.  Please enjoy!

Mint Mojitos
Makes 1 drink, repeat as necessary

Mint leaves, approximately 6 per drink
½ lime, thinly sliced
¼ cup (or to taste) Simple Syrup
1 tsp sugar
Seltzer water, plain or flavored
Crushed ice
Mint sprig, for garnish, if desired

1.    In a tall glass add the 6 mint leaves and lime slices.  Top with 1 tsp sugar.
2.    Using a wooden muddler (it’s bar tool) or a wooden spoon smash all the ingredients together.  (The granulated sugar will help break down the mint leaves, releasing their fragrant oils.)
3.    Top with ¼ cup (more or less, as desired) of cool/room temperature Simple Syrup.
4.    Fill glass with a handful of crushed iced.  (You really want crushed iced here, not big ice cubes.  The goal is a grown up slushie texture!)  If you have normal sized ice cubes you can always put them in a Ziploc bag or kitchen towel and smash them into smaller pieces with a rolling pin or bottom of a large jar.
5.    Fill the rest of the glass with the seltzer water.  (I’ve been using naturally flavored lime or orange Seltzer water by La Croix.)
6.    Stir to blend the lime and sweeter.
7.    Top with a mint spring if desired and serve.

The only step you should have to prep ahead is the Simple Syrup if you don’t already have some at the ready in your fridge.  Super simple and versatile, it’s a must have in summer.  Use simple syrup in all your cold drinks that need sweetening - anywhere you’d normally use sugar if it was a warm drink, such as iced coffee, iced tea, or lemonade.  Simple syrup gives you the sweetness of sugar but dissolves in your drink instantly without leaving that crunchy, grainy texture at the bottom of your glass.

Simple Syrup
Makes approximately 3 ½ cups
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

1.    In a medium saucepan add 2 cups water and 2 cups sugar.  Stir together.
2.    Turn heat to medium, and stir the mixture occasionally (for approximately 3-4 minutes) until the sugar fully dissolves into the water and the mixture turns from cloudy to clear.
3.    Let cool and store in a container in the fridge for up to a month.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Warm Weather Vegetable Pot au Feu

It’s French Friday with Dorie again!  The weeks are going by so fast…but it’s starting to finally feel like summer is here.  Thankfully our cooking group has chosen lots of delicious sounding warm weather recipes from Around My French Table for the month of June.  Today’s recipe was Warm Weather Vegetable Pot au Feu – basically a light vegetable soup topped with a poached egg. 

The addition of leeks and fresh herbs (as well as freshly grated cheese on mine) bumped this recipe up a notch from ordinary vegetable soup into a French dish.  As long as you have vegetable or chicken stock on hand (homemade – bien sur!) the whole dish cooks fairly quickly.

The longest step in this recipe is to prepare the vegetables.  There’s lots of dicing and peeling and chopping to be done.  To make this Pot au Feu come together seamlessly you should really have your mis en place done in advance.  Then it’s just a matter of sliding each vegetable in its order into the pot!
The recipe starts with lightly browning some garlic in olive oil and then adds aromatics such as onions and leeks until they are soft.  Add in your stock and a fridge full of veggies and the body of the soup is done.  Topping with freshly chopped herbs, a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and a nicely poached fresh egg is the cherry on top!

You’re going to have to go through a bunch of different vegetables here – I actually had all of the required vegetables including potatoes, leeks, onions, mushrooms, spinach, carrots, and asparagus.  But of course not in the right ratios!  No matter – just throw it all in to taste.  And of course you can add different vegetables or leave out the ones you dislike.  I highly recommend saving all the scraps as you’re chopping and peeling – just add some aromatics and water and you’ve got the base for more homemade vegetable stock to replenish what you’ve just used in this recipe!

The dish was filling enough for lunch (or dinner) but not overbearingly heavy.  And of course you only get back what you put in, so definitely showcase all your special and perfectly ripe farmer’s market vegetable finds.  (I found some beautiful baby carrots with the green tops still attached.) This Warm Weather Vegetable Pot au Feu is full of beautiful colors, aromas, and tastes – plus I’m guessing it’s pretty healthy!

Please stop by this link and see the other variations of the Pot au Feu that French Friday with Dorie members have created!