Monday, March 30, 2009

Double Chocolate Cheesecake

I made this cheesecake for my friend Anthony's birthday, and it was definitely a big hit. I'd never made a cheesecake before, but I had some new springform pans and wanted to give them a whirl. Because Anthony said chocolate cheesecake was his favorite, I went on a recipe search. A lot of them had about a pound of cream cheese, which I thought was a little excessive. (Of course, in the recipe I ended up using, the cream cheese was replaced by heavy cream and sour cream, so it didn't exactly end up healthier in the end!)

The final cheesecake was really tasty. The chocolate flavor came through really well and it was creamy and delicious without being overly rich. The graham cracker crust got a bit soggy, so next time I'll make sure to wrap the pan a little better! The cheesecake was excellent on its own, but also tasty with some caramel sauce that Anthony made (after I horribly burned the first batch).

Double Chocolate Cheesecake (recipe adapted from Epicurious)

For the crust:
9 ounces chocolate graham crackers
1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:

1 1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 8-ounce packages full fat cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup full fat sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
Make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap outside of 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with double thickness of foil. Spray bottom of pan with vegetable oil spray. Finely grind the graham crackers in a food processor. Add the butter and process until blended. Press mixture onto the bottom (not sides) of prepared pan. Refrigerate while preparing the filling.
Make the filling:
Combine the cream and espresso powder in medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until th espresso powder is dissolved. Reduce heat to low and add the chocolate; whisk until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Cool 10 minutes while preparing the rest of the filling.
Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar in large bowl until well blended. Beat in cornstarch. Add sour cream and vanilla; beat well. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Whisk 1 cup of the cream cheese mixture into the chocolate mixture. Return chocolate mixture to remaining cream cheese mixture; whisk until smooth.
Pour batter into crust. Place springform pan in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Bake cheesecake until softly set and slightly puffed around edges, about 1 hour. Turn off oven. Let cake stand in the oven with the door closed for 45 minutes. Transfer springform pan to a rack and cool. Cover; chill cake overnight.

Easy Caramel Sauce (adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebowitz)
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1. In a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven, spread the sugar in an even layer. Cok over low heat, without stirring, until the caramel is a deep caramel color. Swirl the pan occasionally to make sure everything is evenly distributed.

2. Once the caramel begins to smoke and turns a deep amber color, immediately remove from the heat and very carefully whisk in half of the cream. Carefully stir until the sugar is dissolved, and then gradually whisk in the remaining cream, the salt, and the vanilla. If the sugar hardens, just whisk the mixture over low heat until all the bits of sugar dissolve.
3. The sauce keeps well in the fridge for up to two weeks. Just warm it in the microwave before using.

I'm sending this recipe off to Blogger Secret Ingredient: Cream Cheese!

Friday, March 27, 2009

March Daring Bakers: Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

The challenge involved three parts: homemade spinach pasta, a ragu sauce, and bechamel. The recipe was definitely a lot of work, especially since I don't have a pasta maker and instead rolled out the pasta by hand, but it was totally worth it. The pasta was tender and flavorful and the bechamel was creamy and delicious. The meat sauce was unusual in not containing as much tomato sauce as I'm used to, but it ended up tasting fantastic. Thanks so much to our hosts for a terrific challenge!

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno) (adapted from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper)

(Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main dish)

Preparation Time: 15 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes cooking time

10 quarts (9 litres) salted water
1 recipe Spinach Pasta cut for lasagna (recipe follows) (#1)
1 recipe Bechamel Sauce (recipe follows) (#2)
1 recipe Country Style Ragu (recipe follows) (#3)
1 cup (4 ounces/125g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Working Ahead:
The ragu and the béchamel sauce can be made up to three days ahead. The ragu can also be frozen for up to one month. The pasta can be rolled out, cut and dried up to 24 hours before cooking. The assembled lasagne can wait at room temperature (20 degrees Celsius/68 degrees Fahrenheit) about 1 hour before baking. Do not refrigerate it before baking, as the topping of béchamel and cheese will overcook by the time the center is hot.

Assembling the Ingredients:
Have all the sauces, rewarmed gently over a medium heat, and the pasta at hand. Have a large perforated skimmer and a large bowl of cold water next to the stove. Spread a double thickness of paper towels or a large kitchen towel over a large counter space. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Oil or butter a 3 quart (approx 3 litre) shallow baking dish (a 9x13 brownie/lasagne pan works well).

Cooking the Pasta:
Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop about four pieces of pasta in the water at a time. Cook about 2 minutes. If you are using dried pasta, cook about 4 minutes, taste, and cook longer if necessary. The pasta will continue cooking during baking, so make sure it is only barely tender. Lift the lasagne from the water with a skimmer, drain, and then slip into the bowl of cold water to stop cooking. When cool, lift out and dry on the paper towels. Repeat until all the pasta is cooked. You can assemble the lasagne as you go, or wait until all the pasta is cooked first.

Assembling the Lasagne:
Spread a thin layer of béchamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Arrange a layer of about four overlapping sheets of pasta over the béchamel. Spread a thin layer of béchamel (about 3 or 4 spoonfuls) over the pasta, and then an equally thin layer of the ragu. Sprinkle with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the béchamel and a bit of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese. Depending on how thin you manage to roll the pasta sheets, you'll end up with more or less layers; apportion your filling ingredients appropriately. (I ended up with about 8 layers of pasta.)

Baking and Serving the Lasagne:
Cover the baking dish lightly with foil, taking care not to let it touch the top of the lasagne. Bake 30 minutes, or until almost heated through. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes, or until hot in the center (test by inserting a knife – if it comes out very warm, the dish is ready). Take care not to brown the cheese topping. It should be melted, creamy looking and barely tinged with a little gold. Turn off the oven, leave the door ajar and let the lasagne rest for about 10 minutes. Then serve. This is not a solid lasagne, but a moist one that slips a bit when it is cut and served.

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

Preparation: 45 minutes

Makes enough for 6 to 8 first course servings or 4 to 6 main course servings, equivalent to 1 pound (450g) dried boxed pasta.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
3 1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached flour

Mixing the dough:
Place all the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer. Use the paddle attachment to mix together until the dough forms a rough ball.

Switch to the dough hook. Knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Its consistency should be elastic and a little sticky. If it is too sticky to move easily, knead in a few more tablespoons of flour. Continue kneading about 10 minutes, or until the dough has become satiny, smooth, and very elastic. Touch it; it will feel alive under your hands. Do not shortcut this step. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and let it relax at room temperature 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Stretching and Thinning:
If using an extra-long rolling pin work with half the dough at a time. With a regular-length rolling pin, roll out a quarter of the dough at a time and keep the rest of the dough wrapped. Lightly sprinkle a large work surface with flour. The idea is to stretch the dough rather than press down and push it. Shape it into a ball and begin rolling out to form a circle, frequently turning the disc of dough a quarter turn. As it thins outs, start rolling the disc back on the pin a quarter of the way toward the center and stretching it gently sideways by running the palms of your hands over the rolled-up dough from the center of the pin outward. Unroll, turn the disc a quarter turn, and repeat. Do twice more.

Stretch and even out the center of the disc by rolling the dough a quarter of the way back on the pin. Then gently push the rolling pin away from you with one hand while holding the sheet in place on the work surface with the other hand. Repeat three more times, turning the dough a quarter turn each time.

Repeat the two processes as the disc becomes larger and thinner. The goal is a sheet of even thickness. For lasagne, the sheet should be so thin that you can clearly see your hand through it and see colours. Cut into rectangles about 4 by 8 inches (10 x 20 cm). (Another option is to cut the pasta to a size to fit directly into the pan; in my case I cut the pasta to around 9x13 inches. In this case, cook just one sheet of pasta at a time.)

Dry the pasta at room temperature and store in a sealed container or bag, or use immediately.

#2 Bechamel

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) unsalted butter
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/60g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour, organic stone ground preferred
2&2/3 cups (approx 570ml) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Using a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over low to medium heat. Sift over the flour, whisk until smooth, and then stir (without stopping) for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk a little at a time and keep the mixture smooth. Bring to a slow simmer, and stir 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Continue cooking, stirring, for about 5 minutes more, until the sauce thickens further. Pass the sauce through a seive into a medium bowl and season with salt, pepper, and a hint of nutmeg.

#3 Country Style Ragu’ (Ragu alla Contadina)

Preparation Time: Ingredient Preparation Time 30 minutes and Cooking time 2 hours

Makes enough sauce for 1 recipe fresh pasta or 1 pound/450g dried pasta)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
1 medium stalk celery with leaves, minced
1 small carrot, minced
8 ounces ground pork
8 ounces ground beef
4 ounces ground lamb
2/3 cup (5 ounces/160ml) dry red wine
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
6 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Browning the Ragu Base:
Heat the olive oil in a 12 inch (30cm) skillet (frying pan) over medium-high heat. Have a large saucepan handy to use once browning is complete. Add the pancetta and minced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, 10 minutes, or until the onions barely begin to color. Stir the ground meats into the pan and slowly brown over medium heat. First the meats will give off a liquid and turn dull grey but, as the liquid evaporates, browning will begin. Stir often, scooping under the meats with the wooden spatula. Protect the brown glaze forming on the bottom of the pan by turning the heat down. Cook 15 minutes, or until the meats are a deep brown. Turn the contents of the skillet into a strainer and shake out the fat. Turn them into the saucepan and set over medium heat.

Reducing and Simmering: Add the wine to the skillet, lowering the heat so the sauce bubbles quietly. Stir occasionally until the wine has reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Scrape up the brown glaze as the wine bubbles. Then pour the reduced wine into the saucepan and set the skillet aside.

Stir ½ cup stock into the saucepan and let it bubble slowly, 10 minutes, or until totally evaporated. Repeat with another ½ cup stock. Stir in the last 1/2 cup stock along with the milk. Adjust heat so the liquid bubbles very slowly. Partially cover the pot, and cook 1 hour. Stir frequently to check for sticking.

Add the tomatoes, crushing them as they go into the pot. Cook uncovered, at a very slow bubble for another 45 minutes, or until the sauce resembles a thick, meaty stew. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sweet Potato-Leek Soup with Bacon and Crispy Leeks

I've been in such a soup mood with the chilly weather we've been having lately, and this one hit the spot. I made this soup with my friend Peter, and really loved it. The soup is velvety and smooth, and the crispy topping is both tasty and adds some texture. Plus, of course, anything is better with bacon! The leeks in the soup add a subtle flavor that really makes it something special. Be sure to buy orange sweet potatoes rather than the white-fleshed ones for the best color.

I'm off to Puerto Vallarta for Spring Break, so I won't be around for a week. Here comes the beach!

Sweet Potato-Leek Soup with Bacon and Crispy Leeks (adapted from Dragon's Kitchen, original recipe here)
Serves 3-4

4 strips of bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large leek
1/2 T butter
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 T finely chopped sage
2 smallish sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup milk

1. Fry the bacon until crispy in a large pan. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Reserve the bacon fat in the pan.
2. Cut off the root end of the leek and trim the tough green parts of the leaves off so that you are left with the white and light green parts (maybe an inch or two of green, depending on how fresh your leeks are). Quarter the leek by slicing through it once lengthwise and once crosswise. Take one quarter and slice it thinly; rinse thoroughly in a colander and reserve in a small bowl. Chop the rest of the leek coarsely and rinse thoroughly.
3. Add the thinly sliced leeks to the bacon fat and fry until browned and crispy. Transfer to the paper towel with the bacon to drain.
4. In a large soup pot, melt the butter along with a healthy pour of the remaining bacon fat (how much you use is up to you). Add the remaining leeks and saute 3-4 minutes until they start to soften. Add the wine, sage, and sweet potatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the water and chicken broth, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
5. Let the soup cool slightly, and then puree in a blender in small batches until very smooth, transferring the pureed soup to a clean pot. Taste and add salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer to make sure the soup is hot, and then remove from the heat and gently stir in the milk.
6. Serve with the bacon and crispy leeks sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Triple-Layer Boston Cream Pie

I made this cake loooooooong ago, way back in October for my birthday! Here, finally, is the recipe. I decided on a Boston Cream Pie, since this cake is a particular favorite of mine but I'd never made one. I'd also just purchased Sky High and wanted to give it a test drive. Upon talking to my mom, I found out that this was one of her top birthday cake choices as a kid as well! Apparently she tortured my grandmother with requests for a custard-filled cake in the middle of July. :)

Luckily, this custard cooperated very well with October, and standing over a hot stove was much less arduous! All the same, I would make some changes if I baked this particular cake again. First of all, there was far too little custard. Despite the six eggs, it was barely enough to fill the cake and so the dessert ended up being a bit dry. Next time, I'd double the custard. The cake was also a bit on the sweet side, so I might cut the sugar a little. Finally, I'd go with a regular chocolate ganache and eliminate the corn syrup--although the corn syrup lets the glaze set up with a nice shine, it was a little tough to cut and tasted a bit more "plastic-y" than a straight ganache made with heavy cream and chocolate. All in all, though I would make some changes to the recipe, we definitely enjoyed the cake and it was a perfect addition to the party!

Triple-Layer Boston Cream Pie (from Sky High: Triple Layer Cakes)

2 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs, separated
1 T fresh lemon juice
6 T vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
Vanilla Custard (recipe below)
Chocolate Glaze (recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment.
2. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice, oil, and vanilla.
3. In a large clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup sugar and continue beating until moderately stiff peaks form that droop slightly.
4. Mix a quarter of the whipped whites into the yolks, then carefully and gently fold the yolk mixture back into the remaining whites. Sift about 1/3 of the dry ingredients over the egg mixture and carefully fold in. Repeat this step in two more additions, being very careful not to deflate the whites. Divide the batter into the three prepared pans.
5. Bake 15-20 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool completely in the pans.
6. To assemble, place one layer, flat side up, on a serving plate. Spread half of the custard over it, smoothing the filling to the edge. Repeat with the second layer. Place the third layer on top and pour the chocolate glaze over.

Vanilla Custard

2 T cornstarch
2 cups whole milk, divided
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a large heatproof bowl, combine the cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the milk. Stir until smooth and free of any lumps. Whisk in the egg yolks and set aside near your stove.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining milk and the sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Watch carefully.
3. Ladle about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture very slowly in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Continue with the remaining hot milk, working slowly and whisking all the time. Pour the mixture back into the pan. Whisking constantly, bring to just a boil. Reduce the heat to low and boil gently, still whisking constantly, for one minute.
4. Transfer the custard to a bowl and whisk in the vanilla. Let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the custard. Refrigerate until chilled.

Chocolate Glaze

1/4 cup half-and-half
2 T light corn syrup
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate in small pieces

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the half-and-half and corn syrup. Bring to a simmer over moderately low heat, stirring to blend. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, and let stand for one minute. Whisk until smooth.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pi Day: Grapefruit-Mint-Tarragon Chocolate Tart

Although there have been various mentions of Pi Day in math classes throughout my life, I don't think I've ever actually managed to make a pie for the occasion! And I didn't quite manage to do so in this case either, as this is technically a tart...but hopefully it's the thought that counts. Happy Pi Day!

The theme for this month's You Want Pies with That? is herbs and spices. I did a lot of thinking about where I wanted to go with the theme. Since it still wasn't berry season when I made the pie, I knew I wanted to go with grapefruit, one of my most favorite winter fruits in baked goods. When I just searched for "Grapefruit Pie" online, I found mostly Jello-based pies, which wasn't quite what I was looking for (Jello is for New Year's Eve only, in my book!). I finally hit upon a Citrus-Chocolate Tart from Bon Appetit magazine, which sounded delicious but of course didn't incorporate herbs or spices at all. I ended up deciding to replace the butter in the original recipe with heavy cream, and then infuse the cream with my chosen herb(s).
But then...which herbs to choose? I did some extensive consultation of The Flavor Bible, and eventually decided on tarragon and mint. The herb flavors were a bit too subtle in the final pie, and I think I'd double the amounts if I ever make this pie again, but they definitely did add something special. The grapefruit and chocolate flavors combined perfectly with the herbs, and although the filling was a bit bitter on its own, everything was perfect when paired with the sweet, crispy shortbread crust.

This is the absolute easiest crust I have ever made, and I highly recommend it. Unlike most recipes which require either a food processor (too many dishes!) or cutting in by hand (I'm lazy!), this one uses melted butter. The result is a crispy, crunchy, absolutely delicious crust. It pairs beautifully with the filling, which tastes a lot like the inside of a grapefruit-chocolate truffle. The tart is a little tough to cut into, so I might add more cream next time so the filling is a bit more "sliceable"--but it's perfectly delicious as is.

Grapefruit-Mint-Tarragon Chocolate Tart (adapted from Bon Appetit)

1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 T dried tarragon
1 teabag mint tea
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1/4 cup boiling water
Finely grated zest of one medium-sized grapefruit (more or less to taste)

1. Make the crust: Combine the butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir just until blended; let stand 5 minutes. Press dough onto bottom and sides of a 9- to 91/2-inch-diameter tart pan with a removable bottom. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the crust until deep golden, pressing down with back of spoon if bubbles form, about 25 minutes. Cool crust in pan on rack.
3. Infuse the cream: Combine the cream, tarragon, and mint tea in a small saucepan. Bring just to a boil, and then remove from the heat. Let sit until the cream is cooled to room temperature, at least 30 minutes.
4. Make the filling: Pour the cream through a strainer into the top half of a double boiler, pressing with a rubber spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Add the chopped chocolate to the cream. Place over a pan of simmering water and stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour the chocolate mixture into a bowl.
5. Wash and dry the top of the double boiler. Put the egg yolk in, and whisk just to break it up. Whisking briskly, very slowly pour in the boiling water to temper the yolk. Place over a pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.
6. Pour the yolk through a strainer into the chocolate mixture. Add the grapefruit peel and stir everything together with a rubber spatula until combined and smooth. Pour the filling into the crust and tilt the pan to spread it evenly. Rap the pan onto the counter a few times to get rid of any air bubbles.
7. Let the tart cool to room temperature. Then, cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight or up to two days.
Before serving, let soften slightly at room temperature.
Final Pi Day tidbit: If you're trying to remember the digits of pi out a few more places than the average person (and WHO ISN'T?), just learn this saying: "How I wish I could recollect in simple terms its value." The number of letters in each word is the next digit in pi (3.1415926535)!

Bring your favorite chocolate dessert to Roxana’s Home Baking#ChocolateParty and win amazing prizes from OXOCalphalonKeurigImperial SugarHoney Ridge Farms and Land O Lakes® Butter!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Butternut Squash Soup with Sausage, Pearled Barley and Spinach

This soup is a little fiddly, but well worth the effort. The squash and aromatics get pureed in the food processor (you may wish to do this in two batches), and then added to cooked barley, Italian sausage, and baby spinach. Although it's a little extra work, I like the technique because you get some of the velvety-ness of a pureed soup without the feeling that you might be eating baby food. The flavors are spot-on with a nice balance between sweet and spicy; you might even use all hot sausages if you want to up the spice a bit, since the squash is already on the sweet side.

This is one of those meals that is just perfect for a chilly day when you want to curl up with a warm bowl of soup. And those days are (hopefully!) fast disappearing, so make this soon! The soup keeps well, although you'll need to add some water or chicken stock when you reheat it...or you can just pretend it's a thick stew, like I did. Either way--yum!

Butternut Squash Soup with Sausage, Pearled Barley, and Spinach

1 large butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
Olive oil.
2 hot Italian sausages (about 1/2 pound)
1 sweet Italian sausage (about 1/4 pound)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
6 cups chicken broth, divided
1 1/2 cups pearled barley
2 T coarsely chopped fresh sage
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cups uncooked baby spinach, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the butternut squash and remove the seeds. Brush the cut surfaces with olive oil and place cut sides down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until the flesh is very tender.
2. Meanwhile, heat a large non-stick soup pot over medium heat. Crumble the sausages into the pot and saute until nicely browned and cooked through. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
3. Add the onions to the pot, adding a little oil if needed. Saute until nicely softened. Remove to a small bowl.
4. Pour the chicken broth into the pot and add the barley. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, until the barley is tender.
5. When the squash is tender, cool slightly and then scrape the flesh into a food processor. Add the remaining 3 cups chicken stock, the sage, the lemon juice, and the reserved onions, and puree until smooth. You can also do this step in a blender, in batches.
6. Add the pureed squash to the fully cooked barley. Add the reserved sausage and the baby spinach and stir to combine. Heat gently for a few minutes until everything is warmed through. Taste and add salt and pepper.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pear Spice Cakes with Creamy Caramel Sauce

These pear spice cakes were the result of some leftover heavy cream and an overripe pear. They're sort of in between a muffin and a cupcake. The method, texture, and whole wheat pastry flour is more on the muffin-y side, but the richness from the heavy cream and the caramel sauce push these firmly into the dessert category. Whatever you call them, these little cakes are addictive and delicious!

Pear Spice Cakes with Creamy Caramel Sauce
Makes 12-15

1 cup heavy cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
4 T vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 large pear, peeled and cut into small chunks (about 1 cup)
Creamy Caramel Sauce (recipe at the very bottom of this post)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin tin.
2. Whisk together the cream and lemon juice, and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients. (It will curdle--this is what you want.)
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and egg. Whisk in the oil and vanilla until no lumps remain.
4. Add the flour and cream mixtures in alternating additions, beginning and ending with the flour (flour-cream-flour-cream-flour). Mix each addition only until it is just incorporated, being careful not to overmix.
5. Gently fold in the pears.
6. Divide the batter among the muffin cups.
7. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Perfect Roasted Chicken with Sweet and White Potatoes

A vegetarian friend of mine recently offered to try some chicken if I got the uber-organic variety and cooked it for him. I went to a few sources to hunt down the perfect recipe--my housemate Josh, the Joy of Cooking, and Thomas Keller. I took some pieces from each, and ended up with some pretty amazing chicken. The salt helps keep the chicken moist and flavorful, just like the Cooks Illustrated method for cooking a turkey that my aunt and uncle use every year. The method also has you create some space between the skin and the meat where you can later stuff flavored butter.

The herb butter is a contribution from my housemate Josh, and is really delicious. Feel free to substitute any fresh herb you have on hand. If you don't have time to dry-brine the chicken first, you can always add salt to the butter; if you are going to salt the chicken first, then make sure to use unsalted butter so that it doesn't end up overly salty. We surrounded the chicken with white and sweet potatoes, but any good roasting veggies would work well here (carrots, parsnips, etc.) Make sure to toss them in a bit of oil first so they don't dry out. Depending on the size of your chicken, it may take more or less time to cook; if the potatoes aren't completely cooked through when the bird is done, just take the bird out of the oven, cover it with foil, and roast the potatoes a bit more.

The verdict? My friend isn't permanently quitting his veggie ways, but he definitely loved the chicken. Win!

Perfect Roasted Chicken with Sweet and White Potatoes

1 whole chicken
Kosher salt
5 T butter, at room temperature
Coarsely ground black pepper
2 T finely chopped fresh savory
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 white potato, peeled and chopped into chunks
Olive oil

1. Pat the chicken dry. Use a chopstick to separate the skin from the flesh of the breast and thighs.
2. Rub kosher salt onto the breast and thighs, under the skin. Sprinkle some salt into the cavity of the bird. Place into a container the size of the chicken, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for between 4 hours and 1 day.
3. Meanwhile, mix the butter with the pepper and savory. I used an electric mixer because my butter wasn't completely softened; if yours is, you could likely just use a wooden spoon. Set aside until ready to prepare the bird.
4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the bird from refrigerator. Rub the butter beneath the skin and on the outside of the bird. Place any remaining butter in the cavity of the chicken.
5. Toss the potatoes with just enough oil to coat, and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a Pyrex baking dish, and surround it with the potatoes. You can also roast the potatoes in a separate dish.
6. Place the chicken in the oven and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Baste occasionally. Roast until the juices run clear when you pierce the chicken or until the meat reaches 180 degrees on a meat thermometer. Cooking time will vary according to the size of your chicken.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cheeseboard-Style Sourdough Pizza

The Cheeseboard is one of my all-time favorite pizza spots here in Berkeley, and so I was excited to see that Peter Reinhart had a recipe for their pizza in his new pizza cookbook. This one really hits the spot, especially if you top the pizza as the Cheeseboard does (un-sauced, lots of tasty cheeses, and vegetarian toppings). Since the recipe makes four pizzas, we did a few variations. The most authentic followed a topping recipe from Reinhart's book (recipe below): I layered the eggplant-tomato-lemon topping with Gruyere, sheep's milk feta, and mozzarella cheeses for a truly fantastic pizza that you could definitely find at the Cheeseboard! I also made pepperoni with basil and fontina; roasted banana squash with sauteed kale and creamy goat cheese; and a combo pizza with the eggplant-tomato-lemon topping and pepperoni. Yum! Check out other yeast-y goodies at YeastSpotting.

Here's the eggplant-tomato-lemon-topped pizza.

Sourdough Pizza Dough
(adapted from American Pie by Peter Reinhart)
Makes four 10-ounce dough balls

1 cup fed sourdough starter
4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2 tsp table salt or 3 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 T honey or 3 T sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 to 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water or milk

1. Stir together the starter, flour, honey, olive oil, and 1 cup of the water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, until the dough forms a coarse ball and clears the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add more water or flour as needed.
2. Let the dough rest for fifteen minutes in the bowl, and then mix again on low speed for an additional 2-3 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, supple, and tacky but not sticky.
3. Form the dough into a ball and place it in an oiled bowl. Roll the dough in the oil to coat. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature for 3-5 hours, until the dough has risen by 50-100%. You can be flexible here to time things with when you'd like to make the pizza (mine rose for 8 hours in a cool room).
4. An hour or two before you plan to make the pizza, divide the dough into four equal pieces. Gently round each piece into a ball and rub each ball with olive oil. Place the balls on a large cutting board (or another flat surface), cover, and let rest until you are ready to make the mizza.
5. About 15 minutes before you shape the pizzas, gently stretch the dough balls into thick disks. Return to the cutting board. Preheat the oven to it's highest setting (500 degrees on my oven).
6. To make the pizza, gently stretch one dough ball into a large circle, working slowly and giving the dough a chance to rest if you need it. You can make smaller, thicker pizzas or larger, thinner pizzas. I make very thin pizzas with crunchy and delicious crusts.
7. Place the pizza crust onto the pan, top with your chosen toppings, and cook in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the crust is nicely browned and the cheese is bubbling. Enjoy, and repeat with the additional pizza crusts!

Roasted Eggplant, Tomato, and Lemon Topping (adapted from American Pieby Peter Reinhart)
Makes about 2 cups

1 small eggplant, cut into 1/3 inch thick slices
1 medium yellow onion, cut into thin strips
2 large tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch strips
15-20 Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 Meyer lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
2. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the pepper. Mix thoroughly. Spread the mixture evenly onto the baking sheet.
3. Place the pan in the oven and roast the mixture, stirring every 5-10 minutes to ensure even cooking. When the eggplant is very tender and the vegetables are browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and scrape into a large bowl.
4. Mash the filling lightly with a rubber spatula or the back of a large spoon. Add the freshly ground pepper to taste.

This one is topped with banana squash, crispy kale, and goat cheese.