Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tea Time: Lemon-Coconut Sables

These cookies are lemon-coconut perfection! They have that perfect crumbly, tender shortbread texture. The tartness from the lemon helps balance the rich butter and coconut well, and overall the cookies are just entirely delicious. They're also a breeze to mix up quickly, although they do require some chilling time in the fridge.

Lemon-Coconut Sables (adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking from My Home to Yours)

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Zest of one lemon
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 (heaping) tsp sea salt
2 large egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, toasted until golden brown

1. Beat the butter at medium speed until smooth and creamy.

2. Rub the granulated sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the lemon sugar to the butter along with the powdered sugar and sea salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the egg yolks until the mixture is uniform.

3. Pour the flour into the mixer and pulse the mixer at low speed in very short bursts until the flour is just incorporated. Cover the mixer with a towel if needed to prevent the flour from spraying out into the kitchen.

4. Add the coconut and mix until just incorporated - be careful not to overwork the dough!

5. Split the dough into two batches and roll each half into a log about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill at least 3 hours, until very firm.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into 1/3-inch thick cookies. Place onto baking sheets covered in parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving about 1 inch between each cookie. Bake the cookies 17-20 minutes, until lightly browned on the bottom and edges but still pale on top.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tea Time: Pecan Penuche Shortbreads with Rum

These little shortbread squares from Alice Medrich are crumbly but delicious. They have a complex butterscotch-y flavor with a great crunch from the pecans. The method here is somewhat unusual for a shortbread (at least in my experience). The butter is melted, creating a very soft dough that is pressed into the baking pan. The cookies are baked twice - once whole in the pan, and then sliced, separated, and baked again, in a similar technique to baking biscotti. Absolultely try these out - they are perfect "side-of-the-saucer" cookies with an interesting combination of flavors and textures.

Pecan Penuche Shortbreads with Rum (adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich)

12 T unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/2 cup (3.5 ounces) firmly packed light muscovado sugar
1 T dark rum
1 vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped out with the back of a knife
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 cups (6.75 ounces) all purpose flour
2/3 cup (2.6 ounces) pecans, coarsely chopped
granulated sugar, to sprinkle

1. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with foil.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter with the sugar, rum, vanilla seeds, and salt. Add the flour and about half of the pecans and mix until just incorporated. Scrape the dough into the pan and pat down into an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Sprinkle the remaining pecans on top of the dough and press lightly on top of the dough. Bake for 45 minutes and then remove the pan from the oven, leaving the heat on. Sprinkle the surface of the shortbread with sugar and let cool 10 minutes.

4. Carefully remove the shortbread from the pan using the foil. Use a sharp knife to cut into small squares. Place the squares slightly apart on a foil-lined baking sheet and return to the oven for 15 minutes to lightly toast the shortbreads. These keep for several weeks in an airtight container...if they last that long!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tea Time

A couple of weeks ago, I was in charge of the weekly tea held for graduate students and professors at an institute at Cal that I'm affiliated with. I decided to go for a selection of shortbread and shortbread-style cookies, since this type of cookie goes really well with tea. I went with Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies, Pecan Penuche Shortbreads with Rum, and Lemon-Coconut Sables. All of the cookies were a big hit, and baking them was a blast! I'd forgotten how quick and easy this type of cookie is - I mixed up all the batters fairly quickly, chilled them, and then baked the batches of cookies over the course of an afternoon/evening.

I'll be posting the recipes for the lemon-coconut sables and the pecan-penuche shortbreads later this week. I recommend all the recipes for an elegant afternoon tea, and they'd all be delicious on their own as well.

DB Update: I'm a few days behind on the macarons, but hoping to get them done later this week! I will definitely be doing my best on this one, since the recipe sounds amazing. :)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Raspberry-Lime Perfect Party Cake

Wow, this has been a crazy week! One of my fellow grad students and I finally submitted a paper that we've been working on for about two years now, so that was very exciting. It had been under revise and resubmit at a good journal, so we're hoping that they like our revisions! Of course, this has meant a little less time for blogging, but now I'm back to it with the recipe for my birthday cake from a couple of weeks ago.

This has got to be one of my favorite birthday cakes that I've made. The cake part is based on Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. Instead of a lemon or orange flavor as I've done in the past, this year I decided to try lime. I made a 1-1/2 recipe of the cake substituting lime zest for the lemon zest and baking three layers. Instead of the jam-and-buttercream filling in the original recipe, I adapted Sherry Yard's recipe for blackberry-lime curd. Since I was going for raspberry and lime as my flavors, I just substituted the blackberry puree in Yard's recipe with raspberry puree. Two 10-oz. bags of individually-quick frozen, unsweetened raspberries did the job well. In place of the buttercream, I used a lightly sweetened whipped cream. I may not have whipped it quite enough though, since the cake layers slid around a bit! Nonetheless, the cake was super delicious. It had three layers, with the raspberry-lime curd and whipped cream between each layer. One of the things I like about this particular cake recipe is that it's so easy to switch up the flavors and create a totally different cake. I'd have to say that this particular variation has got to be one of my favorites!

The leaning tower of cake!

The birthday girls blowing out their candles!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pork-Bell Pepper Skewers with Mango Dipping Sauce

These pork skewers are easy to make and absolutely delicious. They were another of the appetizers housemate Kristi and I made for our birthday party. Again, they're a good choice for a big party because they're quick to pull together and fairly inexpensive to make. We got the pork for around $8, and the rest of the ingredients were also on the cheaper side (especially since we already had all the spices). The sauce sounds simple but is totally amazing, and the perfect complement to the pork and pepper. Everything has a mild spice, but not too much that your average party guest would be turned off. This is one of those dishes that you could definitely play around with to suit your taste and the ingredients you have on hand - different spices would be yummy here, as would replacing the red bell pepper with a different color or even zucchini chunks.

This dish is also very easy to make ahead. Simply assemble the skewers, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge until you're ready to roast them. We prepared both the pork skewers and the prosciutto-gruyere turnovers ahead for our party, and then alternated popping trays of the two in the oven so that there was always a hot batch of something tasty coming out over the course of the party. (Luckily we have about a million baking sheets!)

The flavors here were so tasty that I could definitely see making this again, not only as an appetizer but also tweaked as a main dish. Roasted pork loin would be fantastic with the mango sauce, perhaps with the bell pepper incorporated into some sort of side dish.

Pork-Bell Pepper Skewers with Mango Dipping Sauce
(adapted from Mumm Napa's Hors D'oeuvres deck)

1 cup coarsely chopped mango (from 1 large mango)
2 T pineapple juice
2 tsp lime juice
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 T minced red onion
1 tsp minced green jalepeno
1 pound boneless pork loin, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch squares
2 T olive oil
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
36 5-inch bamboo skewers

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Place the mango, pineapple juice, lime juice, and 1/4 tsp salt in a blender and process until almost smooth. Pour into a bowl and stir in the red onion and jalepeno. Refrigerate until chilled.
3. Toss the pork, bell pepper, and oil in a medium bowl. Mix the paprika, onion powder, cinnamon, allspice, and remaining 1 tsp salt in a small bowl. Toss the pork and bell pepper with the spice mixture until well combined.
4. Slice one piece of red pepper, skin side first, onto each skewer, followed by one piece of pork. Place the skewers on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until the meat is barely cooked in the center, 10-15 minutes. Serve with the mango sauce.

I'm sending this recipe off to BSI: Mango and Happy Hour Friday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Caprese Salad Skewers

These skewers are one of the appetizers we put together for my housemate's and my recent birthday party. They were really easy to make (crucial on a busy day of baking!) and absolutely delicious. They were also a nice vegetarian addition to the eats for the evening, while still being yummy for everyone to enjoy. These are also nice for a party because they just get better as they sit around; instead of getting mushy or stale, the skewers just soak up more of the yummy sauce.

Caprese Salad Skewers (from Mumm Napa's Hors D'oeuvres deck)

1 T fig balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
1 T plus 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp kosher salt, or more to taste
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 24 1/2-inch cubes
24 small cherry tomatoes, preferable Sweet 100s
24 small leaves of fresh basil
25 five-inch bamboo skewers

1. Combine the vinegar, 1 T of the olive oil, 1/8 tsp of the pepper, and the salt in a small bowl. Whisk until well combined. Taste and adjust vinegar and salt.
2. Toss the mozzarella with the remaining 1 tsp olive oil and the remaining 1/8 tsp pepper. Season to taste with salt if needed.
3. Slide one cherry tomato onto each skewer. Fold each piece of basil in half and slide onto the skewers. Finally, add 1 piece of mozzarella to each skewer. Repeat until all ingredients have been used. Place the skewers on a serving dish and evenly pour the balsamic vinegar over the skewers.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 26th birthday! My housemate Kristi and I have had a joint birthday party for the last three years because we have almost the same birthday (hers is on Monday), and this year's party was last night. It was such a fun time! Our theme was sparkling wine and hors d'oeuvres. Last weekend we went up to Napa with our friend Peter and picked out lots of sparkling wines from Mumm Napa, where Kristi and her boyfriend have a membership. Here are some shots from Napa:

And here's a shot Kristi took of all the wines we purchased! (We also stopped by Cakebread and Cosentino, although those wines weren't for the party since they didn't fit the theme!)

The wines were paired with hors d'oeuvres from a recipe set Kristi received from Mumm Napa of appetizers that pair well with sparkling wines. They were all delicious! We made pork and bell pepper skewers with mango dipping sauce, caprese salad skewers, and prosciutto-and-gruyere turnovers. We also added puff pastry with Stilton and apricot preserves, which I test drove last month for a Daring Bakers challenge. All of the recipes were absolutely delicious, and I'll be posting photos and recipes later this week. Here's a shot of the puff pastry appetizer since I already posted the recipe. We set out puff pastry rounds along with a bowl of apricot preserves and a wedge of Stilton so that guests could assemble the appetizer throughout the evening and they wouldn't get soggy.

Yum! As usual, we also both baked exciting birthday cakes. This year, I went with a lime cake with raspberry-lime curd filling and whipped cream frosting. Kristi baked a devil's food cake with brown sugar buttercream. Both cakes were absolutely divine! They were really delicious and everyone seemed to enjoy them. Photos and recipes of the cakes will also be upcoming in the next week or so. (The photos aren't on my camera, so I have to get them from friends!)

All in all, this was one of my best birthday parties ever! The abundance of sparkling wine made the whole evening feel extra festive, and the food was delicious. I also got to spend most of the day before the party baking, which was lots of fun and a good excuse to avoid doing work. I got to see lots of friends, and we also played Beatles Rock Band at the end of the night (a gift from Kristi's boyfriend)! So much fun.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Goat Cheese-Manchego Ravioli with Chipotle Cream Sauce

I found this ravioli recipe on Chili Cheese Fries, and immediately knew that I had to make it! The combination of flavors just sounded divine: goat cheese, chipotle cream, fresh parsley, and fresh pasta. Yum! I cheated a little bit by purchasing sheets of fresh pasta at the store to cut down on the preparation time. Believe me, even with buying the fresh pasta, this is still a really time consuming project! Cutting out, filling, and sealing all the little raviolis (or big raviolis in my case!) was a tad frustrating, but it was totally worth it in the end because this was a truly delicious meal! (Then again, I probably won't make another batch of homemade ravioli for another year or so - I think this is one of those amazing-but-occasional recipes!)

I definitely will make components of this recipe again, though. For instance, the chipotle cream sauce is relatively quick and easy, and absolutely delicious. I was so excited to finally make a cream sauce that didn't curdle one bit! I think it's the added sour cream that keeps everything together.

The sauce is yummy just poured over regular pasta (photo at the end of this post), and I think you could recreate the flavor profile of the ravioli by adding some crumbled goat cheese, grated Manchego, and minced parsley on top of that dish. I also think this sauce would be absolutely incredible with shrimp (minus the cheese, of course)...maybe some angel hair pasta, grilled shrimp, and the chipotle cream sauce? Yes, please! My housemate Jessie also suggested using the filling in manicotti, which would also be less work than filling all the raviolis. So, I'll definitely be making this recipe in some form again. This one is highly recommended - thanks to Chili Cheese Fries for the fantastic dinner!

Goat Cheese-Manchego Ravioli with Chipotle Cream Sauce (slightly adapted from Chili Cheese Fries, original recipe here)
Serves 3-4

8 ounces creamy goat cheese
2 ounces grated Manchego
1 T finely chopped fresh basil
1 T finely chopped fresh parsley

4 T unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
1/4 cup chipotles in adobo, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup sour cream
1 T finely chopped fresh basil
3 T finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish:
Fresh pasta, about 4 sheets
Egg wash (about 1 part whisked egg to 2 parts water)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Mix the filling ingredients together in a medium bowl until well combined.

2. Brush any stray flour off of the pasta sheets and cut into squares or rectangles of about 2 to 2-1/2 inches on each side. Paint all the sides of each rectangle with egg wash.
2. Take one rectangle and place 1 tsp of filling in the center. Top with another rectangle, egg wash sides together. Seal with a fork by pressing the tines of the fork all around the edges. Try to push out any air bubbles as you fill the ravioli. Pop the raviolis into the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, until ready to use.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, start on the sauce. Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the minced shallot and saute for about 1 minute. Add the chipotles in adobo, and saute until everything is nicely softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, and saute for 1 minute. Finally, turn off the heat and whisk in the cream, wine, sour cream, and herbs.

4. When the pot of salted water is boiling, carefully slide in the raviolis (a spider utensil helps a lot here). Cook for 6-8 minutes, until tender but not mushy, gently stirring occasionally. Right when you add the pasta to the water, turn the heat back on to the sauce, and simmer gently until the pasta is ready. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Gently remove the raviolis from the boiling water with a spider utensil. Serve by placing 3-5 raviolis in a bowl and ladling the cream sauce on top. Garnish with lots of freshly ground black pepper. Everyone will want seconds!

The sauce was also yummy over plain pasta, with lots of freshly ground black pepper!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Caramelized Cod with Five Flavors and Spinach-Beet Salad

I almost never cook fish, but last week I decided I was going to end that trend. I also wanted to finally cook something out of Crave, which has some serious food porn photos (really, some of them are over the top!). It had been sitting around my house, flipped through but never baked from, for several months and definitely needed some love! Crave has several tasty-sounding fish recipes, and I ended up going with a recipe for caramelized cod with spinach salad.

Instead of the usual five-spice powder, this recipe has you make your own "five spice powder" with orange zest, lime zest, vanilla, licorice root, and mint. Even our fancy pants grocery didn't have licorice root, so I substituted fennel to excellent effect. The recipe below does make more than you'll need for the fish, but it's also the fussiest part of the recipe so it's nice to make a big batch and have some leftover. This is a flavorful spice mix that would be good over more fish, chicken, or whisked into a homemade vinaigrette to add an extra pop of flavor.

After the spice mix is made, the rest of the fish recipe is a breeze - just sprinkle on salt, pepper, and sugar and pan fry the fish until cooked through. The spice mixture is added after cooking, presumably because the zest would be liable to burn. The result is a mild, delicate, delicious piece of fish. Make sure to ask your fish monger what he recommends - mine suggested a somewhat pricier cod than the cheapest option but it was definitely worth it!

The beet salad is a perfect accompaniment to the fish, with the dressing adding a needed acidity to the dish. I love roasted beets, although I don't make them nearly enough. The bright colors are so much fun, and the main work here is chopping the beets. After that task, the beets just roast in the oven and are tossed with baby spinach and a dressing dolled up with more of the five-spice powder. Definitely try this recipe - it's a winner! It would be elegant enough for a dinner party, but it's easy enough that you can also make it in a couple of hours in the evening, some of that being cooking time (less if the spice powder is already made).

Caramelized Cod with Five Flavors and Spinach-Beet Salad (adapted from Crave)

Five-Spice Powder

2 T orange zest
2 T lime zest
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
1 T dried fennel seeds
2 T dried mint leaves

6 cod fillets
Fleur de sel
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp sugar, divided
Olive oil

3 red beets
3 golden beets
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fig balsamic vinegar
Dijon mustard
Baby spinach

1. First, make the five-spice powder. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Sprinkle the orange zest, lime zest, and vanilla pieces onto a tin foil-lined baking sheet and bake about 18 minutes, until the zest is dry and starting to crisp. Stir occasionally while baking. Add the fennel seeds and mint leaves, and grind into a powder in a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder. Set aside.

2. Prepare the beets. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash and peel the beets, and cut into small cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper and spread out on a large, foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Set a pasta strainer over a large salad bowl and scrape the beets and any remaining oil into the pasta strainer. Shake gently to get as much oil as possible into the salad bowl. Set the beets aside to cool slightly.

4. To the oil in the bowl, whisk in fig balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and additional oil as needed to create a smooth, emulsified dressing. Add salt, pepper, and a generous sprinkle of the five-spice powder. Set aside until the fish is ready.

5. Sprinkle both sides of each piece of fish with fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle one side of each piece of fish with 1/4 tsp sugar.

6. Heat olive oil in two large non-stick skillets until hot. With the flame turned to high, add the fish. Cook four minutes per side, or until browned on the outside and opaque in the middle. Remove fish to a platter and sprinkle generously with five-spice powder.

7. Add the spinach and roasted beets to the salad bowl with dressing and toss to combine.

8. Enjoy!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Maple-Bacon Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes for a happy hour my housemate was putting on for our department, and they were a huge hit! The key to these is the small size: definitely go for mini-cupcakes here because these are pretty intense. The cupcakes themselves are a foolproof vanilla cupcake recipe that I've made many times. It always turns out perfectly moist and delicious, so it's a great palette for other flavors.

The maple frosting is fairly sweet (since the flavoring is another type of sugar), so you only need a little to give these the needed maple kick. Adjust the amounts of powdered sugar and maple syrup to get a flavor you like. The addition of chopped bacon on top of the cupcakes really takes them over the top. The salty flavor contrasts perfectly with the sweetness of the other elements, making this an absolutely perfect bite! My friend Jackie said these were just like breakfast in a cupcake! Yum.

Maple-Bacon Cupcakes
1 recipe Vanilla Cupcakes, baked in mini muffin tins
Maple Buttercream, recipe below
Maple Bacon, recipe below

Cool cupcakes thoroughly on a rack, and then spread each cupcake with maple buttercream. It's sweet and intense, so don't overdo it!

Chop the (cooled) bacon into small pieces, and sprinkle lightly over the frosted cupcakes. You should either assemble the cupcakes just before eating or store them in the refrigerator since they contain meat.

Maple Buttercream
2 sticks room temperature butter
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted, more as needed
1 T maple syrup, more as needed

Cream butter in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment until softened. Add 1 T maple syrup and 2 cups powdered sugar, and blend until light and fluffy. Check the texture: if the frosting is too soft, add more powdered sugar until it is stiff enough to spread on cupcakes and not lose its shape. Taste the frosting: if you're not getting enough maple flavor, add more maple syrup until you're satisfied.

Maple Bacon
6 slices thick cut bacon
Maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and place a rack on top (I used a cookie cooling rack). Lay the slices of bacon on the rack, not overlapping. Use a pastry brush to coat the top side of each piece of bacon with maple syrup.

Bake the bacon in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, flip the bacon over with a pair of tongs, and then coat the other side of the bacon with more maple syrup. Return to the oven and bake until fully cooked through.