Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Coconut Butter Thins (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Jayne of The Barefoot Kitchen Witch: Coconut Butter Thins. They're basically shortbread cookies with chopped macadamia nuts, shredded coconut, and a hint of lime.

The recipe is as simple as any other shortbread cookie recipe. Dorie warns that you should place these two inches apart on the baking sheet, but I surprisingly found that mine only spread a little bit. It seems that others had their cookies spread quite a bit, so I'm not sure what the difference was.

These cookies were very delicate. The coconut made them slightly chewy, but otherwise the coconut flavor wasn't too pronounced. There were many reports this week that coconut haters could not even taste the coconut in this recipe. The macadamia nuts gave them a nice crunch, too. Dorie's idea to rub the sugar with some lime zest was marvelous - coconut and lime are flavors that pair very well. These cookies were simple and delicious. I will definitely make them again.

Thanks Jayne, for choosing these cookies. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blogroll to see what everyone else thought about this buttery treat!

* Recipes notes:
- I didn't have a gallon size ziploc bag so I simply rolled my dough out between two pieces of plastic wrap until it was a 1/4-inch thickness.
- I baked my cookies for the full 20 minutes.
- Let the cookies rest of the baking sheet for about 1 minute before transferring them to a rack to cool - they are very delicate and may not make it in one piece if you transfer them too early.
- Wrapped well, these cookies will keep for a few days at room temperature. They will keep in the freezer for 2 months.
- For more tips, click here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Homemade Pasta

The Daring Bakers decided to go with a savory recipe this month. Our challenge was to make our own homemade spinach pasta!

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.

I was really excited about this recipe because I've made lasagna from scratch in the past, but I've never tried making spinach pasta. I had some trouble incorporating the spinach into the pasta. I used frozen spinach, and while the package said it was 10 ounces, when I thawed it and drained it, it came out to only 6 ounces total, so I used the entire "10 ounce but only weighs 6 ounces" package. So I'm not sure if I used too much spinach or not. Luckily, I was able to fix the lumpy mess by adding one extra egg. I was worried the whole thing was ruined, but after I added the egg it all came together like magic.

I followed the recipe for the bechamel sauce without any problems. Instead of using the meat sauce recipe recommended below, I used my go to meat sauce recipe from the World's Best Lasagna.

This lasagna was a big hit in our household. The only thing I would do differently next time is adding in more meat sauce. The recipe says to just add a thin layer, but in the end the dish seemed a bit lacking in sauce. That was easily fixed by spooning leftover meat sauce over the top of each slice!

Thank you to Mary, Melinda, and Enza for picking this month's challenge. I had a lot of fun making this pasta dish and I will definitely be using this recipe again.

The posting date for this month's challenge was originally today, but somewhere along the way they changed it to March 27th and I didn't notice this until today (oops). Better late than never, right? :) Please make sure you visit the Daring Bakers' Blogroll to see how everyone else stacked up with this challenge!

Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna (Lasagne Verdi al Forno)
from The Splendid Table: Recipes from Emilia-Romagna, the Heartland of Northern Italian Food 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 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.

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.

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 about 1/3 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layers until all ingredients are used, finishing with béchamel sauce and topping with a generous dusting of cheese.

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 40 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) (I used 3 eggs)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped; or 6 ounces (170g) frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry (I used a 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach)
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Working by Hand:


A roomy work surface, 24 to 30 inches deep by 30 to 36 inches (60cm to 77cm deep by 60cm to 92cm). Any smooth surface will do, but marble cools dough slightly, making it less flexible than desired.

A pastry scraper and a small wooden spoon for blending the dough.

A wooden dowel-style rolling pin. In Italy, pasta makers use one about 35 inches long and 2 inches thick (89cm long and 5cm thick). The shorter American-style pin with handles at either end can be used, but the longer it is, the easier it is to roll the pasta.
Note: although it is not traditional, Enza has successfully made pasta with a marble rolling pin, and this can be substituted for the wooden pin, if you have one.

Plastic wrap to wrap the resting dough and to cover rolled-out pasta waiting to be filled. It protects the pasta from drying out too quickly.

A sharp chef’s knife for cutting pasta sheets.

Cloth-covered chair backs, broom handles, or specially designed pasta racks found in cookware shops for draping the pasta.

Mixing the dough:
Mound the flour in the center of your work surface and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and spinach. Use a wooden spoon to beat together the eggs and spinach. Then gradually start incorporating shallow scrapings of flour from the sides of the well into the liquid. As you work more and more flour into the liquid, the well’s sides may collapse. Use a pastry scraper to keep the liquids from running off and to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. Don’t worry if it looks like a hopelessly rough and messy lump.

With the aid of the scraper to scoop up unruly pieces, start kneading the dough. Once it becomes a cohesive mass, use the scraper to remove any bits of hard flour on the work surface – these will make the dough lumpy. 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. 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). Note: Enza says that transparency is a crucial element of lasagne pasta and the dough should be rolled as thinly as possible. She says this is why her housekeeper has such strong arms!

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

#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. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, until the sauce thickens. 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
4 ounces/125g boneless veal shoulder or round
4 ounces/125g pork loin, trimmed of fat, or 4 ounces/125g mild Italian sausage (made without fennel)
8 ounces/250g beef skirt steak, hanging tender, or boneless chuck blade or chuck center cut (in order of preference)
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
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
3 canned plum tomatoes, drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Working Ahead:
The ragu can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. It also freezes well for up to 1 month. Skim the fat from the ragu’ before using it.

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. Coarsely grind all the meats together, including the prosciutto, in a food processor or meat grinder. Stir 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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Blueberry Crumb Cake (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Sihan of Befuddlement: Blueberry Crumb Cake.

It's a very simple breakfast cake that only takes a few minutes to throw together, but make sure you plan ahead. Not only does the butter need to be at room temperature, but so do the eggs. I have a tendency not to read a recipe all the way through until I am actually making it and did not realize the eggs needed to be at room temperature until I was ready to add them to the batter! Since I already had my oven preheating, I actually stuck them on the oven rack (with the door open) for about 10-20 seconds at a time, and that seemed to work really well :) But really, it would be much easier if you just set your eggs out at the same time you set the butter out!

This cake was absolutely delicious. I love anything with a crumb/streusel topping, so this was right up my alley. I don't like nuts, so I omitted those from the topping and it still came together nicely. I used frozen blueberries in my cake and actually increased the amount of berries by 50% and found it to be just perfect.

Thanks Sihan, for choosing this cake. I will definitely be making this one again. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see what everyone else thought about this breakfast treat!

* Recipes notes:
- I used the zest of an entire orange instead of just 1/4.
- I used 3 cups of frozen blueberries instead of just 2 cups.
- I baked mine in an 8-inch round piece of bakeware and had to bake for a total of 75 minutes since my cake was slightly thicker than a cake that would have been baked in an 8-inch square pan.
- Wrapped well, the cake keeps at room temperature overnight.
- For more tips, click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Liliana of My Cookbook Addiction: French Yogurt Cake with Marmalade Glaze. The cake is made from very simple ingredients, with the addition of yogurt to the batter. After it is baked, it's topped off with a sweet and tart marmalade glaze.

The"cake" is actually very similar to pound cake, so you'll want to let it rest for a day before digging in, to allow for all the flavors to come out. I had a slice the day it was made and then again the day after - it was definitely better the day after.

The yogurt ensures that the cake is very moist and the zest rubbed with sugar is very aromatic. I couldn't find any lemon marmalade so I used orange zest and orange marmalade in the recipe. It was fantastic, and perfect for breakfast. I love that you could even see the orange zest in the in each slice!

Although the glaze made the cake a bit sticky and messy to eat, I absolutely loved it! It also gave the cake a nice pretty shine. Since I already had orange marmalade on hand, I didn't really bother to go find the lemon variety. I was so interested to see some people posting about various other kinds of marmalade... lemon pear marmalade and pink grapefruit marmalade! I am just dying to try those now!

Thanks Liliana, for choosing this cake. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see what everyone else thought about this moist, citrusy cake!

* Recipes notes:
- I used orange zest and orange marmalade instead.
- I would put a foil tent over the cake after about 30 minutes - mine browned very quickly in my Pyrex loaf pan.
- Wrapped well, the cake keeps at room temperature for at least 4 days. If you do not glaze the cake, you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months.
- For more tips, click here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who entered to win the See's Candies Giveaway! The lucky winner of the $25 gift card is the person who left comment #94, Melissa of Lemons & Love.

Melissa - you did not leave your email address for me to contact you. Please email me ASAP with your mailing address. If I do not hear from you by 9pm CDT on Monday the 16th, I will move down the list and award the gift card to lucky #156. *Update - the prize has been claimed!

Thanks again to everyone who entered. I hope to do another giveaway soon!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lemon Cup Custard (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Bridget of The Way the Cookie Crumbles: Lemon Cup Custard. It consists of some very basic ingredients: milk, eggs, sugar, and some lemon zest.

There was a lot of chatter about this week's recipe. Apparently, many complained that it tasted too "eggy," or that it didn't have a strong enough lemon flavor. According to Dorie herself, "Eggy is really what this custard is about. It’s meant to be jiggly, not Jello-y and it is, as some of you said, like flan."

I wanted to make sure that you could really taste the lemon in this custard so I changed two things with this recipe. First, I let the lemon zest steep in the hot milk for a full hour (twice as long). Second, I rubbed some lemon zest with the sugar until it was moist and aromatic. This seemed to do the trick because the custard had a very nice lemon flavor in it. Not overwhelmingly lemon, but enough to notice the flavor.

This is a very simple dessert, that reminds me a bit of creme brulee, but is much more similar to flan. I halved the recipe and was able to get one tea cup full of custard, and the rest fit in a creme brulee dish. While I had the custard in the tea cup by itself, I decided to go ahead and torch the other one. It was already in a creme brulee dish anyway! :) I have to say that there is just something about that crunchy, caramelized sugar layer that I just love.

Thanks Bridget, for choosing this recipe. I really like flan and I love creme brulee, but I'm still on the fence about this in between texture. I may or may not be making it again, but I am glad I tried something new. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see what everyone else thought about this lemony, custard treat.

* Recipes notes:
- For extra lemon flavor, steep the milk and the zest of one lemon for 1 full hour instead of 30 minutes. Then take the zest of another lemon and rub it into the sugar until it is moist and aromatic.
- A lot of people said their custard set before the recommended time - mine took exactly 40 minutes, as directed.

- For more tips, click here.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

See's Candies Giveaway

I was recently contacted by a representative of See's Candies. He wanted to know if I would be interested in trying some of their chocolates. I grew up in California, so I was no stranger to See's Candies. I've always had a sweet tooth. Growing up, and I fondly remember begging my mom to let me go into their store whenever we passed by it in the mall. You see, whenever you go in and buy something, they always offer you a free sample of their chocolate. You didn't have to make a big purchase, you just had to get something. So I would plead with my mom to let me buy a lollipop just so that I could get a free piece of chocolate. (Sad, huh?) So when I received this email about free samples of their chocolates, I immediately accepted. I mean really... who turns down free chocolate?! :) Some things never change, right? ;)

I was delighted when I received my sample box in the mail! It included a nice assortment of some old favorites I grew up loving, as well as several pieces I had never tried before. Their milk chocolate is sweet and creamy, but not overly sweet. The milk molasses chips are so fun to crunch on. If you like fruity chocolate, I highly recommend the Apricot Delights. They're little balls of apricot buttercream with chopped apricot, dipped in white chocolate then rolled in toasted coconut. My mom was raving about these the other day, and now I see why! I was also wishing there was more than one milk butterchew in my box - I love caramel, and these are heavenly pieces of vanilla brown sugar caramel coated in chocolate.

As you know, I recently returned from a trip to Paris. While I was there, I picked up a wonderful box of chocolates from Patrick Roger who, according to Dorie, is one of the best chocolatiers in Paris. I sent the chocolates to my mom for her birthday and while she appreciated the gift, guess what she told me? "You shouldn't have spent so much money on a gift for me. I'm happy with a box of See's chocolates." Ha!

They don't make chic, boutique-y chocolates, but if you're looking for good, quality chocolates that won't cost you an arm and a leg, I'd recommend See's. So if you're looking for a nice Easter gift to send this year, consider ordering some Easter candy from See's. My favorites are their lollypops and peanut butter eggs. While I haven't tried them yet, I'm also dying to taste their sour bunnies.

If my review hasn't convinced you that you need to try these, then maybe you just need a little extra nudge first. I'm excited to announce the very first giveaway on my blog! The folks at See's Candies have kindly agreed to give one lucky reader a $25 gift certificate. All you have to do to be eligible is leave a comment on this post before midnight EDT on Saturday, March 14th. Make sure you leave your email address, or at least a link to your blog where I can easily find your email address. I'll randomly select a lucky winner on Sunday, March 15th. Good luck!
(*Please note that comment moderation is enabled so your comment may not appear immediately.)

*** The giveaway has now ended. ***

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chocolate Armagnac Cake - The Cake That Got Dorie Fired (TWD)

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by LyB of And then I do the dishes: Chocolate Armagnac Cake. The story behind this cake is funny. Dorie had just started her very first job in a professional kitchen when she decided to switch up the chocolate whisky-raisin cakes. Instead of ground almond, Dorie used ground pecans. She also swapped out the whisky raisins for some prunes flambéed in Armagnac.

Apparently the new and improved cake was very good and "caused quite a to-do in the dining room." Instead of being praised for her ingenious idea, Dorie was fired for "creative insubordination." I suppose her boss is now regretting that decision ;)

So I was excited to try this recipe. Unlike a lot of people, I don't have an aversion to prunes and actually went and bought some for this cake. The prunes impart a very subtle flavor to the cake, but I felt they were more noticeable texture-wise instead of flavor-wise. I cut them into pretty small pieces, but with each bite of the cake, there was a bit of chewiness from the prunes. It wasn't a bad thing, in my opinion, but if you're a cake or brownie purist and don't like anything in them, you might want to steer away from this recipe :) My husband couldn't even tell that there were prunes in this cake, so don't let them deter you from making this cake! If you really don't want to use the prunes, then go ahead and use raisins or dried cherries.

People are always nervous when we come to a TWD recipe that requires dried fruit to be flambéed. (Ok, I will admit that the first time I did it, I was worried I might set my hand on fire.) But it's really easy and after you do it a few times, you'll see there is nothing to worry about. I got some super flames this time, and was able to run and grab my camera in time to catch about five seconds of this spectacle on video!

This was a really simple recipe. I'm not a huge fan of nuts, but the ground nuts in this recipe gave the cake a nice flavor. The cake was very dense and moist, but not too dense. It reminded me a lot of a brownie - Dorie's French Chocolate Brownies, actually.

Thanks LyB, for choosing this cake. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see what everyone else thought about the cake that got Dorie fired!

* Recipes notes
- I used semisweet chocolate chips instead of bitterwsweet chocolate.
- The easiest way to cut the prunes into little bits is with kitchen scissors.
- I used a 50ml mini bottle of whisky for this recipe (that's just shy of the 1/4 cup recommended) but it worked just fine.
- Don't be shy about flambeeing the prunes - it's fun!
- The cake can be kept at room temperature for 1 day; wrapped well and refrigerated, it will keep for up to 3 days.
- For more tips, click here.