Frisian Sugar Bread for Easter & Beyond!

March 23rd, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

I may have visited the Netherlands twice, roamed around the Dutch-influenced areas of Belgium as many times and even have Dutch friends but, until recently, I’d never tried Dutch Frisian sugar bread. A specialty of the northern Dutch province of Friesland, suikerbrood or sugarbread features spices and a generous amount of the large, coarse, stark white sugar known as pearl sugar.

As you might expect from a food with “sugar” in its name, this is a sweet bread. Yet, I wouldn’t call it overly saccharine. Eaten at breakfast in the Netherlands, it has a warm, honeyed flavor on par with Danish pastries and cinnamon rolls. When I compare it to such cloying breakfast staples as syrup-soaked pancakes, waffles and French toast, I find this bread to be mild and pleasantly sweet.

Although not part of the pantheon of European Easter breads, Frisian sugar bread would be a fitting addition to any Easter brunch. For those abstaining from sweets or baked goods during Lent, it will be a delicious way to break these fasts. For everyone else it’ll be a scrumptious addition to the holiday feast.
FRISIAN SUGAR BREAD
Makes 2 loaves

2 packets dry active yeast
1 3/4 cups milk, warmed
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
8 ounces pearl sugar

Grease a large bowl with canola oil.

Place the yeast and warm milk in a small bowl and allow the yeast to dissolve, about 3 minutes. As the yeast is dissolving, stir the flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and salt together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, egg and melted butter and set aside.

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the milk into it. Stir the flour and milk together until roughly mixed. Add the butter mixture and stir again until combined.

Using either your hands or an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes, until a soft, warm dough forms.

Form the dough into a ball and place it in the greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp dishcloth, put it in a warm spot and allow the dough to rise until double in size, about 1 hour.

Toss together the pearl sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Using either your hands or your mixer’s dough hook, knead the pearl sugar into the dough. (I find that hands usually work better than a dough hook here but the choice is yours.)

Butter the bottom and sides of 2 9″ x 5″ loaf pans. Lightly flour a clean work surface. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Divide the sugar-dotted dough in half and, using your hands, shape into two balls. Place the balls on the floured surface and press each out into a large (about 12 inches in length) rectangle. Taking one of the long ends, roll up the dough into a fat rectangle. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Place the dough rolls into the buttered pans. Place the pans in a warm spot, cover them with a damp, clean dishcloth and allow them to rise for 1 hour.

Place the pans in the preheated oven and bake the bread for 30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes to ensure that the tops aren’t browning too quickly. If the tops look dark, cover them with aluminum foil for the final 10 minutes of baking.

Remove the loaves from the oven and allow them to cool for 5 minutes in the pans. Remove them from the pans and cool the loaves completely on wire racks. Slice and serve with butter and coffee.

Double Chocolate S’mores Cookies

March 9th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

On the whole I don’t find supermarket baked goods all that enticing. The breads usually seem too airy, the cookies too bland, the cakes too slathered with artificially flavored frosting. However, last week, before the most recent, and hopefully last, snow of the season, I grabbed a cookie from my local market’s bakery section. Rather than satisfy my ever-present craving for sweets, it drove me to dig out my measuring cups, electric mixer, pen and notebook and create my own take on a s’more cookie.

What made this particular cookie so special, so inspiring? Sweet without being cloying, chocolaty without being too rich, it struck the perfect flavor balance. Dotted with chunks of graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow, the cocoa-enriched dough was far more complex and appealing than the usual double chocolate chip cookie. As with its campfire namesake, this cookie was so good that it left me hankering for “some more.” (Yep, that’s how s’mores got their name. You can’t just eat one graham cracker-chocolate bar-toasted marshmallow combo. You always want “s’more.”)

As the first snowflakes began to fall, I darted back out to the grocery store for a bag of mini marshmallows, box of graham crackers and tin of unsweetened cocoa. Back at home, flakes swirling outside the kitchen window, I started working on a recipe for these cookies. With a nod to Westside Market for the inspiration, below is my version of Double Chocolate S’mores Cookies.


DOUBLE CHOCOLATE S’MORES COOKIES
Makes 4 1/2 dozen cookies

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (5 to 6 sheets) roughly crumbled graham crackers
3/4 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a double boiler on the stove or in a glass bowl in the microwave, melt the half the chocolate chips and the butter, stirring together periodically until the chocolate has fully melted. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl sift together flour, unsweetened cocoa, baking powder and salt.

Using either an electric stand or hand mixer, beat together the eggs, sugars and vanilla until light in color, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add the cooled melted chocolate, beating until well-combined.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and add half the flour mixture. Beat until the flour is incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining flour. Beat until a soft dough has formed.

Add the remaining chocolate chips, crumbled graham crackers and mini marshmallows and stir to combine.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place the balls on the parchment paper-lined baking sheets, leaving an inch or so between each cookie. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies are firm. Remove the pans from the oven and allow the cookies to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before removing them from the pan and cooling them completely on a wire rack. Repeat until all the cookies have been baked.

Snegl, Kannelbullar, Schnecken: Many Names, One Amazing Cinnamon Roll

March 4th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Cinnamon roll, with raisins, in Berlin, Germany


Snegl, kannelbullar, schnecken, skillingsboller or just plain old cinnamon roll. Almost every country has its own take on this pastry and it seems to have become my mission in life to sample each one. Yeah, it’s one tough mission.

The variations are small but compelling. Denmark tops its snegl, which means “snail” and is an apt description of this swirled roll, with a thick layer of icing. Made from confectioner’s sugar, its sweetness balances out the heady cinnamon and adds beauty and succulence to the bun.

Snegl from Copenhagen, Denmark

Norway’s skillingsboller bears a strong resemblance to the Danish snegl. Most Norwegian bakers use a little less icing than their Danish counterparts. However, the result is just as delightful.

Skillingsboller in Oslo, Norway

Cardamom transforms the Swedish kannelbullar from a standard cinnamon roll to something far more complex and ethereal. Capped off with a sprinkling of pearl sugar, it, too, is a delight to see and eat.

Kannelbullar from Stockholm, Sweden

Some countries add raisins to their rolls. In fact, that’s how my mission got started; I thought that I’d purchased a pain au raisin for breakfast in Cologne, Germany and instead ended up with a raisin-studded cinnamon bun. Not what I’d expected but still tasty nonetheless. Then there is the inclusion of nuts, which I found most often in the German schnecken.

Others opt to glaze their buns with a sugar syrup. This makes the buns stickier than I like. If I’m eating something gooey and chewy, then it should be a good old sticky bun.

Cinnamon roll in Bern, Switzerland

I still have many, many countries to visit and cinnamon rolls to try. Until I have passport stamps from all 189 to 196 countries and the same number of cinnamon rolls under my expanding waistline, I’ll share a recipe for Scandinavian cinnamon buns. This takes the best that I’ve experienced in Scandinavia and puts it all in one delicious little pastry.

SCANDINAVIAN CINNAMON ROLLS

Makes 12 rolls

for the dough:
1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
6 tablespoons warm milk
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature

for the filling:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg

for the icing:
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 teaspoons warm water

Place the yeast and water in a small bowl and allow the yeast to dissolve. In large bowl mix together the salt, sugar, melted butter and milk. Pour in the yeast mixture, add the egg and vanilla and stir together until combined.

Using either a wooden spoon or flat beater of a stand mixer, mix in the flour, beating until the dough is smooth and soft. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, form the dough into a ball, cover the bowl and place the dough in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour.

Grease a large baking sheet. Dust a clean work surface with flour.

Place the dough in the center and roll out a large rectangle.

Spread half of the butter along half of the long half of the dough. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side and press together. Place the dough on the greased baking sheet, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Leaving the dough on the baking sheet, press it out into a rectangle double in size. Spread the remaining butter over the center third of the dough. Fold one unbuttered side to the middle and then fold the remaining unbuttered side over it to make three layers of dough that are roughly square in shape. Cover and refrigerate again for 1 hour.

To make the filling, mix together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dust the clean work surface with flour. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or a large baking dish and set aside.

Roll out the dough into a large square and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over it. Roll up the dough into a cylinder and, using a sharp knife, cut it into 12 equally sized pieces. Place the rolls, cut side up, into each cup. If you’re using a baking dish, place the rolls in the dish, leaving about an inch of space between each. Cover and allow them to rise for 35 to 45 minutes.

As the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the rolls for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, place on wire rack and cool slightly, about 15 minutes, before removing the rolls from the pan to cool completely on the rack.

Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and 1 teaspoon water; if you prefer a runnier icing, add the 2nd teaspoon of water. Using a knife or spoon, spread or drizzle the icing over the rolls. Enjoy!

Bavaria-Inspired Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

February 17th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Thanks to this winter’s intense cold and frequent snows, I’ve been doing a fair amount of armchair traveling, looking at trip photos, thumbing through travel books and imagining slightly warmer times. One book that’s especially piqued my interest is a biergarten cookbook. Picked up on a recent trip to Germany, it includes a recipe for something that I’ve long enjoyed but never made at home, soft pretzels.

I cannot recall the first time that I ate a pretzel. I can, however, remember my initial bite of German brezel. Purchased at a jam-packed Christmas market in Cologne, it was softer and more bread-like than what I habitually bought at home. Unlike the dry, chewy pretzels consumed at my office desk, this didn’t leave me parched or with an indigestible ball of dough in my stomach.

Unfortunately, the cookbook that I carted across the Atlantic does not contain a reliable pretzel recipe. What it offers contains too little liquid, too much flour and too few directions.

Starting from scratch, I came up with the following Bavaria-inspired recipe. Because I’m a sucker for sweets, I topped my soft pretzels with cinnamon sugar. If you prefer savory foods, replace the cinnamon sugar with either kosher or pretzel salt.

CINNAMON SUGAR PRETZELS
Makes 5 to 6 medium-sized pretzels

for the dough:
1 teaspoon dry active yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water, plus more if needed
Pinch sugar
9 ounces (scant 1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

for boiling:
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda

for the topping
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons water

Put the yeast in a small bowl, pour the water over it and sprinkle over a pinch of sugar. Allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast has dissolved.

Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and, forming a well in the center, add the yeasty water and olive oil. Stir together until combined.

Using either your hands or a stand mixer with a dough hook, knead the dough until soft and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. Form the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a dish towel or plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm place for 60 minutes.

Punch down the dough and knead lightly for 1 minute. Separate the dough into 5 or 6 equally sized portions and form these into balls. Place one ball in the palms of your hands and roll it out into a 16-inch long strip, leaving a little extra dough in the middle of the strip.

Bringing the two ends of the dough together to form a U, twirl the dough so that it twists around itself twice. Still holding onto the ends, lay the twisted dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Press the ends into the bottom loop of the twist, making a pretzel. See the photo below for clarification.

Cover the pretzels with a dish towel and allow them to rise for another 30 to 40 minutes. As the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring 10 cups of water and 2/3 cup baking soda to a boil in a large stockpot. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly oil the paper. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon. In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and water.

Using a slotted spoon, gently lower a pretzel into the boiling water. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, turning over once during the cooking time.

Slide the spoon under the pretzel, remove it from the pot, shaking off any excess water, and place the pretzel on the oiled parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining pretzels.

Brush the tops of the pretzels with the egg wash. Generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the pretzels. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden in color and firm to the touch. Remove and cool on a wire rack. For the freshest pretzels, consume these within a day of baking them.

Check out Czech Trdelnik

February 12th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

Imagine a golden, cylindrical pastry reminiscent of a cinnamon roll, that is, if the cinnamon roll was roasted on a spit over an open flame and then twirled through a mixture of sugar and ground nuts or cinnamon. Got that in mind? Then you’ve got a trdelnik.

A specialty of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, this yeasted dough treat can be found in bakeries, at food stalls and street carts. In Prague no outdoor market is complete without at least one trdelnik stand.

Hearty yet surprisingly light in consistency, trdelnik makes for a delightful breakfast, afternoon snack or dessert. A longtime fan, I’ve eaten it for lunch and, on one desperate night, as dinner.

Because I don’t own an outdoor spit or tabletop rotisserie, my first stab at trdelnik was with my kitchen range. Since I didn’t think to buy a trdelnik form in the Czech Republic, I had to figure out a way to help the pastry keep its round shape. I couldn’t wrap the dough around water glasses, place them upright on a baking sheet and then slide them into a hot oven. The glasses would shatter, ruining the dough and my oven.
I considered pressing strips of dough onto a rolling pin and suspending that over a shallow baking dish. However, my rolling pins are wooden and would likely scorch, if not catch on fire. Aluminum soup cans covered in aluminum foil and sitting upright in a baking dish? That I did try, with mixed results. If I didn’t make the dough strips long enough, so that the ends overlapped, the trdelnik unraveled as it baked.

Ultimately, I found that an outdoor grill, coupled with the foil wrapped cans and long, metal kebob skewers, provided the most authentic and consistent means of creating trdelnik. So, unless someone gives me with a rotisserie or, at the very least, a proper trdelnik form, I’ll be firing up the grill for my next batch of this sweet.

TRDELNIK
NOTE: In the following recipe, I provide instructions for both baking and grilling/roasting this Czech sweet.
Makes 6

1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup milk, warmed
1 pound (approximately 3 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2 egg whites, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons blanched almonds, finely chopped
1 teaspoon water

Put the yeast in a small bowl and pour the warm milk over it. Set aside.

In large bowl mix together the flour, 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (reserve the tablespoon for the topping), cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and then set aside.

In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and 1 egg white, butter and vanilla extract.

Pour the proofed yeast and egg mixture into the well and stir together. Using your hands or a stand mixer’s dough hook, knead the dough for 1 to 2 minutes, until soft and well-combined. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. If you’re using a gas or charcoal grill, remove the metal grates and preheat the grill on medium-high.

Cover 2 to 6 empty, clean aluminum cans with tin foil and then grease the foil with butter. (NOTE: If you’re making your trdelnik on a grill, you’ll need to punch out a hole in the center of each can so that you can thread the kebob skewer through there. Once you’ve done that, cover the cans with foil.)

In a small bowl mix together the remaining egg white and 1 teaspoon water.

On a plate mix together the 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar, granulated sugar and chopped almonds.

Uncover the dough and separate it into 6 equal-sized balls. Using a rolling pin, roll out and then cut the first dough ball into 1/2-inch wide and at least 6-inch long strips. Wrap these strips around the greased cans, making sure that the ends of the dough overlap each other. The end result should resemble the picture below.

Repeat the rolling, cutting and wrapping with the remaining dough balls. If you don’t have more than 2 cans on hand, you’ll just make one batch of trdelniks and then repeat the above steps.

If you’re baking these in the oven, place the dough-encased cans upright in a shallow baking dish, leaving about 2 inches between each trdelnik. Bake for 10 minutes.

If you’re making these on the grill, thread the kebob skewers through the cans and place the skewers over the charcoal. Cook uncovered, rotating frequently, for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes remove the trdelnik from the oven or grill, brush the egg wash over each and then roll the trdelnik in the sugar-nut mixture. Return to the oven or grill and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, until browned. Remember that, if you’re using a grill, keep rotating those skewers so that the trdelnik doesn’t burn. Remove, roll in the sugar mixture again and serve warm.

Two Spoons up for Apple Strudel Light

January 16th, 2015 § 0 comments § permalink

What do you do with three unplanned days in Vienna? If you enjoy immersing yourself in a country’s culture and possess a hearty sweet tooth, you might decide to eat your way through your stay. That’s certainly how I spent my time there, sampling variation upon variation of the Austrian national dish apple strudel.

In Austria strudel is often served with a pitcher of vanilla cream, in a pool of crème anglaise or with a side of whipped cream. Contrary to my husband’s fervent hopes, it usually doesn’t come with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. That’s fine with me. When it comes to strudel, I prefer either to eat it with just a dusting of sugar or with whipped cream added to the side. A fair amount of time, effort and space goes into making a traditional apple strudel. It’s the dough, rather than the filling, that requires the work. My short video, taken at the Café Residenz adjacent to Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, explains the basics of authentic strudel dough.

If you lack the space or patience to roll out dough until it’s roughly three feet square and transparent enough to read a newspaper through but you still like the idea of homemade strudel, I have an utterly acceptable compromise. To save time and countertops, use commercially-prepared phyllo dough. Granted, you won’t have the most traditional strudel but you will still have a wonderful, Viennese-inspired dessert. Just think of it as strudel for time-pressed bakers or “apple strudel light.”

APPLE STRUDEL LIGHT
Makes 12 to 14 slices

for the filling:
3 1/4 pounds (6-7) apples
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs, divided
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup finely chopped almonds
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the pastry:
6 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more as needed
Confectioner’s sugar, for serving
Whipped cream, optional, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a large baking sheet and set aside.

Peel and cut the apples into matchsticks and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle the zest and juice of the lemon over the top of the apples, toss to coat and set aside.

Stir together the sugar, half of the breadcrumbs, all of the raisins, almonds and nutmeg. Set aside

Cover a flat work surface with parchment paper. Gently remove 2 sheets of phyllo dough and place this on the parchment paper. Brush the top of phyllo with melted butter and then lay 2 more sheets of phyllo on top of buttered dough. Brush melted butter over the next 2 sheets, lay 2 additional sheets on top and brush butter over them.

Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs over the buttered dough, leaving a 1-inch border without breadcrumbs.

Add the sugar mixture to apples, stir to combine and then sprinkle the vanilla extract over the filling. Stir until well-combined.

Leaving the 1-inch border intact, evenly spread the apple filling over the phyllo. Taking the long end of the dough and using the parchment paper to assist you, gently roll up the dough until you’ve formed a log. Using the remaining melted butter, seal up the ends and coat the top of the dough. Once again, using the parchment paper as an aid, slide the strudel onto the greased baking sheet.

Bake for 50 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet. Before slicing and serving, dust the top with confectioner’s sugar. Serve with optional whipped cream.

Luscious Lemon-Garlic Shrimp

December 30th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

In spite of my annual pledge not to binge from Thanksgiving through Christmas I’ve done what I do every year — eat, eat and then eat some more. Breads. Dips. Spiced nuts, crackers and chips. Not to mention the pies, tarts, cakes, cookies and trifles. How can I forget eggnog, Bloody Marys and poinsettia cocktails? By the time that New Year’s rolls around I need not only a diet but also detox!

Tapped out on heavy holiday foods and hours spent in the kitchen, this New Year’s I’m opting out of the usual homemade sauerkraut, butter-drenched mashed potatoes and faux pork offering. Instead, on January 1 I’m serving Lemon-Garlic Shrimp.
Even sticklers who insist on eating “lucky foods” on New Year’s Day can appreciate this dish. With it they get the color yellow or gold, signifying money or good fortune in the new year. Plus, they eat seafood, which somewhat satisfies the old custom of consuming fish on January 1. Tradition dictates that, because fish swim upstream, one should eat fish to ensure advancement in the coming year.

Folklore aside, I appreciate the light flavors and simple nature of lemon-garlic shrimp. Whether I cook for two or 20, it is a snap to make.When looking for shrimp, skip the soggy shellfish in your market’s seafood case. Instead, head over to the freezer section and pick up a bag or two of frozen, U.S. farmed or Canadian or Alaskan wild shrimp; these are two of the eco-friendliest choices.

Why buy frozen instead of “fresh”? It’s simple. Unless you buy live shrimp, what you find at markets are shrimp that were shipped frozen and then defrosted and put on display. Me, I’d rather buy frozen and defrost them right before cooking.

LEMON-GARLIC SHRIMP
Serves 8 as an entree, 16 to 18 as an appetizer

1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds (26 to 30 count) frozen shrimp, defrosted and peeled
Zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

In a large sauté or frying pan heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add the garlic, sprinkle the salt over the top and, reducing the heat to medium, sauté until the garlic has softened but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, turning the shrimp over once. When finished, the shrimp will be coral in color and begin to curl.

Add the lemon zest and juice and ground white pepper, stir to combine and allow to cook for another 30 seconds. Spoon into a large serving bowl or place on individual plates. Serve warm.

Ingredients for a Happy Holiday Feast

December 18th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Right now I have a story running at Zester Daily and MSN about what it takes to throw a fantastic holiday party. After writing that piece, I started thinking about the ingredients that I keep on hand to ensure that, no matter who or when someone drops by, there will be something warm and tasty on the table to eat. Bread, eggs, milk and butter are givens. With these I can fry up French toast, egg-in-a-hole and egg sandwiches or make scrambled eggs and toast. I also like to keep the following items around, things that I dub the ingredients for a happy holiday feast. With them I can pull together a nice meal, one that looks as though I’ve spent hours hovering over a hot stove when, in fact, I’ve thrown the dish together in 30 minutes or less.

PUFF PASTRY: Defrost a sheet or two of puff pastry and in 30 minutes I have everything from breakfast to dessert. I’ve used puff pastry to make a simple pizza— partially bake the pastry, remove and top with tomatoes and cheese, return to the oven and bake until the pastry has browned and cheese has melted. If I have onions and sardines or figs, I make an onion-sardine pissaladière, which I feature in Fish Market, or a figgy pizza.
If I have apples, I slice and sauté them with butter and sugar. I lay a sheet of puff pastry over the apples, pop the duo in the oven and bake until golden on top. Invert this onto a platter and I’ve got a simple apple tart. With cinnamon, sugar and a sharp knife I can also make the French cookies palmiers. These offerings look fancy. They make my guests feel special. Yet, they took very little time to make.
VEGETABLE STOCK: With an onion or few cloves of garlic, sticks of celery leftover from the previous night’s crudite plate, a cup of frozen corn and/or peas, canned chickpeas, beans or tomatoes (see below) or some rice or small pasta and vegetable stock I have all that I need for a nourishing, vegan-friendly soup. Pre-made stock is perfect for soups and for dressing up leftover poultry, meat, seafood and vegetables. To make a sauce or gravy, boil the stock over medium heat until it’s halved in volume. Add some salt, pepper and herbs or spices. If you desire a thick gravy, leave the heat on and further cook and reduce the sauce. Drizzle it over turkey, chicken or roast beef sandwiches and delight your hungry, unexpected guests.

Pumpkin Hummus

CANNED PUMPKIN OR CHICKPEAS: If you have the aforementioned stock, onions and garlic sitting around, then you’re halfway to a velvety pumpkin or hearty chickpea soup. Just add the canned pumpkin or chickpeas, salt, pepper and those random herbs or spices and allow them to simmer together for 20 to 25 minutes. Taste the soup, add more seasonings as needed and serve. If you’re a fan of hummus, you can toss the chickpeas or pumpkin into a blender or food processor. Throw in garlic, olive oil, salt, lemon juice and tahini if you have some. Voila! Homemade hummus for raw veggies, crackers, pretzels, hearty breads or, as tradition dictates, pita. Don’t like hummus? Make a curry with the chickpeas, onions, garlic, canned tomatoes (see below) and spices.

CANNED TOMATOES: Give me a can of tomatoes and I will give you homemade sauce for pasta, a puff pastry pizza, omelettes, a frittata, curry or soup. When friends and family walk into the kitchen, they see those tomatoes bubbling on the stove and think that I’ve been slaving away for hours over my tomato-based creation. You and I, though, know the truth.

SUPER SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE
Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 (28-ounce) can diced organic tomatoes and their juices
1/3 cup water
1 ½ teaspoon dried basil
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes; you want the garlic to have softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes, water, basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the ingredients to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring periodically during this time.

Using an immersion or countertop blender, pulse the tomato sauce until you have a moderately chunky sauce. Cover and allow the sauce to simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Toss with cooked pasta and serve.

The Favored Few: Cookbooks in Review

December 9th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s that time of year again, time for my rundown of good books for food lovers and cooks. Among 2014’s recommendations are three sweets-oriented cookbooks, two boozy books, a tome dedicated to Nordic cuisine, another focused on preservation and one devoted to mushrooms. Capping off the list is a quirky and humorous general purpose cookbook. So, without further introduction, here are my favorites of 2014.

80 Cakes from around the World by Claire Clark (Absolute Press, 2014)
Fans of baking, world travel and food histories will especially enjoy Claire Clark’s colorful dessert book. It includes traditional recipes for Irish barmbrack, Hungarian dobos torte and Dutch apple cake as well as modern takes on French croquembouche, American doughnuts and Polish beetroot cake. Historical accounts and photographs enliven every sweet.

The Little Book of Scones by Liam D’Arcy and Grace Hall (Random House UK, 2014)
Possessing the tagline “meet the 21st-century scone,” D’Arcy and Hall’s slender cookbook introduces readers to 30 contemporary scone creations. Basil and salt dip scone sticks and red velvet scone fancies are among the savory or sweet recipes on offer. Illustrations and music suggestions accompany the treats.

North by Gunnar Karl Gislason and Jody Eddy (Ten Speed Press, 2014)
Fifteen years after traveling through Iceland, subsisting on toasted cheese sandwiches and the odd fish dish, I have fallen for North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland. Part sumptuous culinary travelogue, part innovative cookbook, this first-time offering from acclaimed Reykjavik chef Gislason showcases his country’s fresh cuisine and proves to me that the country offers more than toasted cheese. Featuring dishes such as Smoked Haddock, Dark Cod Consummé, Raw Vegetables and Yesterday’s Bread and Crispy Oats Cooked in Beer with Malt Cream, North is as gorgeous and unusual as Iceland itself.

Sugar Rush by Johnny Iuzzini and Web Martin (Clarkson Potter, 2014)
James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini takes readers step-by-step through over 150 delectable sweets. Ranging from such dessert basics as caramelized fruit, toasted nuts and candied peel to fancier fare such as sticky caramel date cake and smoky chocolate-ginger ganache tart, Sugar Rush offers something for every level of home baker. A clever final chapter pulls recipes together and builds “a balanced dessert.” Truly a tasty, thorough and balanced cookbook.

The Bar Book by Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Martha Holmberg (Chronicle Books, 2014)
From famed Portland bartender and cocktail blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler comes this comprehensive look at cocktail making. Covering essential tools, techniques, ingredients and recipes and with ample illustrative photos, The Bar Book guides readers through creating over 60 fabulous drinks. Whether you’re interested in setting up a well-stocked home bar or making a better cocktail, this book will satisfy all your mixology needs.

Shroom by Becky Selengut (Andrews McMeel, 2014)
Because I’d interviewed the author and reviewed Shroom for Zester Daily, I’ll pass along the link to that piece.

Moonshine Nation by Mark Spivak (Lyons Press, 2014)
The only food history/narrative to make the list, Moonshine Nation gives a fascinating account of that outlaw spirit, moonshine, and the renegades who made, and continue to make, it. Well-researched and written, this culinary history will keep readers captivated from beginning to end.

So Easy to Preserve by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension (University of Georgia, 2014)
Long before today’s preservation craze, the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension produced this detailed yet approachable guide to preserving food. Now in its sixth edition (I own and have pictured the fifth edition from 2006), this user-friendly book takes readers through pickling, canning, curing, drying and freezing produce, dairy products and meats. It’s a must-have for anyone interested in preserved goods.

We could all use a little more levity in the kitchen. That’s why I’ve included a less serious choice for your holiday shopping list. It’s The Portlandia Cookbook by Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and Johnathan Krisel (Clarkson Potter, 2014).
Whether your gift recipients cook, adore Portlandia or just love a good laugh, they’ll appreciate this fun-loving cookbook. Recipes range from simple baked Manchego-filled dates to the more complex Korean short rib stew.

As always, I have to plug my own seafood cookbook Fish Market (Running Press, 2013). For more information about it, visit FishMarketBook.com, Amazon or your neighborhood bookstore.

Invite the British to Thanksgiving with Pumpkin-Ginger Trifle

November 20th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

Blame it on a recent trip to England or an insatiable appetite for global cuisines. No matter the reason this holiday season I’m dreaming of an untraditional Thanksgiving offering, the British trifle.

Dating back to medieval times, the trifle consists of layers of liquor-doused sponge cake, fruit, custard and whipped cream. Beautiful and delicious, it is as delightful to look at as it is to eat. In fact, in 18th century England the trifle served as both a dessert and a centerpiece.

As a nod to the season, my Pumpkin-Ginger Trifle’s base consists not of airy sponge cake and wine, sherry or brandy but of earthy gingersnaps sprinkled with spiced rum. Instead of fruit, which I incorporate into the custard, I spread a thin layer of candied pecans over the cookies. The creamy pumpkin custard then covers the two.

As fussy as it may sound, I make the custard and whipped cream from scratch. Neither takes much time to prepare. Yet, both taste far better than what you get from a boxed mix or an aerosol can. However, if you feel too overwhelmed or pressed for time, opt for homemade custard and store-bought whipped cream.

PUMPKIN-GINGER TRIFLE
You can make the custard up to two days in advance. Once you’ve assembled the trifle, refrigerate and allow the ginger snaps to soften and the flavors to meld together, anywhere from 1 to 8 hours. Before serving, sprinkle the crystallized ginger over top.
Serves 8 to 10

for custard:
2 1/4 cups unsweetened pure pumpkin
3 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 cup light whipping cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch

for the base:
1/2 cup spiced rum
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup candied pecans, roughly chopped
14 to 18 ginger snaps

for the whipped cream:
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 tablespoons minced crystalized ginger

In a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat, cook the pumpkin for 5 minutes. You want most of the liquid from the pumpkin to have evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside.

To make the pumpkin custard, place the eggs, egg yolks, cream, milk, vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, salt and cornstarch in a saucepan and over medium heat, whisk the ingredients together until combined. Keep cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, 6 to 8 minutes. Whisk in the cooked pumpkin and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes. When finished, the custard can coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and allow the custard to cool slightly. Once it has cooled, cover the top with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate.

When you’re ready to assemble the trifle, place layer of ginger snaps on the bottom of a large, deep, glass bowl. Whisk together the rum, sugar and vanilla and pour this over the cookies.

At this point make the whipped cream. In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat together the cream and vanilla until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue beating until firm peaks form. Set aside.

Tumble the candied pecans over the wetted ginger snaps. Spoon the pumpkin custard over the nuts and then dollop the whipped cream over the custard. Sprinkle the crystallized ginger over the top. Serve chilled.