Friday, February 21, 2014

Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Pull-Apart Bread

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Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Pull-Apart Bread

Gruyere, caramelized onions, and thyme -- this could be my favorite out of all the breads I've ever made.  I love a simple country loaf with just butter or olive oil, or naked if the bread is that good, but this pull-apart bread has so much going for it.  There are lots of cheesy pull-apart bread recipes out there, including convenient ones that call for layering storebought bread with cheese and then baking it.  But a yeasted bread you baked from scratch is special.  There's something about the beer-like smell of the yeast, watching the dough rise, and the intoxicating aroma of the gruyere, onions, and butter filling the house.  Have I got you hooked yet?

Gruyere and Caramelized Onion Pull-Apart Bread

This bread sure put a smile on my face.  I've been sick for four weeks.  The doctor said it was the flu or a virus like it, and that it came and went in waves because I had gotten the flu shot and saved myself from the full-force flu.  That sounds like a good thing, but week after week of sore throats, sniffles, chills, nausea, and headaches tapped me out.  Never mind the nonstop snowstorms we've had.  But now that I'm almost 100 percent, I wanted to bake.  The hands-on process of bread-making is methodical and soothing, and the result was pure comfort food.  I also finally got around to working on my next dining review for the paper, so I feel like I'm getting back into the swing of things again.  At least on all the food front.

This recipe is from Williams-Sonoma's blog, and I didn't change it much.  One problem was that it called for a particular type of flour that is no longer available, so I used a blend of all-purpose and bread flours.  It also called for mustard seeds and I didn't have any, so I subbed in whole-grain Dijon mustard.  I also reduced the butter a tiny bit, but worry not, there's still plenty in there.  The bread will have crusty, cheesy edges, and soft centers sweet with caramelized onions and butter.  The next time a blizzard comes your way, make sure you've got gruyere and onions, then settle in for pure winter comfort.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Flour's Tortilla with Chorizo, Peppers & Potato

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Spanish Tortilla with Chorizo, Pepper and Potato

I've been making liberal use of my oven during the recent snowstorms and "polar vortex," the better to warm up the house. Icy, grey mornings call for a hearty breakfast or brunch like this tortilla.  Red peppers are sauteed and potatoes get browned before pouring in an egg mixture laced with Parmesan, and then the skillet is thrown in the oven to finish.  You can keep the recipe vegetarian as is, or add some chorizo like I did.  Joe particularly loves chorizo, and I like its salty bite.

Spanish Tortilla plated

Sprinkle on some chopped scallions and parsley for freshness, then slice into wedges.  I like that the tortilla can be served hot or at room temperature, and that you can make it a day or so in advance and reheat when serving.  Perfect if you want to get a head start before house guests arrive, or getting one weekend brunch dish out of the way.

Spanish tortilla

Making a Spanish tortilla usually involves flipping the eggs, hot skillet and all, onto a plate, and then sliding the filling back into the skillet to cook the other side.  I'm not a fan of inverting piping-hot cast iron skillets with ingredients that could still be runny, so I'm glad this recipe involves no flipping!  When the next snowfall hits, I hope this is in my oven.  It'll sustain us through lots of shoveling.  Stay warm, friends!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

White Chocolate-Macadamia Cookies, plus Christmas Roundup

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White Chocolate-Macadamia Cookies

Happy 2014!  I had plans to cook and bake so many things and share them with you last month, including these White Chocolate-Macadamia Cookies.  That all went out the window as the holiday season got so busy.  I love that time of year, but it's downright stressful and tires me out.  Even my vacation time was hectic since we hadn't gotten around to sending out cards, getting a tree, or shipping out the annual family cookies.  And my sister has to have her cookies -- it was our birthday!  We're Christmas twins and my dad's birthday is in the same week, so it's always a big time of year in my family.

Christmas cat collage

Another thing that kept us busy was our new family member!  Joe and I adopted Betty from the local shelter a few days before Christmas.  Her name is enormously popular among our friends and family, so we'll probably get grief for changing it, but right now we're thinking Katsu.  Yes, like the Japanese pork cutlet. but I've changed it to Dorie, after one of my favorite bakers.  We lost our second cat, Shnooky, in September, and we were ready for another furry love.  She has the prettiest green eyes and a crazy coat striped and patched with marmalade, white, grey, and black.  As you can see, she made herself right at home.  She loves playing with toy mice and the laser pointer, and has taken to drinking from the bathroom faucet.  It took Gandalf a few days to warm up to her, but now they chase each other and play daily at the crack of dawn while we're trying to sleep.  And on Christmas Day we found them snuggling together!  Gandalf, my loveybug, likes to sit under the Christmas tree like he's out in the wild.

Hot Chocolate on a Stick

But just because I wasn't posting doesn't mean my kitchen wasn't seeing lots of use.  This year we included Hot Chocolate on a Stick (recipe by Giver's Log) in our cookie baskets.  Who wouldn't want hot cocoa with their cookies? You stir it into a mug of hot milk, and it's instant hot chocolate!  I also made homemade Vanilla Marshmallows, and you can kind of see a snowflake-shaped one in the back piped with dark chocolate.

Braided Lemon Bread

For my friends' British-themed Christmas party, I made Braided Lemon Bread filled with lemon curd.

Unbaked Mini Cornish Pasties

I also made my Mini-Cornish Beef Pasties for the party.  These are ready to go in the oven.

Christmas Butter Cookies

This year I switched up the Christmas Butter Cookies -- Joe's dad's favorite -- by decorating them with white chocolate instead of royal icing.  White chocolate dries so much faster.

Linzer Cookies 2013

And everybody else's favorite is the Linzer Cookie.  It's labor-intensive for me, so it's reserved for Christmas and maybe Valentine's Day also.  Everybody just loves the hazelnut cookies sandwiched with jam and dusted with snowy sugar.

The new cookie this year was the White Chocolate-Macadamia.  This recipe by chocolate baking expert Alice Medrich is not overly sugary like those storebought versions, and the oats give it some hearty flavor.  The cookies come out soft and chewy with crisp, golden bottoms.  The dough needs to sit in the fridge for at least two hours, so plan ahead.  I didn't love the cookies as I'd hoped, but I should disclose that I'm not usually a fan of white chocolate.  I fall into the camp of people who find it inferior to "real" chocolate.  But if you like white chocolate, this cookie's for you.  You can also make the dough ahead of time, scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, freeze until hard, and bake when needed.  Store them in zip-top bags in the freezer once they've fully hardened.  They'll bake at the same temperature and time, and add a minute or two to the baking time if needed.

Here's to 2014!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Boston Globe Review: The Corner Stop

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Shrimp and Grits
Photo by Barry Chin/Globe Staff
My review in today's Globe South in The Boston Globe covers The Corner Stop, a restaurant that sits where the towns of Cohasset, Hull, and Hingham converge.  It's more sophisticated than its humble name suggests, and calls its menu modern American.  I'd call it upscale comfort food.  It's also got remarkable decor and is one of the prettiest restaurants I've seen.

Read the rest of my verdict at: http://b.globe.com/KehTrN

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mini-Cornish Pasty

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Mini-Cornish Beef Pasties

I'm continuing my autumn pie-mania with a savory turn today: the Cornish pasty.  I know, I know, it's past unofficial pie season and we're now in cookie season!  But this pie lover thinks it should always be pie season.  I also hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving as much as I did.  We got to spend it with our families, which is a treat when you've spent as many Thanksgivings working in a newsroom as I have.  And I started out stressed, thinking about all the things I could cook and bake and how to make everything perfect.  Then I loosened up.  My pumpkin pie looked imperfect.  I helped Mom make the meal instead of interfering with the planning or trying to take over.  I shrugged when the the table wasn't styled like a magazine spread.  Because the whole family was together, and it was a darned good meal.  A plentiful one.  My dad suddenly bought lobsters, of all things, Thanksgiving morning.  My brother went out and bought Italian cookies and a ricotta pie.  "Gee, you think we have enough?" I asked them.  And then we feasted.

Audrey baker
My niece, Audrey, on Thanksgiving. She's going to be my apprentice baker one day.
Let's say this is a pie sendoff before I kick off cookie season.  Some friends are throwing a British-themed Christmas party this weekend, and I will be bringing these Cornish pasties.  They're like beef stew in pie form, the flaky pastry filled with beef, carrots, onion, and potato.  And because people will be milling around the party and there will be lots of other food, I made them minis.

Pasties unbaked

Besides scaling them down, I adjusted the filling.  The recipe doesn't call for cooking it before the pies go into the oven, but I figured beef and vegetables steamed in a crust can't taste as good as the pan-seared and sauteed variety.  I put that to the test by making them two ways, and I was right.  The uncooked filling was bland (though Joe was happy to polish those pies off), but the cooked filling was aromatic and full of flavor.  The recipe, from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain, also included zucchini and butternut squash in the filling.  I kept the ingredients closer to that of a traditional beef stew, and I didn't want watery squash or the trouble of dicing hard butternut anyway.  Swap in whatever you like -- the recipe suggests peas, fava beans, or asparagus in spring.

I won't lie -- these are kind of a production.  But worth it!  Don't attempt the whole thing in one day.  Make the dough one or two days ahead, the filling one day ahead or the day of.  Give yourself time to roll and re-roll the dough and assemble the pasties.    They can be fully assembled, frozen, and baked later.  When done, reward yourself with a beer and a couple pasties.  They'll make a great holiday party starter, or a hearty winter lunch.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

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Salted Caramel Apple Pie portrait

You might be asking, another pie??  But it's pie season, and this one is so good!  This is not just any apple pie, but one with homemade salted caramel stirred into the filling, and additional caramel poured on top when served.  The big apple slices hold their shape and juiciness, and the caramel makes the filling wonderfully saucy.

Salted Caramel Apple Pie

This pie is also different because I finally decided to test-drive a recipe for a yogurt-butter crust, and I can report that it is super flaky and easy to roll out.  It wasn't so easy to assemble.  For the first time I used a handheld pastry blender like the recipe called for, rather than my food processor.  I've concluded that I'm lazy and prefer the machine, plus I feel like the machine works the dough less.  And we all know that working the dough less ensures tender pastry.  Also, while the yogurt works as a tenderizer, there simply wasn't enough moisture to bring the dough together.  I added about a quarter-cup extra water along with another teaspoon of yogurt.  I could chalk this up to the awfully dry conditions at home during fall and winter.  But continuing to work in the extra liquid made me afraid I was overworking the dough.  The pastry still came out tender, but next time I'll go the lazy route and use the machine.

Puff Pastry Apple Tartlet
Part of my autumn pie madness: puff pastry apple tartlets thrown together at a moment's notice
Finally, the caramel is simple to make, and I didn't even break out my candy thermometer.  But if you're short on time, I think storebought salted caramel would work just as well.  One last tip: I'm always afraid of crystallization when making caramels and syrups, so I put the lid on the pot for 2 minutes during the vigorous stage of boiling -- the steam builds up and washes down the sides, along with any crystals that have formed.  Both the pie dough and the caramel can be made a day or so in advance, and refrigerated until needed. Microwave the caramel to make it warm and pourable before using.  Have a good Thanksgiving, folks, and may it be filled with pie.

Looking for other Thanksgiving dessert ideas?  Here's a few:

Thanksgiving Collage


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pear Custard Tart

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Pear Custard Tart portrait

I've been on a pie-baking frenzy this fall, and I don't think I've run out of steam yet!  The latest is this Pear Custard Tart.  Bartlett pears are poached with vanilla bean and orange peel, then layered in a buttery crust and soaked in a vanilla custard before being baked and topped with toasted almonds.  It sounds amazing, and yet the result is understated.  The first day I found it plain and was a bit disappointed, but on the second day the flavors had developed -- the pears had more of a presence and the custard and almonds complemented them well.

Pear Custard Tart

I'm chalking the difference up to using pears that could have been more ripe, and not including the brandy the recipe called for.  We rarely have hard stuff in the house, but this simple tart could use something to punch it up.  I would definitely make it again, using riper pears and the brandy.  The tart doesn't have loud flavors: no chocolate, cinnamon, clove, or cayenne.  Still, it's gorgeous, elegant, and tasty (at least on the second day), and would make a light but showy finish to a Thanksgiving feast.