Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Got Leftovers? Make Fried Rice!

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That's what I did after two days of eating Christmas ham. You can only eat so much leftover ham! After all, fried rice is a dish of leftovers -- throw in whatever meat and vegetables you have in the fridge. The rice, in fact, must be at least a day old or you get gluey fried rice. So save the white rice from your takeout order, or make a pot of rice the night before.  Then throw it all together, and you've got yourself a new meal.  If you don't have or don't eat ham (or shrimp), try chicken, roast pork, or your favorite vegetables.  I was also only too eager to break in the new wok I got for Christmas, and I've been wanting to cook more Chinese food (you know, heritage and all).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Has Anyone Seen My Linzer Cookies?

Photo updated December 2012
I can finally publish this post now that my sister knows I sent her a package of linzer cookies.  Bad news is, she still hasn't received them, and I sent them by priority shipping over a week ago!  I told her that some neighbor has to be chewing on them now.  At least I have this photo here, so she can see what her batch looked like.  (I don't think she'll find that funny.)  Hazelnuts give the linzer cookie its great flavor, sweetened by raspberry jam, and cutout centers make them fun.  I bake them for her every year, but they can be a pain to make.  But this year, I have a recipe resulting in less swearing and other language not in the spirit of the holidays.


This King Arthur Flour version calls for hazelnut flour (essentially smushed-up nuts), eliminating the need the grind up my own nuts.  Never mind cracking them, like the first time I made these cookies.  Not fun.  It also doesn't call for repeatedly freezing the dough like my old Martha Stewart recipe.  Really, who has freezer space to devote to sheets of cookie dough, anyway?  As for the taste and texture, they're really so similar I might not be able to tell the two recipes apart in a taste test.  My vote is for this simpler one!  Merry Christmas, everyone!


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Potato Gratin

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This is a great dish for just a regular steak night, like we had tonight, but fancy enough to be a holiday dinner side dish with guests.  I was excited when I saw it in the newest issue of Martha Stewart Living, since I just got a mandoline as an early Christmas gift.  We already own a standard one -- it wasn't sharp enough to slice vegetables properly but it was sharp enough to slash our fingers.  It's collecting dust.  This ceramic blade mandoline is less fancy and doesn't come with a standing end and all sorts of blades, but it does exactly what I want it to.  The potatoes slice up just thin enough to layer in a creamy sauce topped with a cheesy crust.  And it's very possible that for the first time mashed potatoes might take a hiatus from my Christmas table in favor of another potato dish!

Potato Gratin
From Martha Stewart Living January 2010 Issue
Serves 6
2½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (I had Russets, which worked fine)
1 garlic clove, halved
1½ cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk (I used 1%)
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
3 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated, about 1 cup (I had white cheddar on hand)

Preheat oven to 375°.  Peel potatoes, and place in a bowl of water to prevent discolorng.  Rub inside of a 9-by-12-inch oval baking dish with cut sides of garlic.  Heat cream, milk, nutmeg, and 1½ teaspoons salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form around edge.  Season with pepper.  Remove from heat.

Meanwhile slice potatoes ⅛ inch thick; transfer to a bowl.  Pour warm cream mixture over top.  Mix well, using your hands to separate and coat potatoes, then transfer to prepared dish.  Gently push potatoes down, and pour cream mixture from bowl over top.  Sprinkle with Gruyere.  Bake (with a baking sheet placed on the rack below to catch drips) until potatoes are fork tender and top is bubbling and brown, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

A mandoline helps you create thin, uniform slices.

In dish before cream is poured on top.

Cheesy and crunchy on top.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bacon Cheddar Chive Scones

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These scones were SO good after shoveling snow up to my knees outside, with flakes still falling everywhere.  I trudged back in, chilly and worn out, and baked these up.  They were delicious warm out of the oven, flaky but slightly gooey with the cheese.  I've only eaten sweet scones before, but this savory recipe has won me over.  Salty bacon, sharp cheddar, and fresh chives make the perfect wintry breakfast.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas Cookies, Take 2

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My second try with royal icing came out a zillion times better!  It dried up hard and shiny in about an hour, unlike that goopy mess from the first batch.  The keys to my success: a new recipe and gel food coloring.

The liquid food coloring just thins out the icing so much that it takes forever to dry.  And when it did dry, the icing became separated and grainy.  These gels worked out great, along with the squeeze bottle with piping tip.

I let the base coats dry before piping decorations on top.

The green set.

This time, I went to Baking911's page on Royal Icing and used the recipe for Outline Consistency.  Here's how I adapted it:

2½ tbs meringue powder (in the baking aisle, or at party or craft stores)
8 oz. confectioners sugar
¼ cup lukewarm water

Mix for 10 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment.  Spoon out a third of the mixture into an airtight container -- this will be your portion for piping.  Turn the mixer back on and add 2 tbs water.  Scrape that into other airtight containers and stir in colorings.  If it's too stiff for your needs, add a tiny amount of water; if it's too runny, add confectioners sugar until it gets to the right consistency.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Decorated Christmas Cookies

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To kick-start the spirit of the season at home, we made these decorated butter cookies in ornament shapes.  The dough was easy to make and we took turns rolling it and cutting out the shapes, assembly-line style.  I like it more than the standard sugar cookie, which often has no flavor except plain old sugar.  These have a sweetness offset by just a hint of saltiness and a nice buttery flavor.  Decorating them was a pain.  If you use royal icing, set aside a lot of time to dry, and know that colors darken as they sit.  Using half a bottle of red coloring was an error!  And use powdered or gel coloring if you can -- I have a feeling the liquid coloring added lots of hours to the drying time.  More on that later.  I had planned to mail these out to someone, but 24 hours later some still were not dry.  Oh well, more cookies for us!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Cannoli


Except this month we're the Daring Fryers! I missed the challenge deadline by a day, but better late than never, right? Who sets a deadline for the day after Thanksgiving anyway? I was still recovering from cooking, eating, and baking two of these!


So this was my rush job. I rarely deep-fry, but you might not believe me if you saw the applesauce doughnuts I made earlier this month. Making the cannoli was easy except for the rolling -- the dough has a knack for springing back so the square never seemed to get bigger. But the shells came out crispy and delicious, and I flavored the ricotta filling with vanilla bean and some maple syrup, for that touch of autumn.  A lot of people aren't familiar with cannoli, which used to stun me. I grew up in an Italian neighborhood where they were readily available, but when I moved to other states people would ask, "Is that like ravioli?" If you're one of these people, don't get put off by the strange concept of filling deep-fried pastry with cheese. It whips up light and is so good when sweetened.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Applesauce Doughnuts

I've been bad.  I buy doughnuts maybe once a year, and have never made them at home.  I wasn't interested.  Why add more deep-fried fatty goodness to my diet?  But then King Arthur Flour sent me a trial issue of The Baking Sheet.  I shrugged at all the recipes until I got to the back cover, and the photo of the Applesauce Doughnuts was irresistible.  They looked real easy to make, and I love the fun look of the doughnut hole as opposed to the doughnut with the hole in it.  The insides are moist with a slight apple flavor and the outsides crisp.  Go ahead and make it . . . I'll feel less guilty if I have company!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Candied Sweet Potato Cupcakes

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These cupcakes are just too cute.  They have a mild sweet potato flavor and are topped with toasted marshmallows.  They're a nice change of pace from frosting and faster to make.  If you're too busy during the holidays to make sweet potato pie, consider this quick treat.  Recipe after the jump.

The potatoes were a cinch to prepare.  I tossed them in my toaster oven for an hour the night before, and refrigerated them.

I don't recommend using the food processor to puree them, since you need a liquid to help the process along.  I ended up scraping them into a bowl, using a potato masher, and then back into the food processor for good measure, since I already dirtied the work bowl and blade.

Whipping up a creamy batter.

It looks curdly after adding the sweet potatoes, but it'll work itself out.

You can see flecks of sweet potato in the cups.  I used a cupcake pan instead of the muffin pan the recipe calls for, and ended up with 29 instead of 24 cupcakes.  The baking time and temperature remain the same.

Toasted marshmallow how-to: Group mounds of marshmallows, about 7 or 8 of them to a mound, on a silicone mat.

Stick them for a minute or two under the broiler, and watch carefully!  The marshmallows will swell and start to meld together.  Remove them when you get the desired coloring, and place atop cupcakes immediately. Recipe after the jump.

Rose's Banana Refrigerator Cake


A quickie post on Rose Levy Beranbaum's Banana Refrigerator Cake, since I'm playing catch-up.  This one is a lot like banana bread, but less dense and with a tender crumb, and topped with Rose's Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting (silly name).  I normally dislike white chocolate, but the thin layer was a nice and not-too-sweet accompaniment.


Rose writes that the cake stays soft even in the refrigerator because oil is used instead of butter, hence the name.  The cake is simple enough to make, although you may not have the white chocolate and turbinado sugar on hand, but it's nice for an occasional Sunday.  Think of it as a fancier banana bread.  If you want the recipe, shoot me a message or leave a comment!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cooking Malaysian with Mom

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So I finally made it back to New York for a long weekend with the family, and did I eat well!  I had Dominican steak and plantains with my sis and her roommate in Washington Heights, brunch out with sis and mom, and a stroll around Chelsea Market.  I also had dinner at Locanda Verde with Bao, who's written some food pieces for the New York Times City Room blog and suggested a three-course dessert at Chikalicious.  I said, "Twist my arm, why don't you?"  I tried steak tartare for the first time and liked it, along with our fritto misto, pumpkin agnolotti, and halibut saltimbocca.  And it was fun to see the dessert chefs prepare my darjeeling gelee with pear sorbet; warm chocolate tart with pink peppercorn ice cream; and coconut marshmallow, spice cake petit four, and lavender chocolate truffle.

Watching bread bakers at Chelsea Market

Brunch starters

But I did some cooking as well, with my mom.  She showed me how to make some Curry Shrimp and a Shrimp and Roast Pork Mei Fun.  Some mei fun versions are soy sauce-based, and others, like this one, use a curry sauce.  I love to eat both.  Like lots of old-school Chinese cooks, she doesn't measure or time things, write down recipes, or make them the same way every time.  So I estimated measurements and took notes, helping out when asked and snapping photos.  She wasn't used to the last part, but seemed amused by it.  So I've decoded my garbled notes and estimates, and hopefully when I make the dishes on my own I'll have gotten them all right!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

White Velvet Cupcakes & Buttercream

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I was craving childhood cupcakes.  My mom used to make the yellow cake from the box and top it with frosting from the can, and little could make me happier as a kid.  This is like the grownup version.  The flavors are essentially the same, but with that baked-from-scratch goodness and slight sophistication.  After all, I dressed them up with sugar pearls.  This White Velvet Cupcake is moist and has such a tender crumb, and the Chocolate Buttercream is better than anything ever sold in a can.

The recipes come from Rose Levy Beranbaum's new book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes.  This is not a book of the quick and easy, not for whipping up on a random Sunday afternoon.  This book is for making grand cakes, wedding cakes, cakes to impress the pants off someone.  They're beautiful, of course, and no doubt delicious, but many looked so time-consuming.  This cupcake was great because it didn't require too much effort or time, and a photo editor at work told me it was "the best cupcake I've ever had."

I watched a video of Rose's where she pointed out that your average frosting usually has a slight grainy texture.  This is because the sugar or confectioners sugar is uncooked, and all those granules are just beaten in.  This buttercream, on the other hand, dissolves the sugar over heat and makes use of some corn syrup, resulting in the smoothest buttercream imaginable.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Apple Pie, 2.0

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I can't help it -- it's an old favorite, especially in the fall!  I'm kind of recycling a post, but I really do use my tried and true recipes over and over again.  And with the weather getting chilly, it's been perfect lately for turning on that oven and making something comforting.  Plus, it fills your home with the most wonderful aromas of apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg.


This time, I added some apple cutouts for a decorative touch. Bake them on a sheet pan for 10 minutes while the pie is baking. When the pie has cooled a bit, affix your cutouts using some corn syrup.

This recipe is from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible.  Her cream cheese pie dough has become my favorite for its flakiness, slight tang, and ease in rolling out.  She explains in the book that cream cheese has a high water content that's great for the pastry.  My other reasons for liking this pie (the baking reasons, not the obvious eating ones) include baking the pie on a baking stone on the floor of the oven to avoid that awful soggy bottom crust, and cooking the juices of the apples to concentrate the flavor.  True, I spent a good few hours making this, but the extra steps are rewarding in the end.  Keep in mind when planning that you can't eat it for a few hours, or the juices will run out everywhere before they've had a chance to set.  I won't repost the recipe, since you can find it here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cinnamon-Sugar Puff Pastry Twists

025Don't throw away those puff pastry scraps!  A lot of work goes into puff pastry, so every piece is precious.  After making the vols-au-vent for the Daring Bakers September challenge, I saved the dough after I cut out the rounds and rerolled them to make puff pastry straws.  These are twisted with cinnamon sugar, and so good.

If you don't have any fresh puff pastry or scraps, the storebought dough in the freezer section would work great, too.

Rerolled puff pastry doesn't rise as high, but that isn't required for these straws, so it's a good way to use up scraps.  After I finished cutting out the rounds, I stacked the dough and gently rerolled it.  The dough was wrapped and chilled in the freezer for a later use.

After a thaw in the fridge, I rolled the dough out to about 1/4 inch thick, trying my best to get it in a straight rectangle.  I beat an egg with a bit of water, and in another bowl stirred 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar with 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.  Brush the egg wash over the surface of the dough, and then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the dough.

Using a tape measure and pastry wheel, cut strips of dough 1/2 inch wide.

The strips are then twisted by hand.  Aren't they pretty?

Lay them on a silicone mat and press the ends down into the mat to help the straws hold their shape.  Chill in the fridge to firm up while the oven preheats to 375 degrees.  Bake for about 20 minutes, until they are puffed and golden.

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They're really attractive for laying out at a party.  Simply place a bunch of straws on a platter, or stick them upright in a glass or vase.  Try other variations of puff pastry straws with spice mixes, poppy seeds, jam, or chocolate.


I also made a Parmesan version on another try, here on the left.  Hmm... they kind of look like french fries.  The ones on the right are cinnamon-sugar.  Make them the same way, sprinkling an ounce of shredded parmesan over the dough.  But fold the top half over the bottom, gently reroll a few times to seal, and then lightly brush your new surface with the egg wash for some color.  Cut, twist, and bake just like with the cinnamon-sugar twists.  I can tell you, those glasses are empty now.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge: Vols-au-vent


I've learned how to make puff pastry!  I have to admit that while I'm snobby about some baked goods, like a prejudice against storebought frozen pie crust, I've always fully supported buying frozen puff pastry.  It's laborious to make, and the stuff in the freezer case is pretty good.  This month's challenge called for making vols-au-vent.  They're the round cases of puff pastry, and the fillings were up to us.  I chose Blackberry Mousse, and Warm Brie with Raspberry.


The mousse wasn't the best I've ever had, so I won't post the mediocre recipe, but it did look pretty. The brie vols-au-vent were delicious, and the flavors were offset with tart and slightly sweet raspberry.  I was afraid a slip-up in technicalities might result in flat puff pastry, but these rose nicely.  The hardest part was beating the cold butter flat.  Sometimes you see TV chefs whip out a rolling pin and bang something around, and they talk about how stress-relieving it is.  Not for me!!  I had to use serious muscle to beat the cold, hard stuff into submission, and was glad the neighbors weren't home to hear the racket.  It also made everything else on the counters clang, and I can't say I'll be abusing butter with a rolling pin the next time I have a bad day.

The rest of the process went like this:

 A basic dough without butter is quickly whizzed up in the food processor.

The dough rolls out nicely.

You roll out the four corners to create flaps, with the center remaining thicker and slightly raised.

That is ONE POUND of butter.  Which equals 4 sticks.  This is not for dieters.

Fold a flap over to begin making your "butter sandwich."

Get the remaining flaps as well.

Then roll it all out.  You can kind of make out where the sticks of butter are.  They shouldn't be poking through like that, but it's hard to work it in evenly.  And it turned out all right.

Fold the sides in like a letter.  This is what's called a turn, the first of six to incorporate the butter evenly.  You roll it out again and repeat.

Bakers poke holes in the dough when resting it to remind them how many turns it has undergone.  Here, the three holes represent three turns.  It's imperative that the dough remain cold and not start oozing butter or sticking, and that you brush off excess flour.

You can attempt two to four turns before sticking it in the fridge.  I made it to four, but it was starting to get melty so I quickly stuck it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I rolled the dough through the final two turns, for a grand total of six.

You cut out small rounds of dough, and then poke holes in half of them.  I didn't have a cutter small enough for the holes, so here I used a cannoli mold.

The rounds make up the bases of the vols-au-vent, and you poke them with a fork for steam to escape.  The rounds with holes make up the sides of the upper half.  The cutouts can be saved for another use that doesn't require high rise, or saved as caps to top the filling with.

They're brushed with egg wash, and for the first part of their stay in the oven they're covered with a silicone mat.  The light weight helps them bake up evenly, and they come out beautiful and golden.  On subsequent uses I found that waxed paper wasn't ideal and stuck to the dough, so a silicone mat or parchment paper is better for the sheet pan.

Look how tall and flaky this beauty is!  Stay tuned . . . I'll tell you what I did with the leftover dough!

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Puff pastry (aka pâte feuilletée) is something most of us usually buy at the grocery store,