Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cream Cheese Danish vs. Ring Donuts

I’ve got this bread baking thing going lately and I don’t quite know why, but as long as it keeps working out it’s fun. Years ago after coming off of my first couple of successes in the kitchen feeling both brave and accomplished, I took a big step and decided to make French bread. I was immediately humbled when my loaf came out of the oven looking beautiful but heavy as a rock. I still don’t know what I did wrong but I was so disheartened that I wrote off bread making for years as something that I wasn’t good at and left the kneading and rising to Sara Lee and our local bakery.

Years later I found myself living in the UK craving any sort of soft, chewy, bakery item. Oh sure, the UK does have their own macabre version of cake and pastry but, and I apologize to my English friends right now, they are mostly dry and filled with some sort of sultana or currant, yuck (exceptions to this statement being the best dessert in the world, Sticky Toffee Pudding and the wonderful Victoria Sponge). I remember seeing an interview with Bruce Willis on BBC and he said although he loved their country he had to ask the English people what’s up with their donuts? Well Bruce, great hot little mini donuts can be found fried fresh as novelties at antique fairs and carnivals, but mostly their ring donuts used to really suck. I am so please to report that Krispy Kreme has now invaded the UK so things are looking up (thanks Jayne).

After a couple of years of this bakery deprivation, I decided to give yeast another try. I dug through my files and came up with a recipe from my favorite Southern Living Cookbook that looked like just what I had been missing. I carefully followed the directions and to my amazement I prepared the most delicious Danish pastry that I had ever eaten bar none. The bread is soft and tender with a delicate ribbon of cream cheese filling running through the center and finished with a thin sweet glaze spread on top. Soon this recipe had been passed around the whole of the East Midlands. Even my English friends were smitten with it. I left there a few years later feeling that I had left my mark on their taste buds; kind of like the Johnny Appleseed of yeast breads. I’m sure by now someone has bound to have stuffed them with dried currants, but I’ve done all I can do.

Nowadays I occasionally dust this recipe off and prepare it when I want to impress. Yesterday I took it to my third Front Range Foodies blogger meet up and I was as pleased as ever with the results. I don’t know if this recipe is foolproof or if my cooking skills have improved over the years but I’m willing to believe it’s just a great recipe that anyone can make.


Cream Cheese Danish Loaves

A couple of things about this recipe. Don't be put off by the fact that it needs to rise in the refrigerator for a minimum of 8 hours. With a little planning ahead you can have these delicious loaves fresh and hot and ready for a spectacular breakfast or brunch. This also makes enough for a small army. I often cut the recipe in half or prepare it to the point of the second rising and wrap the unneeded portions and freeze them for later. When you are ready to cook the frozen loaves, remove them from the freezer, unwrap and place them on a greased baking sheet, lightly covered in a warm place until they are thawed and doubled in size, approximately 2 hours or so before baking as directed. Finally, I discovered that 1 cup of granulated sugar in the blender (not food processor) for about 4 minutes or so makes great icing sugar in a pinch.

1 cup (250ml) sour cream
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (113g) butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 - .75 (21g) packages rapid rise or instant yeast
1/2 cup (125ml) warm water
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups (440g) all-purpose flour
Filling (recipe follows)
Glaze (recipe follows)

Combine sour cream, sugar, butter and salt in a saucepan; heat until butter melts. Cool to 105 – 115 degrees. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in sour cream mixture and eggs. Gradually stir in flour (dough with be sticky). Cover dough tightly and store in the refrigerator at least 8 hours.

Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Turn each portion out onto a heavily floured surface, and knead 5 or 6 times. Roll each portion into a 12 x 8-inch rectangle. Spread 1/4 of the filling over each rectangle, leaving a 1/2" margin around the edges. Carefully roll up dough jellyroll fashion, starting at long side; dampen outside seams and pinch to seal. Carefully place loaves, seam side down on greased baking sheets.

Make 6 equally spaced X shaped cuts across top of each loaf. Cover and let rise in a warm draft free place for about 1 hour or until they have doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Spread loaves with glaze while warm.
Yield: 4 – 12 inch loaves.

Filling

2 – 8 ounce (228g) packages cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with an electric mixer until well blended and fluffy.

Glaze

2 cups (250g) sifted icing (powdered) sugar
1/4 cup (60ml) milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients, stirring well to combine.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Holy Stromboli!

Many years ago I worked part-time for a wild woman caterer in Dallas. Chris was 100% Italian American with thick dark curly hair and an extra couple of pounds around her middle. She had a sharp sarcastic wit that no one could escape, but that was OK because we all knew if she picked on you that meant she loved you.

Probably her most important quality was her ability to cook anything well. She had some of the world’s greatest recipes up in that head of hers. Many of them were for the delicious variety of sandwiches that she sold out of her store front at lunchtime. Her tuna and egg salads were two of my favorites and I now admit that for some strange reason they are startlingly close to the ones featured here on my site (thank you Chris).

Looking back, I’m not sure if it was my ability to work both the front and back of the house or the fact that my husband had a pick-up truck with a top, but I was always asked to work every event.

Anyone who has ever worked in catering will testify to the fact that transporting food and supplies to a venue is an art in itself. Sometimes the better part of an hour is used packing, wedging and propping boxes, crates, jars and tubs just right so there won’t be any catastrophic events on the drive to the destination. I’m here to tell you no matter how hard you try to secure everything you usually land up trying to navigate the freeway while steadying a bus tub of meatballs in teriyaki sauce with your foot.

I’ll never forget on one occasion arriving at a small rental hall to set up for a wedding reception only to find that one of the chafing dish lids had taken flight during the trip and landed into the second tier of the wedding cake. Thanks to a bunch of fresh flowers, a couple of cans of Betty Crocker frosting and lots of imagination, we were able to camouflage it so well that even Bridezilla’s mother never knew the difference (thank you Jesus).

The one recipe that had to be the most requested by her clients was Chris’s recipe for pepperoni Stromboli. She started with homemade dough and filled it with tons of cheese and pepperoni. Since learning how to make her recipe all those years ago, I have no doubt made versions of it a hundred times for parties of my own. I have made it with caramelized onions, olives, mushrooms, roasted garlic, sundried tomatoes and every combination of cheese and meat you can imagine.

A couple of weeks ago when I was trying to decide what snack I would bring to my first food blogger meeting, this popped into my head. Since it is just as delicious warm or at room temperature it is perfect as a potluck dish. I have to say that it even held its own around the other bloggers' delicious dishes and that is saying a lot.

I highly recommend this recipe if you really want to present something extra special to your guests. Serve this with a side of olives and some chilled white wine and you’ll swear you’re in some place exotic like Dallas in the early 90s.

Pepperoni Ham and Cheese Stromboli

1 cup warm (110 degrees F) water
1 (1/4-ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 - 8 ounce package shredded Italian blend cheese
1 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, depending on taste
12 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni or 6 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni and 6 ounces thinly sliced deli ham, chopped
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, sugar, and oil and stir to combine. Let sit until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt, mixing by hand until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Continue adding the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, working the dough after each addition, until all the flour is incorporated but the dough is still slightly sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth but still slightly tacky, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spray a large mixing bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to oil all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough out on to a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half and roll each half our to a large rectangle that is about 1/4" thick. Sprinkle with half of the cheeses (leaving a 1" border on one long edge), followed by the Italian seasoning, pepperoni and/or ham or any other desired topping. I've seen some recipes that call to have the ingredients overlap but I like leaving some gaps so that the layers will stick together when it is sliced. Brush the clean long edge and short edges with beaten egg.

Starting with one of the long sides, roll dough and fillings up jellyroll fashion. Pinch edges to seal. Transfer roll to a non-stick baking sheet seam side down. Let rise for 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and ingredients; brush tops with beaten egg before placing in the preheated oven. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes; sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes before cutting into thick slices diagonally and serving.

Makes 2 loaves

This is really a fun a rewarding dish to prepare just don't rush it. I encourage to use your imagination with your filling ingredients. You really can't mess it up if you use your favorites.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Homemade Pappardelle and Life Outside My Comfort Zone

I’ve been kind of putting this blog off for a couple of days. Normally, a thought just strikes me and I take off with it and write it in my usual “too much information” way but not this time. This time the only thoughts filling my head have been those of a new camera that I purchased a few days ago. I knew the time would come when I’d have to upgrade from my little red $69.00 point and shoot, but I just wasn’t quite ready to make the leap; then I ran upon a deal at Target that was too good to be true and had to buy it. It’s been kind of like giving birth prematurely, you know it’s coming but you’re still not quite ready for the change when it happens. So here I sit with an instruction manual the size of War and Peace and more knobs and settings than I’ll probably ever use. No longer can I blame fuzzy photos on mechanical failure or camera limitation; bad photos are now 100% user error. This is where the rubber meets the road my friends. With this new camera there is no reason that eventually I shouldn't be the new Annie Leibovitz of the food blogging world. In theory my photos should make your mouth water and have you running to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for my featured recipe . . . well, we’ll see. So far I’ve taken so many photos of my dog that he’s beginning to roll his eyes when he sees me pick it up. It is now time to cook something to photograph and give him a rest.




Scruffy's "leave me alone" face

Lately I’ve seen some very inviting recipes for pappardelle, so I thought I’d cook one of my own. I shopped all over town without much luck in finding this pasta which is no more than a thin, extra wide fettuccini. You would think that this wouldn’t be so hard to find wouldn't you? Well long story short, I did manage to find it in two places, Williams Sonoma for about a gazillion dollars a package, and at Safeway for $5.99 for one pound. You’ve got to be kidding! As I see it I have three options, bite the bullet and pay the extortion money to Safeway (no way Jose), use an alternate shape of pasta (kind of defeats the reason of this post), or make my own without a pasta machine which seems a bit daunting, but hey, the Chinese and Italians made noodles for centuries before machines were invented so why can’t I? Besides, I went through an egg noodle making stage a few years ago and I actually got pretty good at it, so challenge on.

I hit the web and perused lots and lots of recipes and decided on one by Michael Chiarello because not only is he cute and stylish, but his recipe was written with rolling pins in mind. I had everything on hand but the cup of semolina the recipe called for which meant a “quick” trip to the bulk section of Whole Foods. An hour and a half and $40.00 in "necessities" later, I arrived back home and got to work. I was so excited that I was finally going to get to make a well in the center of something and work eggs into it with my fingers like I’ve seen so many chefs do so many times before. I am now here to testify that it is not as easy as it looks. A little known fact is that eggs are masters of escape and in the blink of any eye you can have egg dripping off the edge of your countertop onto your dog resting on the floor below.

Once I regrouped from the egg disaster, I replaced the guestimated amount of egg lost on Scruffy’s head and began mixing once again. I followed the recipe, kneading, resting, rolling and cutting and, despite the small setback, have to rate this experience a great success. The only caveat I’d like to add is that when rolling your pasta by hand, you have to roll it to a really paper thin consistency. It should almost be transparent because it thickens slightly as it absorbs water during cooking. This recipe makes a little less than a pound and a half which I find will feed 8 people nicely. Since I was only feeding three of us, I froze half of my pasta for later. I served it with a favorite simple little sauce of mine (recipe follows) and lots of grated Parmesan. It was a huge hit with my guys, much cheaper than store bought and so much fun to make. Buon appetito!


Homemade Pappardelle

1 3/4 cups (138g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (200g) semolina flour, plus more for dusting
6 large eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons olive oil
Salt

Make the dough. Sift both flours together on a large work surface and make a well in the center. Place the eggs, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then pour into the well; with a fork, break up the eggs, then gradually mix the wet ingredients into the flour mixture just until combined.

Knead by hand. Gather the dough into 2 equal-size balls; flour the surface. To knead each piece, push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, fold the dough over itself and turn it counterclockwise. Continue pushing, folding and turning until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes.

Rest the dough. Pat each piece into a ball. Flatten slightly, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. (You can freeze 1 ball for later, or roll out both and freeze the cut pasta.)

Roll out the dough. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and dust with flour. Starting in the middle, push away from you with a rolling pin, easing up on the pressure as you approach the edge. Continue rolling the dough into a sheet, turning occasionally, until you can see your fingers through the bottom. Let dry about 10 minutes.

Cut the pappardelle. Dust the top of the sheet of dough with flour and loosely roll it into a cylinder. Using a sharp knife, cut into 3/4-inch-wide slices. Unwrap the noodles; dust with semolina and gently toss to separate. Place on a sheet pan and cover with a tea towel until ready to cook (or freeze in freezer bags for up to 2 months).

Boil a large pot of highly salted water. Add desired amount of fresh or frozen pasta and cook to desired doneness (mine took approximately 10 minutes). Drain and top with your favorite sauce.


Spicy Italian Sausage Beef and Olive Sauce

1/2 pound (250g) mild Italian sausage
1/2 pound (250g) ground beef
2 nice size cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 – 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 – 28 ounce (794g) tin chopped tomatoes
1 cup or so green and black olives, sliced in half
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
Salt and black pepper to taste

Place sausage and ground beef in a large frying pan set over medium high heat; cook until golden brown, drain and set aside.

In the same pan that has been quickly wiped out (leaving some meat drippings in the pan), sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes over medium heat for one minute. Add the tomatoes, cooked meat, olives, and Italian seasoning; stir well and bring to a simmer before reducing the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so.

At this point you can remove the cover and continue simmering to reduce the sauce to desired consistency (I prefer the sauce to be a bit lighter so I stop here). Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve piping hot over pasta with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tin Cups and Tapioca

When I get bored or down in the dumps I like to get out of the house and do a little charity shop browsing. I have one shop in particular that I love above all others. It is located in an older part of town and as lifelong residents die or move away, their unwanted treasures land up on the shelves here. I can’t even remember all of the wonderful treasures that I have taken home from this place. My daughter alone has a dining table, an antique armchair, and two Drexel bedside tables in her apartment that I have lovingly refurbished to help give her a start in life. As I write I have a backlog of mid-century furniture gems in the garage patiently waiting for my caring hands and warmer weather.

In addition to the great furniture I find here, I most often go to do a little prop shopping for my blog. I hate to use any one dish or background too many times for fear of letting boredom set in so this gives me a good excuse to feed my addiction. I must admit that I love the people watching here too which is so good that it can only be rivaled by the people of the Renaissance festival. Every walk of life is well representated here. There are ladies who like to lunch, antique dealers on the down low, screaming children (lots and lots of screaming children), and of course the needy. What I find to be the most curious group of all are the cashiers who are all very pretty young women in their twenties. After much deliberation we have decided that they either pay their cashiers very well or they are strippers doing community service in their daytime hours.

Once I arrive on the scene, I have a mosey around the small but sometimes fruitful furniture section. From there it's on to the dish and glassware aisle where I always find a little something. Then last but not least, to the aisle that I like to call “the graveyard of good ideas”. On these shelves at any given time you can find some of the must haves of the 1970s and 80s. Where else can you stumble upon a handheld Merlin game, electric coffee mug warmers, hot air popcorn poppers, prehistoric microwaves and Holly Hobby slow cookers? By the way, if you are in the market for a VCR, tube TV, a half flat Hippity Hop or a 3 wheeled wheelchair, I can definitely hook you up.

On my most recent trip this week, I managed to find a pristine pink Mirror Go Lightly for my daughter, a couple of vintage glass items for my blog and a tin measuring cup for myself. I paid the hot strippers from the change in the bottom of my purse and bid them a fond farewell assuring them that I'd see them next week. My favorite acquisition this trip was definitely the tin measuring cup. I remember when I was really young I adopted my mother’s measuring cup as my own. There was just something about drinking an icy cold beverage out of a super conductive container that made me over the moon happy. A really fun treat was eating my cereal out of it or having my super cool mom fill it up with my favorite tapioca pudding. I don’t make this treat often enough these days because I don’t need the calories and my son doesn’t really like it (is he crazy?), but for old time’s sake I’m making a batch with a new flavor twist. Since I am making an Indian supper for some dinner guests tonight, I thought this would be the perfect dessert, but if they want it served in a tin measuring cup well, they’ll have to bring their own because this one's mine.




Vanilla Coconut Tapioca

When I was young there was nothing better in my opinion than plain old ice cold vanilla tapioca pudding. As I got older and started playing with my food and changing things around, I discovered how delicious it could also be when tweaked a bit. This is a great version that is a perfect ending for a Thai or Indian meal. For something even a little more different, try adding a half a teaspoon or so of lime zest or layer with a bit of chopped mango.

1 egg, separated
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca (I used coarsely ground Minute tapioca)
1 – 13.5 ounce tin coconut milk
2.5 ounces milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (good quality Mexican extract if possible)
Whipped cream for topping

Place egg white in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. While continuing to beat, gradually add 3 tablespoons of the sugar; set aside.

Place tapioca, remaining sugar, coconut milk, and coconut milk in a medium size saucepan. Quickly beat the egg yolk, add to the tapioca mixture in the saucepan and stir well; let mixture set for 15 minutes.

Place saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly until it comes to a full rolling boil. Remove from the heat and fold in the beaten egg white, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. Transfer to serving bowls and cool for at least 20 minutes or refrigerate until chilled through.

Serves 4