Saturday, February 24, 2007

Spinach Tart

Kinda made this one up as I went along.

1. Make the tart crust (or get one at the store... I like the cornmeal crusts they have at Whole Paycheck). This is one I like from Nick Malgieri's How To Bake (another terrific reference). In Cuisinart, pulse the following until combined:
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp unsalted butter

When combined (and resembling a coarse meal) add 1 egg and pulse until it forms a ball. Press the dough evently into a 10-inch tart pan. Chill in the fridge while making the spinach mixture. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Make a veloute in which to coat the spinach... Saute a large shallot in a couple tbsp butter until just translucent. Add a couple tbsp flour to make a roux. (If there's still butter unabsorbed, add more flour, but it shouldn't be so thick it can't "bubble.") Cook until light brown. Gradually add a cup or so of very hot chicken or veg stock while constantly stirring. If you need to whisk to get out the lumps, go ahead. Salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind you'll be adding olives later). If you felt like adding an egg, you could. (In a separate bowl, beat the egg, beat in a little bit of veloute, and then, off the heat, add the whole mix to the pan of veloute and combine well.)

3. Add a package of fresh or frozen baby spinach and stir to combine. Add feta crumbles to taste (maybe half a package?).

4. Put spinach into tart pan. Add kalamata olives, toasted pine nuts, toasted pecans or walnuts, and anything else that strikes your fancy.

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Creamed Hedgehog Mushrooms on Toast

Adapted from Food and Wine, Nov 1999

I made this all (or mostly) with stuff I found at the Dupont farmer's market one Sunday, and it was damn tasty. Makes 2 servings.

1 little bag of hedgehog mushrooms (the amount they sell you at the farmer's market... 1+ cups?) Hedgehog mushrooms are a lot like chanterelles.
1 tbsp butter
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tbsp cognac
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Saute the shallot in the butter until softened. Add the garlic and saute just 1-2 mins. Add salt and pepper, and then the brandy, and reduce until syrupy (won't take long with this much). Add the cream and simmer until thickened.

So here's what I discovered about real cream at this point... the stuff from the farmer's market... the non homogenized, minimally processed stuff with no additional ingredients (no carageenan or whatever like you get in even organic cream from Whole Foods)... It's freakin' indestructable! No worries about breaking this sauce. Better even than creme fraiche. Wow. (Panna cotta would be no problem... you can boil it to your heart's content.) I also discovered (later) that it whips if you just ask it nicely. Don't take anything motorized to this stuff. You'll get butter.

2. At the same time as step 1, in a separate pan, saute the mushrooms in a little bit of butter.

3. Combine. Spoon onto toast. Eat.


Beef Braised with Onions

From Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, which has become my favorite cook book of all time. The one cookbook I would take with me to a desert island. If I thought the island would have a reasonably good grocery store. This is super yummy, and great for leftovers.

1/4 lb pancetta
2 lbs boneless beef roast (ideally brisket or similar)
5 cloves
4 medium onions

1. Preheat oven to 325.

2. Find a heavy-bottomed pot that will go in the oven, has a tight cover and is big enough for the roast (but not too much bigger than the roast). I used an oval Le Creuset Dutch oven and it worked great. Slice (into slices, not dice) the onions very, very thin. Spread the onions on the bottom of the pot.

3 . Cut the pancetta into matchsticks. Distribute half of the pancetta over the onions in the pot. Then Marcella says to use a larding needle, or, failing that, a sturdy Chinese chopstick (not the pointed Japanese kind) to "lard" the meat with half of the pancetta. That is, stick the pancetta into the meat at various intervals. I guess I don't have any chopsticks, or a larding needle, and had some trouble finding an implement that would make this work as described. I finally ended up just making little incisions with a knife and sticking the pancetta in that way.

4. Insert the cloves in 5 of the "larding" holes. You might want to note where these are and remove them before serving.

5. Put the meat in the pot on top of the onions and pancetta. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cover the pot (if it doesn't cover securly enough, cover the pot with foil first, and then put the cover on top) and put in the uppermost rack of the preheated oven.

6. Turn the meat every 30 minutes or so. Marcella says to cook it for 3 1/2 hours, and it needs the whole time. I tasted after about 2 because I was hungry and hadn't planned very well. It was good, but nothing like the delicious caramelized stuff in the pot after 3 1/2 hours. So be patient.

Pretty Amazin Sticky Buns

These are from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, my go-to bread book, and a must-have if you're at all interested in bread making. The recipes are as dead-on reliable as Marcella Hazan's. (Though I haven't succeeded in making sourdough starter yet, but I think that's more to do with whatever local yeasts may or may not be living in my apartment...)

A favorite for weekend morning quartet rehearsals.

Peter Reinhart notes in the intro that the dough itself isn't really that rich, which is true (one egg, and just over half a stick of butter). But once you add in the sticky stuff, it's pretty decadent. The alternative would be to drizzle a glaze over the top, which would add plenty of sugar, but at least no more fat (and would still be pretty yummy). Both recipes are here.

6 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter (or shortening)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla (orig calls for lemon extract or grated lemon zest... that'd be good, too)
16 oz (3 1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/8-1/4 cups milk (orig recipe says whole or buttermilk, but I've always used skim or 1%)
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tbsp sugar plus 1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon)

The butter, egg and milk should all be at room temperature or the yeast won't perform as well. If you haven't had a chance to leave things out, you should definitely heat at least the milk in the microwave until it's no longer cold to the touch (but not more than about 110 degrees). Depending on your microwave, it might take 30-45 seconds. You could also take the chill off the butter in the microwave. If you want to warm the egg, you could stick it in some warm water for 10 minutes or so.

If you don't have a scale, note that for 3 1/2 cups of flour to be equivalent to 16 oz (or roughly 4.5 oz per cup) you need to use the "sprinkle" method of flour measuring (use a second cup measure to lightly sprinkle the flour into your main cup measure and don't pack it in or tap the cup). If you just scoop the the flour into the cup measure, you'll end up with roughly a 5-5.5 oz cup of flour.

I always use the mixer to make this, because it makes the whole process pretty trivial. But you could always do it the old fashioned way if you felt like it or wanted the kneading workout. Or if you wanted more time playing with the dough. This dough is beautiful dough to work with... just enough fat to make it smooth and silky and not at all sticky, but not so much that it's greasy.

1. Mixing: 20 mins Start with the paddle attachment in the mixer. Cream together the sugar, salt and butter. Add the egg and vanilla and whip until smooth. Add the flour, yeast and milk. Mix on low speed until combined. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium. You'll be mixing for about 10 minutes. The dough should come together in a ball more or less right away. If not, you may need to add more flour. After a minute or two, dough should have cleaned the sides of the bowl, and be sticking only slightly at the bottom of the bowl, if at all. If not, gradually add more flour. I've never seen it be too dry, so I don't know what that would look like, but you could add more water or milk.

You know you're done mixing (or kneading) when the dough passes the "windowpane test." Grab a hunk about the size of an egg, and see if you can stretch it so that it's translucent without any rippage (not even a little bit). The best way to figure out what I'm talking about is to try the test at various points in the mixing. You'll see how it rips early on, and gradually gets closer to the goal of a nice thin membrane. Don't worry about over mixing. Nothing really terrible happens if you mix for 12 minutes instead of 10. But if your dough doesn't pass the windowpane test, it means the gluten isn't fully developed, and your bread won't have the right texture. You can actually use this test in most bread recipes.

At this point, if you're not giddy about how beautiful and fantastic this dough feels, you've either done something wrong or I'm a little weird about these things.

2. First rise (ferment): 1-2 hours Cover the mixing bowl lightly and wait until the dough doubles in size. I don't bother oiling the bowl... the dough isn't going to stick. Depending on whether your ingredients were at room temp, and the temperature in the room, and the potency of your yeast, this could take anywhere from 1-2 hours. I've never had it take longer than that, but if you need to wait longer, maybe your kitchen is just cold.

3. Shape the buns: 10 mins I use a 9 x 9 brownie-type pan, but sometimes when the dough is really active, that seems a bit small. I may look for a slightly larger pan. Butter or oil the pan, even if it's non-stick. If you're making sticky buns, take the sticky bun carmel yumminess (recipe below) and spread it about 1/4 inch thick on the bottom of the pan. Put the dough on a clean surface. You shouldn't need flour... it won't stick. Flatten it out into a rectangle about 18 inches wide and a half inch thick. (I just use my hands, but you could use a rolling pin.) Spread the cinnamon sugar over the dough (at this point you could also add a judicious sprinkling of raisins, nuts, dried fruit, whatever) and then roll the dough up away from you into a log. I usually make 9 rolls, so cut the log into 9 roughly equal pieces (about 2 inches thick) and arrange them in the pan. If you're not going the caramel yumminess route, you can also just plop them on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

4. Proof: 75-90 mins at room temp, or overnight in the fridge If you're proofing at room temp, just be sure they've doubled in size again. Otherwise, you can keep them in the fridge (which slows the final proofing) for up to 2 days. If you go this route, they need to sit at room temp for 3-4 hours before baking, first to come up to room temp, and then to finally get a chance to proof.

5. Bake at 350: 30-40 mins Be sure to preheat the oven. I've just noticed that the recipe says to put the sticky buns in the lowest oven rack. I generally put them in the middle. NOTE: If you're going the non-caramel/baking sheet route, bake them for 20-30 mins, and in the middle of the oven.

Be sure the middle one(s) are really done before you take them out of the oven. The outer ones tend to brown before the middle ones, so don't be tempted to take them out too early.

6. If you can possibly stand it, let them sit at least 20 minutes before serving. If you didn't use the caramel sauce in the bottom of the pan, now would be the time to drizzle them with glaze.

Caramel Yumminess
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla or lemon extract
1/2 cup corn syrup, Lyles Golden Syrup, honey... whatever

Cream the sugars, salt and butter for a minute or 2. Add the syrup and extract and beat until fluffy.

This makes a little more than you need, but keeps well in the fridge or freezer.

2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup warm milk
1 tsp (or to taste) vanilla, lemon extract, rum, grand marnier, whatever

Mix it all up.


Adapted from Rogers/Gray Italian Country Cookbook.

This is basically vegetable soup with bread. It's hearty and yummy... good winter comfort food. I first had it when I was visiting my sister in Florence. Since the version in Rogers/Gray is vegan, I traditionally make it for my vegan friends, but I know the stuff I had in Florence had meat. If you're serving omnivores, you could definitely start this off with some pancetta, and then add maybe some ham or sausage.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
most of a bunch of celery (orig recipe calls for 2 whole bunches... this seemed... excessive)
1 lb carrots, chopped
2 medium red onions, chopped (orig recipe calls for 4)
olive oil
1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes, juices drained
couple of big bunches of dinosaur kale (the really dark green kind) and/or Swiss chard and/or finely chopped Savoy cabbage (orig recipe calls for 4 1/2 lbs, so kale/chard/cabbage should weigh about that, total)
3 cans of cannelini or borlotti beans, maybe some chick peas (orig recipe says cook your own, which you should feel free to do if that floats your boat)
1-2 loaves of day-old ciabatta
salt and pepper

This is a big soup, the orig recipe says for about 10 people. You'll need a BIG pot. My 13 quart stock pot is generous, but not overly so. So you may want to cut it back a bit.

1. Saute parsley, garlic, celery, carrots and onions in olive oil for a good 30 mins. Add the tomatoes (break them up into small pieces) and cook another 30 mins. Add the kale/chard/cabbage and 2 of the cans of beans and simmer another 30 mins.

2. Puree the last can of beans and add to the soup. Cover all with hot water. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper. You can make up to this point ahead.

3. To serve, add ripped up pieces of bread and simmer until the bread is soft and the soup is thick. Serve with good olive oil drizzled on top.