Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Stollen

The last Christmas baking project was the making of an authentic Christmas Stollen. It was definitely the most involved project, since it required 3 risings of the dough, plenty of kneading by our resident kneading expert (Mihai), discoveries of new ingredients in the local suburban supermarket (dried currants), and many hours devoted to the process on Christmas Day. The results were mixed - I found the Stollen we collectively created a little dry, but my stepfather seemed to enjoy it more than any of our other baking projects, so I guess it just depends on your taste.

Christmas Stollen
Adapted from Under the High Chair

6-8 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yeast
1½ cups warm milk
¼ cup dried cherries
¾ cup golden raisins
¾ cup currants
1½ cup almonds, chopped
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups butter, plus extra for brushing loaves, at room temperature
3 eggs
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons rum

1. In a large bowl, combine warm milk and yeast. Allow to sit 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved. Add 1 cup of the sifted flour and mix to form a sponge. Let sit in a warm place until doubled.

2. Meanwhile, combine cherries, raisins, and almonds and set aside.

3. When sponge has sufficiently rested, beat the soft butter with an electric mixer. Beat in sugar and blend until light and creamy. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the salt, lemon rind, and rum. Mix in the fruit and nuts with a spatula. Add all the sponge and the remaining 5 cups flour. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if too sticky (we ended up adding around 1 more cup).

4. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.

5. To shape dough, toss it onto a floured board and divide in two. Pat dough into a rough oval and fold over one third of the dough lengthwise onto the other two thirds. Repeat with remaining dough. Place each loaf on its own baking sheet and brush with butter. Allow to rise again until almost doubled in bulk.

6. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake loaves for about 40 minutes until they are a dark golden brown.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cranberry Coffee Cake

I invited my high school friends to come over while I was at my mom's house for Christmas, since many of them also make the pilgrimage home - we couldn't get everyone, but 5 out of 7 of us got to see each other. When they came by, I had a fresh lemon pie ready for them, and also this cranberry coffee cake for something a little more conventional. While I baked the lemon pie under my mom's supervision, I just followed Deb's recipe for this one, with only minor modifications. The resulting cake is great - very nicely moist and tart, not at all dry. As my mom pointed out after the fact, an interesting experiment would be to make our family lemon pie with the cranberry filling instead (since both the lemon and the cranberries would do a good job striking the balance between sweet and tart). Perhaps this coffee cake can also be made with the lemon filling to complete the switcheroo.

Cranberry Coffee Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1¾ cups sugar
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (6 ounces)
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter a 9-inch round springform pan. Line bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter parchment.

2. Pulse cranberries with ½ cup sugar in processor until finely chopped (do not purée).

3. Mix together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together 1 stick butter and 1 cup sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add in the vanilla last and beat until well mixed. Add in the flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour, mixing with a spatula until just combined.

4. Spread half of batter in pan, then spoon cranberries over it, leaving a ½-inch border around edge. Spoon small bits of the remaining batter over the top of the cranberries and smooth them out gently.

5. Blend remaining ¼ cup sugar with remaining tablespoon each of butter and flour using your fingertips. Crumble over top of cake.

6. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into cake (not into cranberry filling) comes out clean and side begins to pull away from pan, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in pan 30 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely, crumb side up.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lemon Pie

So it's a little embarrassing that I haven't updated this blog since the end of August, when school started again. Mihai and I have certainly had our fair share of delicious home-cooked meals since then, but despite my best intentions (we even took pictures of them), I just haven't had time to write about them. However, over the last few days there was quite a bit of Christmas-related baking at my mom's house, so I thought I should share some of the results.

First up is a family recipe - lemon pie. This is a somewhat unusual dessert, one that I've never had outside my mom's house, and one that my mom has never had elsewhere either - she got the recipe from one of her aunts many years ago. The unexpected elements (such as using yeast but not having to knead, and putting the pie into a cold oven) all work together well to deliver a not-too-sweet but perfectly tangy dessert that goes very well with a cup of tea. Mihai is very excited that I finally learned how to make this (having made it twice over the last few days), so that now we can have it not just at my mom's house.

Lemon Pie

For the filling:

1 to 1⅓ medium size lemons (if you have Meyer lemons around, so much the better)
1½ cups sugar

For the dough:

¾ cups warm milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 packet of dry yeast or 1 cake of live yeast
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
200g butter (cold or frozen)

1. Boil a pot of water. Place the lemons in a bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Pour off the water and repeat two more times. (I know it's very tempting to skip/shorten this step, but don't give into that temptation! This three-peat of hot water is very important to make sure the lemons lose their bitterness.)

2. Cut up the whole lemons into pieces, and purée in a food processor (rind and inside part together). Transfer the purée into a medium or large bowl.

3. Dissolve the teaspoon of sugar in the ¾ cups of warm milk, and then add the yeast. Wait until bubbles form. (Make sure the warm milk is truly warm, not hot, otherwise the yeast will die and the bubbles will never form.)

4. While waiting for the yeast to activate, mix the salt and the flour together in a large bowl. Take the cold or frozen butter and grate it on a box grater into the bowl with the flour, stopping every few grating motions to mix the grated butter with the flour so that it doesn't all clump together.

5. By this point your yeast and milk mixture should be bubbling, so pour it into the flour-and-butter bowl, and mix the dough. Once it is mixed, divide into two halves, and roll out one half of the dough into a rectangle. Transfer the rolled-out dough onto a 9x13 cookie sheet (ideally one with edges). Don't try to make the dough rectangle large enough to fill up the entire sheet - it's actually best if it doesn't.

6. Take the 1½ cups of sugar and mix it with the lemon purée. When you pour all that sugar on top of the lemon purée, it always seems like too much sugar and my mom and I always feel like we should lower the sugar amount - having made this mistake at least once, we now know that with less than the 1½ cups of sugar, the filling becomes much too tart, even for us.

7. Spread the lemon and sugar mixture on top of the rolled-out dough on the cookie sheet, leaving a 1-inch border around the edges.

8. Roll out the second half of the dough, making sure it's at least as large as the first rectangle. Transfer this new rectangle on top of the dough+filling in the cookie sheet. Pinch the edges of the two dough pieces together, and tuck underneath the bottom layer to make sure none of the filling can leak out. Once all the edges are secured, use your hands to gently massage the top layer so as to spread the filling closer to the now-sealed edges. Use a fork to prick the top layer of the dough and also to create one small round hole in the middle of the top layer to let air escape.

9. Place the cookie sheet with the pie into a cold oven, and turn it on to 320°F. Bake for 35-40 minutes until it turns a very light golden color. (Baking it further won't damage the dough, but will cook and caramelize the inside lemon-sugar mixture too much.) Cool completely before slicing into diamond-shaped slices and enjoy!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cooking in Cape Coed 2

A couple of years ago, Mihai and I missed the chance to spend a week with our friends in Cape Cod (I don't remember now what kept us from going), so we were happy that we could make it this year for a repeat of Cape Coed (Cape Cod + attendance by guys and gals = Cape Coed). We were there for just a few days, but the combination of good weather and great company made it a very worthy trip. (The only downside was my sun-induced burn/rash - apparently Japanese car windows are not made of proper glass that would block the harmful UV rays. Duly noted and sunblock will be applied before any future car trips.) I also got to amuse myself by helping out in the kitchen during the few days we were there, and decided to write about it all in one slightly-longer-than-usual post.

Day 1: Raspberry Yogurt (Birthday) Cake

Unfortunately, I don't actually have a picture of this simple cake I made for Anna's birthday on our first night in Cape Cod. I think I was a little preoccupied by the fact that we inserted the birthday candles into the cake while it was still rather hot (and we had of course forgotten to buy the little plastic candle holders), with the result that the candle wax melted into the cake before it was time to bring it out. Luckily, my kind friends reassured me that the wax cannot possibly be poisonous and proceeded to bravely eat the cake anyway. The recipe can be found on Clotilde's site.

Day 2: Summer Squash Gratin

Our group included a couple of vegetarians, so this squash gratin (that I had tried out earlier this summer and hadn't blogged about) seemed like a delicious, filling main-course. I followed Heidi's recipe pretty closely, but I did take out the red pepper flakes and used the store-bought breadcrumbs that were available rather than making my own in the vacation-house conditions. (Though let's be honest, I would probably use store-bought panko, just like I did in the version of the gratin pictured above, rather than buy bread for the sole purpose of making breadcrumbs.)

Day 3: Carrot-Avocado Salad and Tomato Pie

I'll admit that carrots and avocados sound like an unusual combination for a salad, but Mihai and I think that it is actually a surprisingly delicious combo. We had first thought of trying it out when we had tried this salad earlier in the summer:

Our verdict on this one was that even though we had a much lower bean-to-carrot ratio in our version than in the original recipe, there were still too many beans for our taste. We did like the cooked carrots a lot more than we expected and were curious how much more to our liking the salad would be with avocados instead of beans (both are filling enough to make this more than a side salad). As if reading our minds, Deb posted about such a salad just a few days later. This was much closer to what we were thinking, but more of a side dish than a main-course - I changed the proportions (much more avocado) in the version below.

Carrot and Avocado Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 bunch carrots, peeled and cut into ⅓-inch segments on a bias
5 avocados, pitted and sliced
a handful of cilantro, chopped
a few tablespoons olive oil, divided
juice of half a lemon
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt

1. Either roast the carrots or cook them in a skillet on the stovetop. (Mihai likes the skillet method result; I am a bit lazier and prefer the ease of the oven roasting.)

Option A) Roast the carrots.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss the carrot pieces in a medium bowl with two tablespoons of olive oil, cumin, and a generous of a helping of salt. Spread them on a roasting sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, or until tender and browned.

Option B) Cook the carrots in a skillet.

In your largest skillet over medium high heat, toss the carrots with a splash of olive oil. Let them cook in a single layer. Keep cooking, tossing gently every three or four minutes until the carrots are deeply browned.

2. Once the carrots are cooked, toss them in a bowl with the chunks of avocado, chopped cilantro, a couple more tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, and salt to taste.

Serves at least seven.

Tomato Pie
Adapted from Simply Recipes

I also made this Tomato Pie - I know it doesn't look pretty, but it sure is delicious (if you read the ingredient list, you'll understand why - anything covered with a mixture of mayo and this much cheese which is then baked in the oven cannot help but be scrumptious).

1 9-inch pie shell (I used Clotilde's Easy Olive Oil Tart Crust)
½ yellow or red onion, chopped
3-4 tomatoes, cut in half horizontally, squeezed to remove excess juice, roughly chopped, to yield approximately 3 cups chopped tomatoes
¼ cup sliced basil (about 8 leaves)
2 cups grated cheese (combination of Gruyère and Mozzarella)
¾ cup mayonnaise

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place pie shell in oven and cook for 8-10 minutes or longer until lightly golden. If you are starting with a frozen crust, you'll need to cook it a little longer. If you are using a homemade crust, freeze the crust first, then line the crust with aluminum foil and pre-bake it for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes. (With the olive oil crust I used, I didn't have to weigh down the crust with beans or rice, but perhaps this would be more of a necessity with a conventional butter crust.)

2. Squeeze as much moisture as you can out of the chopped tomatoes, using either paper towels, a clean dish towel, or a potato ricer. (Kushal helped me with this and I had him just use his clean hands.)

3. Sprinkle the bottom of the pre-cooked pie shell with chopped onion. Spread the chopped tomatoes over the onions. Sprinkle the sliced basil over the tomatoes.

4. In a medium bowl, mix together the grated cheese, mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of salt. Spread the cheese mixture over the tomatoes.

5. Place in oven and bake until golden and bubbly, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes.

Serves eight.

Day 4: Watermelon-Feta Salad and Beets with Goat Cheese

On the last day Mihai and I were in Cape Cod, the boys grilled yummy burgers and Anna made guac, so we probably had too much food overall, but isn't that part of what vacation is all about anyway? (To be fair - I hadn't originally planned on serving the beets along with the watermelon-feta salad, but they were left over by part of the group that had arrived before us and it seemed a shame to let them go to waste.)

Watermelon-Feta Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3-4 large tomatoes, diced
¼ watermelon, diced
1 large yellow (or orange) bell pepper, seeded, cut into ⅓-inch cubes
1 large English hothouse cucumber, cut into ¼-inch half-moons
5-6 very thinly sliced radishes
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
8 oz feta cheese, cut into small cubes
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves, divided
½ cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Toss first five ingredients and two tablespoons olive oil in large bowl. Add half each of cheese and mint.

2. Mix the remaining cheese, mint, and oil in a processor (or just a small bowl if you don't have a processor handy); add yogurt and oregano. Process just to blend (do not over-mix). Season dressing with salt; mix into salad.

Serves at least seven.

Beets with Goat Cheese

1 bunch beets
a few ounces goat cheese
a few sprigs of basil
extra virgin olive oil

1. Boil the beets in a pot of water (with a splash of white vinegar added) for approximately 45 minutes or until you can easily pierce the beets with a fork or a knife. Pour the water out of the pot.

2. Peel the beets, slice thinly, and arrange on a platter.

3. Crumble goat cheese over the top of the beets, chiffonade the basil leaves and sprinkle on top, and then drizzle with the olive oil.

Serves at least seven.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Fresh Apricot Ice Cream and Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Now that it's summer and there is easy access to fresh fruit, I am taking advantage of being able to put my copy of The Perfect Scoop to good use, especially to make ice creams that are slightly less standard and are harder to find in the freezer section of the supermarket. I had already experimented successfully with roasted banana and strawberry-sour cream ice creams, and now that one of my favorite fruits, apricot, is available for a reasonable price at the local Whole Foods, it was time to try out the fresh apricot ice cream recipe that I'd had my eye on since I first got the book and ice cream maker for my birthday in February. I was going to also make vanilla frozen yogurt, since it's almost embarrassingly easy to make and tastes really good, but decided at the last moment to make it a little bit more complicated and make strawberry frozen yogurt instead.

My verdict was that the fresh apricot ice cream was an unquestionable success, but that I preferred the strawberry-sour cream ice cream to the strawberry frozen yogurt, which was too sweet for my taste (next time I'll consider reducing the sugar amount to half a cup). Mihai, however, liked both just fine.

(Fresh apricot ice cream in the making - at this point, Mihai asked if we could just eat that. It was tempting, but I am glad we waited to eat the actual ice cream.)

Fresh Apricot Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

1 lb ripe fresh apricots (10-16, depending on size - definitely no more than 10 if they are on the large side)
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
a few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Slice open the apricots and remove the pits, then cut each apricot into sixths.

2. Cook the apricot pieces with the water in a covered saucepan over medium heat until tender, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Once cool, purée the apricots and their liquid in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stir in the cream and lemon juice.

4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, and then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

1 lb fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
⅔ cup sugar
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar, stirring until the sugar begins to dissolve. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

2. Purée the strawberries and their liquid with the yogurt and lemon juice in a blender or food processor until smooth.

3. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, and then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Blueberry Boy Bait

One of my good friends from school and her new husband were hosting a barbeque this weekend and I asked if I could bring a dessert - it was self-serving, really, since it's always more fun to bake for a party. Since summer has finally come to Boston (and it turned out to be 80+ degrees the day of the event), I wanted to make something seasonal, ideally with berries of some sort. Luckily, Smitten Kitchen posted about an amazing-sounding blueberry dessert just two weeks ago, so I didn't even have to search through the hundreds of recipes tagged "dessert" in my Reader.

Since I was asked at the barbeque about the unusual dessert name, I decided to be better prepared for this blog post and actually looked it up. According to the first hit on Google:

"In 1954, a 15-year-old girl won second prize in the junior division of a Pillsbury baking contest with a moist and tender blueberry cake that was named after the effect it had on teenage boys--one bite and they were hooked. Topped with cinnamon-sugar and loaded with blueberries, it straddled the divide between coffee cake and dessert cake."

As Deb mentions on Smitten Kitchen, Cook's Illustrated updated the recipe for the modern times, which is a very good thing, since the original recipe called for shortening, and I have yet to bring myself to use it in anything. In any case, I'd say the blueberry boy bait was quite a success at the barbeque, and when we tried it to make sure it tasted OK before packing it to go, we couldn't help but leave a couple of extra pieces at home for consumption later.

[Note: all the credit for the photos in this blog post goes to Mihai, since I was too busy carefully transferring the boy bait (more on that below) into a sturdy container for transportation to our friends' house.]

Blueberry Boy Bait
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the batter:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (if frozen, do not defrost first)

For the topping:

½ cup blueberries, fresh or frozen (do not defrost)
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13x9-inch baking pan. (I spaced out and forgot to flour the pan, which would probably have been a problem had I decided to turn out the cake in the final step, but since I don't have a cooling rack and a large plate would still have been way too small for the upside-down-cake, I just cut it inside the pan and carefully transferred the pieces into the container I was using to transport the cake to the barbeque. So it wasn't a complete disaster like I had feared after all.)

2. Mix two cups flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

3. With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated and scraping down bowl.

4. Reduce speed to low and beat in one-third of the flour mixture until incorporated; beat in half of the milk. Beat in half of the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining milk, and finally the remaining flour mixture.

5. Using a spatula, gently fold in ½ cup of the blueberries. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

6. Scatter the other ½ cup of the blueberries over the top of the batter. Stir sugar and cinnamon together in small bowl and sprinkle over the batter.

7. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then turn out and place on serving platter, topping side up. (Or as mentioned above, you can cut it directly in the pan.) Serve warm or at room temperature. (Cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mixed Lettuces with Edamame, Strawberries, and Pinenuts

Even though I've been reading food blogs for quite a while now, it's always nice when I discover another good new-to-me blog. I don't remember how I stumbled across A Crafty Lass a little while ago, but I have to say that she is definitely a winner. Mihai also deserves credit for suggesting we try the salad above while browsing through my Reader starred items - I'd forgotten having starred it and it would have been a shame to miss it. It's definitely another full-meal delicious salad. (It feels a bit silly posting a two-step recipe, but we did adapt it a bit from the original, since we don't love pistachios as much as we love pinenuts and since we didn't have some other more exotic ingredients on hand.)

Mixed Lettuces with Edamame, Strawberries, and Pinenuts
Adapted from A Crafty Lass

For the salad:

⅓ of a head of red leaf lettuce, cut into bite-sized pieces
⅓ of a head of butter lettuce, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup of shelled, cooked, and cooled edamame (once shelled, start with ½ of a bag frozen)
6-7 strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
a handful of pinenuts

For the vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch of salt
a few grinds of black pepper

1. Place all the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until mixed well.

2. Toss all of the salad ingredients together with the dressing and serve immediately.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Breakfast at Wimbledon Scones

The one unfortunate aspect of Wimbledon is that the matches are played during the day London-time, which means that watching most of the tournament is difficult/impossible when you are working. The whole process of following the tournament ends up being very different from what I experienced when I was 13, when my Mom and I spent two weeks with our then puppy Winnie on the shore of a small lake in the Adirondacks. The cottage we rented was in the middle of nowhere at the northern edge of the region - it took at least 20 minutes to drive to the nearest town where the grocery store was. The TV in the house received only the 3 network channels, but that turned out to be enough because NBC was showing all of the glorious 1995 Wimbledon. (Now that I think of it, either I am remembering incorrectly about only having 3 channels there, or NBC lost its interest in tennis in the intervening years, since most of the tournament is shown on ESPN2 nowadays.)

Basically, what I most remember about that summer is doing lots of swimming, being frightened half to death when Winnie decided to jump out of the boat I was rowing in the middle of the lake (she had never swam anywhere at that point so I wasn't sure she would know how), forcing myself to get through David Copperfield (summer reading), enjoying the unbelievably creamy cheesecake sold at the gas station/deli half-way to town, and rooting for Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf as they worked their way toward their Wimbledon crowns (3rd of 7 for Pete and 6th of 7 for Steffi). It's very possible that experience of watching my first Wimbledon is responsible for the fact that I have yet to admire any other male or female player as much as I do Pete and Steffi.

This year, since I was fortunate enough to get a summer internship despite the less-than-stellar economy, my Wimbledon watching was restricted to men's semifinals (thanks to Friday, July 3 being a holiday) and finals, and ladies' finals. I was visiting my parents for the long July 4th weekend, and since one of my best friends from high school was also temporarily home, we decided to watch the Williams sisters battle it out together during Saturday's Breakfast at Wimbledon. Since Claire and her parents were generously having Mihai and me over at 9 in the morning on a Saturday, I thought it would be nice to bring something to enjoy while we watched the sisters go at it for the 4th time. Deb's North Fork scones seemed to fit the occasion well, and I thought making them with strawberries would be particularly appropriate for the season and the British tennis tournament.

Breakfast at Wimbledon Scones
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar*
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 oz butter
1 cup strawberries or other fresh fruit, chopped (or 1 cup golden raisins)
¾ sour cream
½ cup milk**

* I will probably use more next time, since my Mom thought these could be sweeter.
** The original recipe called for buttermilk, but I didn't get a chance to buy any and didn't feel like making some, since my Mom said sour cream was an acceptable, if not a superior, substitute. The sour cream did mean that there was a bit less liquid in the recipe compared to the original, which is why I added approximately half a cup of milk until the dough came together.

1. Preheat oven to 375° and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Mix together the dry ingredients until they are well combined.

3. Use the "rough holes" side of a box grater to grate the cold butter straight into the flour mixture, stopping a few times to incorporate the butter shreds into the flour.

(Deb's recipe called for mixing the butter and the flour mixture together with a food processor, but since I was making these early in the morning and didn't want to make too much noise, I went with my usual method getting the cold butter pieces mixed into the dry ingredients - normally, using a regular-sized food processor is not even an option since we don't have one in our kitchen.)

4. Add the sour cream and enough milk to make the dough come together, then mix in the strawberries (or other fruit). Make sure not to over-mix.

5. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently a couple times. Roll dough out to approximately one-inch thickness (you can skip the rolling pin and just pat it out with floured hands like Deb and I did) and cut into squares. Cut those squares again on the diagonal, creating triangles.

6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly browned.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This is a thoroughly non-seasonal dish, but given the weather we've been having in Boston this June (lots and lots of rain, for those of you lucky enough to be elsewhere), it seems quite appropriate. This is certainly not the first time we've had pasta carbonara, whether at home or out, and Mihai is generally in charge of making most of the dish. It is, without a question, an indulgent meal, something you eat when you feel like you've had to expend extra energy to keep yourself warm and dry.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
(Serves 2)

½ lb spaghetti (half a box)
a few strips of bacon
2 raw eggs
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
4 garlic cloves
4 oz dry white wine (approximately)
a few sprigs of parsley

1. Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions.

2. In the meantime, cut the bacon into small squares and cook in a pan with some olive oil and the garlic cloves. When the bacon squares have become somewhat crispy (but not too crispy, you don't want breakfast-style bacon here), add the white wine and wait until it reduces to a sauce. Remove the garlic cloves if you don't want whole cloves in your pasta.

3. Crack the two eggs into a big bowl. Add the grated parmesan and stir together.

4. Once the spaghetti is cooked (to your taste - I personally don't like it to be too al dente), drain it and add to the bowl with the eggs and parmesan. Stir, then add the bacon-wine sauce and stir again. The heat from the pasta will cook the eggs enough so that you don't have to worry about them being raw, and you'll end up with a deliciously rich and creamy sauce for the pasta.

5. Serve the pasta in bowls, topped with some more grated parmesan and some chopped parsley.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Asparagus and Orzo Salad

I apologize for posting a second asparagus recipe in a row, but I am trying to take advantage of it while it's in season. Heidi of 101 Cookbooks recently wrote about this delicious "Orzo Super Salad", where asparagus featured prominently, so I had to make it for one of our healthy weeknight dinners. What makes this salad particularly tasty, in my opinion, is the delicate creaminess from the avocado, which nicely plays off the crunchiness of the asparagus and cucumber. (I skipped the broccoli though, since I have been out of my broccoli phase for a long time now and am not sure if and when I will come around to it again.) All in all, I have to say that expanding my horizon to warm salads has really opened up a whole new world of interesting and relatively healthy dinner options.

Asparagus and Orzo Salad
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 cup dried orzo pasta
8-10 medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
small handful of cilantro, chopped
1 small clove of garlic, mashed with a big pinch of salt and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
a small handful of sprouts
⅓ cup almonds, toasted
½ small cucumber, cut into ¼-inch pieces
1 medium avocado, sliced into small pieces
¼ cup feta, crumbled

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and boil the orzo per package instructions. Avoid over-boiling, you want your orzo to be cooked through, but maintain structure. About 30 seconds before the orzo is finished cooking stir the asparagus into the orzo pot. Cook for the final 30 seconds, drain and run under a bit of cold water. Just long enough to stop the cooking.

2. In the meantime, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and more salt (if needed) into the dressing. Set aside.

3. When you are ready to serve the salad toss the orzo, asparagus, and cilantro with about half the dressing. Add more dressing if needed, and toss well. Now add the sprouts, almonds, cucumber, avocado, and feta. Very gently toss a couple of times to distribute those ingredients throughout the salad and serve.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Asparagus with Sauce Gribiche

One of my favorite food bloggers, Molly of Orangette, recently announced that she will be taking time off from her site, which was definitely sad news, as her site had the trifecta of good writing, beautiful photos, and delicious recipes. Given that it's still asparagus season around here, I decided to make some sauce gribiche in Orangette's honor and serve it over some cooked asparagus. (Sauce gribiche was one of the last things Molly blogged about before going on hiatus.) Molly wrote about two different types of sauce gribiche, and I decided to try out the one that sounded less like mayonnaise, as I have not quite advanced to the point where I am comfortable making my own mayo from scratch.

Hopefully the picture above indicates that this other sauce gribiche was rather a success. Why wouldn't it be? After all, it's pretty hard to resist a sauce made from hard-boiled eggs, tiny cornichons (so much tastier than their big brothers pickles), shallots, lots of herbs, and fruity olive oil. I followed Molly's adaptation of the Chez Panisse recipe pretty closely, but I did substitute the tarragon I planted on our porch for chervil, which I never seem to be able to find at the local Whole Foods.

Sauce Gribiche
Adapted from Orangette
(who adapted it from the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook )

1 large egg
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped chervil (tarragon seemed to work well too)
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and finely chopped
3 cornichons, finely chopped
¾ cup olive oil
Salt, to taste

1. Put the egg in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and set a timer for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off, drain away the hot water and rinse the egg under cold water until it is thoroughly cool.

2. Meanwhile, combine the shallot and the lemon juice in a small bowl. Set aside to macerate while you prepare the rest of the sauce.

3. Combine the parsley, chervil or tarragon, chives, lemon zest, capers, cornichons, and olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk well. Peel the egg, and then finely chop the yolk and dice the white. Add the egg to the bowl. Add the lemon juice, shallots, and a good pinch of salt, and whisk well. Taste, and adjust with more lemon juice and salt, if needed.

4. Serve over cooked asparagus. Should also be delicious over boiled potatoes.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Potato Gratin

I love potatoes. Pretty much in all variations, although I am particularly partial to my mom's fried potatoes (and for some reason I've never been able to really enjoy the red skinned potatoes when they are cooked with skins on). So of course, when Deb featured this simple potato gratin on Smitten Kitchen, I had to try it.

I cooked mine with the shiitakes as Deb suggests in the recipe notes, and skipped the butter since I used cream instead of milk. I am also pretty sure I used more than 2 ounces of cheese in between the potato layers. All in all, this was a winner, though next time I will use less cream/milk (I am guessing half a cup will do), because the end result was almost too creamy (and I'd rather it was more cheesy).

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Watercress Soup

A couple of years ago, Mihai and I were fortunate enough to be invited by our friends Adam and Lisa to come stay with them for a few days in a French villa they were renting in the Loire Valley. It was an amazing trip, filled with delicious meals and lots of relaxation, and finished off with a day and a half in Paris.

One of the two nights we were there, we went to a small bistronomique restaurant, L'Ourcine, as recommended by Clotilde. We ordered the prix-fixe menu, which was sure to be a winner since dessert was rhubarb soup, and I love rhubarb. What was a bigger surprise was the appetizer - a chilled watercress soup. I never would have thought that what was basically a purée of greens could be so tasty. I finally decided to recreate it at home using this recipe - it turned out all right, not as good as what I remember from L'Ourcine, but a good starting point for future tries to improve on it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Tale of Two Ice Cream Sandwiches

For my birthday this year, I got an ice cream maker and a copy of David Lebovitz's great book, The Perfect Scoop. Because my birthday is in the dead of winter and it's pretty cold here in Boston during the winter (and throughout much of the spring), I haven't yet gotten a chance to take full advantage of these two presents, but I am beginning to. Recently, I didn't just make ice cream - I made ice cream sandwiches.

My first attempt at this was inspired by the Fanny of foodbeam. Her brownie-like cookies with banana ice cream looked delicious, and I even found a recipe for Roasted Banana Ice Cream in The Perfect Scoop. But, unfortunately, while the ice cream was delicious, my cookies didn't look nearly as pretty as Fanny's, and the overall ice cream sandwich had a cookie-to-ice-cream ratio that was too high for our taste:

Luckily, Smitten Kitchen can always be counted on, and Deb had recently posted a recipe for chocolate wafers that looked like they would be sufficiently thin for our ice cream sandwiches. At this point, I didn't have enough Roasted Banana Ice Cream left for a second decently-sized batch of sandwiches, so I had to go back to David's book to get the recipe for Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream. This time, the sandwiches were much more to my liking - the cookie no longer overpowered the ice cream but added a nice chocolatey crunch:

As for the ice creams - I liked both very much but preferred the strawberry one because it was more tangy (while the banana one was sweeter).

Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

1 lb fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
¾ cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (I may have added more)

1. Slice the strawberries and toss them in a bowl with the sugar until the sugar begins to dissolve. Let stand at room temperature for at least an hour, stirring from time to time.

2. Pulse the strawberries and their sugary liquid with the sour cream, heavy cream, and lemon juice in a blender until almost smooth but still chunky. (After two presses of the button of our blender, there weren't very many chunks left, which was too bad because I would have liked bigger pieces of strawberries in the ice cream).

3. Refrigerate for 1 hour, and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Roasted Banana Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop

3 medium-sized ripe bananas, peeled
⅓ cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
1½ cups whole milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon coarse salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400° F.

2. Slice the bananas into ½-inch pieces and toss them with the brown sugar and butter in a baking dish. Bake for 40 minutes, stirring once during the baking, until the bananas are browned and cooked through.

3. Scrape the bananas and the thick syrup in the baking dish into a blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and purée until smooth.

4. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend in Cape Cod

This past weekend we drove out to Cape Cod for Memorial Day weekend and the wedding of one of my good friends from school. I fell in love with Cape Cod the first time I visited it many years ago, but it takes a while to get to if you live in New York - long story short, Mihai had never been at all and we'd never gone together before. Also, I had only visited in the peak of summer, which is great for swimming in the ponds, but means that I had no idea the peninsula is covered with lilac bushes, which is definitely one of my top five favorite flowers (if not the most favorite ever). The hardy beach roses were also in bloom and, just like the lilacs, deliciously fragrant.

We stayed at the wonderful Pleasant Bay Village Resort Motel, which is a motel in name and the convenience of parking your car outside your room only. I highly recommend it - the beautiful pictures on their site do not lie, there is a good chance you'll run into the gigantic and friendly Newfoundland called Bear if you go for breakfast there, and my only regret was forgetting to bring a swimsuit for their heated pool.

The wedding we attended was both a very tasteful and a very fun affair, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. If the food we had is any indication of what the restaurant can turn out on a regular basis, the Outer Bar and Grille at the Wequassett Resort is worth going to (especially given the view of Pleasant Bay from the restaurant). The other memorable meal of the weekend was at Vining's Bistro in Chatham - a hidden gem of a restaurant on the second floor of a shopping complex (the sign downstairs doesn't even have the full restaurant name, just "Bistro Restaurant"). Hopefully, the emptiness on Saturday night was due only to the rainy weather throughout the day, because the food (linguini with clams, tomatoes, lemon, and parsley, and a baked clay pot with fish, clams, scallops, and shrimp in a Thai coconut curry) was delicious, the service was warm and fast, and the prices were reasonable. Maybe they just need a bigger sign downstairs to alert everyone to their presence upstairs.

It did rain intermittently throughout the weekend (until we had to leave on Monday morning), but that didn't stop us from enjoying the beauty of Cape Cod - as usual, I cannot wait to go back.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cucumber and Feta Salad

We do occasionally eat things other than salad around here (more on that soon), but recently it has been very tempting to just stick to easy, light, and spring-y salads on the nights when we are at home to cook. The beauty of this salad is that it can actually be enjoyed year-round, since none of the ingredients are particularly seasonal. The original recipe does call for mint (which does first appear in the spring), but I must say that I've made it without the mint plenty of times (since it's hard to come by at our local Whole Foods even in the spring), and I don't think the end result is any less delicious. (I also skip the red onion given my aversion to uncooked onions).

And, since I cannot seem able to stop taking pictures of flowering trees and bushes around school, here's another one for you:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Spring Weekend and Salad

This weekend our friends Adam and Lisa came to visit us from New York. Luckily, the weather was really cooperative on Saturday and allowed us to spend a lot of time outside. We went to Formaggio Kitchen to try out their Saturday BBQ, and then spent a fair amount of time walking around some scenic parts of Cambridge. That evening, we finally made it to the South End and had a tasty dinner at B & G Oysters. (I am a firm believer that the old rule of not eating oysters in months without "R" is no longer applicable.)

By Sunday night, we were in the mood for something light and had our current favorite stand-by salad:

Making this couldn't be easier - just chop up a few radishes, an english cucumber, an orange or yellow pepper, and then add some mâche, ricotta, fruity olive oil, and sea salt. What you get is a colorful, crunchy, and delicious salad - enough for a medium-light dinner for two people. Speaking of colorful - I cannot resist inserting another picture from this relaxing weekend:

Monday, April 27, 2009

Warm Salad with Avocado and Crispy Bacon

Sometimes when I feel like I don't have time to cook dinner, Mihai steps in and often comes up with something new and delicious. Case in point is this salad with avocado, bacon, radishes, tomatoes, mâche, and shallot vinaigrette dressing:

This yummy and filling salad was inspired by a similar salad on thepassionatecook, but Mihai made his own variation by using mâche instead of spinach, tomatoes instead of mushrooms and gorgonzola, and red wine vinegar instead of sherry vinegar in the dressing. I must say I was impressed by both his willingness to improvise with what we had at home and the scrumptious result.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Weekend Getaway to NYC

Thanks to Boston's Patriots' Day on Monday, MIT's student holiday on Tuesday, and the fact that I have no class on Fridays this semester, Mihai and I got away to NYC for the long weekend. Needless to say, the four days we had there were dedicated to seeing friends and going out to delicious meals.

We started off Friday night by going to Trestle on Tenth (with a few of Mihai's froworkers) and later Against The Grain (where Mihai had been to multiple times but I mysteriously never made it to). Saturday we split up for brunch: I went to Apiary with college roommates and Mihai went to Yuca with another Princeton friend. Saturday dinner was at The Harrison, where I had a cucumber-y tequila drink I actually enjoyed so much so that we had to ask the waitress for the kind of tequila they used (Sauza Silver). My olive-oil poached cod was delicious as well, as were everyone's entrees (lamb chop, pork chop, and calf's liver).

Sunday brunch was had at Clinton Street Baking Co, after a 2+ hour wait - we blamed the nice weather for having to wait the originally quoted time. And Sunday dinner featured Aquabites at Aquagrill, along with more fantastic seafood (truffle-encrusted cod, lobster/grapefruit/avocado salad, oysters). On Monday we stopped by WorkSmart Labs and were treated to lunch there as well, and visited Kefi's new and much expanded location for dinner. Finally, we treated ourselves to omakase sashimi lunch at Sushi Yasuda before catching the train to back to Boston.

All in all, a most fun weekend hanging out with many friends and eating many delicious meals, not to mention multiple sightings of cute golden retrievers, such as Creampuff here: