Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rosemary, Prosciutto, and Asiago Pull Apart Bread

Pull apart bread, I could write odes of love to thee. In fact, I could write a book of sonnets about my love of buttery bread held together by cheese, and in this case, cured meats. The way the dough pulls apart into lovely pieces bearing both crispy browned edges and soft, pillowy luxurious insides.

Up until recently I had always made lazy pull apart bread- cut up instant biscuits dipped in butter and tossed with cheese and garlic and whatever other tasty bites I felt like throwing in. But this weekend I decided to go all out and make the dough myself. 

Boy, was it worth the effort. This dough was lovely, light and fluffy on the inside and crisp and crunchy on the edges, with a lovely herb-y taste. Asiago isn't a big melting cheese, but the cheese in between the slices did become soft and gooey, while the cheese on the top became crispy and toasty. 

I expected to find standing all the dough strips up and keeping them together while I cut more to be tough, but they stood up pretty darn well on their own, and didn't lose too much of their filling either. Also, this dough was the absolute perfect amount to fill my loaf pan, so that was wonderful. 

Is there anything really so delicious as bread with cheese? Well, I suppose there is bread with cheese and meat, which is which is even better, so I included prosciutto in this recipe. I love prosciutto on pizza, and this is a bit like  a sauceless, stacked up pizza, so I suspected it would be delicious, and it was.

The meat adds a little salty, smoky bite as you nibble your way through each slice, and the pieces of prosciutto that ended up on top are lovely and crispy and crunchy and perfect. Like well done bacon, only drier and more Italian.

This is definitely a dish to serve piping hot. Ideally, you want to burn your fingers a little bit as you pull the bread apart, for optimal warm and melty bread bites, and because it's next-to-impossible to wait for this to cool once you take it out of the oven and get a whiff of how delicious it is.

This would make a appetizer worth filling up on, or you could pass it around at dinner in place of plain old rolls, at a potluck you could pop it back in the hosts oven briefly than knock everyone's socks off with its herb covered splendor. Or, if you're like me, it makes a delicious snack for three hungry twenty-somethings on a chilly Sunday afternoon. 

Rosemary, Prosciutto, and Asiago Pull Apart Bread

3 Cups all purpose flour
1 Cup warm water
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) yeast
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 C minced fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp melted butter

2 Minced garlic cloves
1/3 C Minced rosemary (and other herbs, if you'd like)
1 C grated asiago cheese
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 lb prosciutto, thinly sliced
Hefty pinch salt & pepper

In a large bowl, combine warm water and sugar, stir briefly, then sprinkle yeast over top. Cover with a towel and let sit 5 minutes, until yeast has become foamy.

In a separate bowl combine the flour, salt, and rosemary. Mix well. After yeast has foamed up, add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing after each, then stir with a wooden spoon until dough begins to form. 

Dump dough out onto a floured surface and kneed 5-8 minutes, until an elastic, not too sticky dough forms. Lightly oil the bowl with 1 tbsp melted butter. Put the dough ball in the oiled bowl, cover, and let sit somewhere warm for an hour, or until dough has doubled in size. 

Grease a loaf pan with melted butter or oil.

After dough has risen, punch it down, then turn out dough onto a floured surface, divide dough in half, and roll out one half at a time. Roll dough into a large rectangle. Brush dough with half the 4 tbsp melted butter, then cover with half the grated cheese, half the minced garlic, and half the fresh herbs.

Using a pizza or crust cutter, cut the dough into 3" X 4" rectangles, then stack up the dough squares, and stand them on their side in the greased loaf pan. 

Repeat the rolling out, buttering, and covering of cheese, garlic, and herbs with the second piece of dough, cut it into the same size squares, and stand them in the loaf pan.

Sprinkle any herbs and cheese that may have fallen out over the top of the pan. Allow the dough to rise in the pan for another 30 minutes. 
Towards the end of the final rising time preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake bread for 20-30 minutes, until the edges are a lovely rich golden brown. 
Allow to cool for 3 minutes, then carefully remove from pan. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sugared Cranberries

It's cranberry season! I live just across the Hudson river from a major cranberry producing state- New Jersey. I've expounded before on the beauty and wonder that is rural New Jersey, but there are so many wonderful things that I forgot to mention the cranberry bogs.

S and I love to camp in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. In the summer we tube the Wading River and in fall and spring we hike the sandy roads to check out ruins, abandoned railroad bridges, fire towers, and cranberry bogs. There are bogs right in the state park, owned by farmers who grow for Ocean Spray. 

S and I have even sampled wild cranberries- never from the commercial bogs, but we've each tried one found growing alongside the river. They were bitter, like all raw cranberries, but also lovely and crisp. There is just something special about eating wild foraged fruits, even if it's only one or two berries. 

I like many different cranberries preparations, cranberry sauce, orange cranberry relish (my favorite part of Thanksgiving as a child), tart cranberry pie, but these sugared cranberries may be my all time favorite preparation. 

They're both sweet and tart, juicy and crisp, and the sparkling sugar topping makes them absolutely lovely to behold. Not to mention when you get a cranberry candied at the peak of ripeness and you bite into it, it makes this amazing pop noise, audible from several feet away, which is just too fun. The popping cranberries are definitely the tastiest, too.

These berries are so beautiful, they look a bit like they've been covered in snow or frost, so they seem like a magical pairing for this nippy fall weather.  At first they'll seem too pretty to eat, but after you have one you won't be able to stop. They're the most addicting thing in my kitchen right now, more addicting than the Ben & Jerry's Candy Bar Pie ice cream in my freezer. It's good, but I'd sooner eat a whole truckload of these berry delights. 

These are too beautiful to eat only as a snack though, they would be lovely on a spread of hors d'oeuvres, perhaps served with a cheese plate, or on a lavish dessert buffet. Or you could skewer them with a toothpick to use as a fancy-schmancy cocktail garnish. Or package the sugared berries up in cute boxes and give them as Christmas gifts- my aunt did this one year and I'm pretty sure I ate them all on Christmas Eve. Any way you serve them, these beautiful sugared cranberries will be a wild success. 

1 & 1/2 C Sugar, separated 
2/3 C water
8 oz cranberries

First, a note on sugar: any type of white sugar will work for the syrup, but the type you use for coating the berries at the end will impact the way they look. A very fine sugar, such a sanding sugar will give the berries a very light, thoroughly coated white look, I think of it as looking like frost in the morning. I used plain domino cane sugar which gives a more crystallized, snowy candied look. A larger grain cane sugar, such as whole foods cane sugar tends to look clumpy.

Pour the water into a medium sized saucepan, add 1 C sugar, and heat over medium low, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is completely dissolved.

Remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Once syrup is warm, but not too hot to touch, add the cranberries. Add just 3-4 at first, and stir them around gently. If any split open, wait a few more moments for the syrup to cool, but if they remain in tact, add the rest of the cranberries and give them a gentle stir. Make sure they're all getting wet.

If there is space in your refrigerator, just pop a lid on the sauce pan and put the whole thing in the fridge. Otherwise, pour berries and all syrup into a tupperware with a lid, and refrigerate overnight, or at least 6-8 hours.

After refrigeration, use a slotted spoon to transfer the berries to a cooling rack (I put parchment paper under mine to catch the syrup drips), and allow to dry for 20-40 minutes. 

Once berries have dried a bit (they'll still be sticky and slightly damp- this is fine), place the remaining 1/2 C sugar in a shallow dish, and add the berries, a few at a time, tossing them gently with the sugar so they're entirely coated. Return coated berries to the cooling rack. If your sugar begins to clump, run it through a fine strainer placed over a bowl, and use what sifts through. 

Once all berries are coated, give them another 20 minutes or so to fully set up, then pop them in a dish and serve, or in a tupperware and store in the fridge until you need them. They'll keep around 4-5 days, but I promise they won't last that long, they're addicting!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Spicy Coconut Yam Soup

Tom Kha Gai, or spicy coconut soup, is one of my favorite dishes in Thai cuisine. I love the creamy, gingery, limey broth with soft pieces of onion and tender boiled chicken, it's so warm and invigorating. For this soup I wanted to incorporate some of my favorite Tom Kha Gai elements into a heartier, more filling soup, perfect for brisk autumn evenings.

I swapped the (usually rather sparse) chicken out for plentiful chunks of bright orange sweet potato, added some green beans, and spiced it up a bit with extra chillies and a bit of curry powder. I love sweet potato in soup, it becomes so soft and luscious, and it soaks up all the delightful coconut milk and spices.

You begin this recipe by softening the onions together with the chillies, ginger, and garlic- and the smell of them all sizzling away is just phenomenal. That sharp ginger-onion-chili spice wafts out of the pan and fills the kitchen, reminding me of Balinese sambal sauce, which is made from coconut vinegar, chillies, ginger, and shallots. If I close my eyes and breathe in over this pot, I can almost imagine I'm reclining in a pondok, surrounded by rice paddies, drinking a Bintang and munching on crispy fried duck. Ahh, Bali is heaven.

If you can't find a pondok surrounded by rice paddies, this soup is a pretty great runner up in terms of heavenly experiences. I've been running every day for the past week, and after an especially windy and chilly jog this is the perfect soup to come home to.

From the first sip you can feel its warmth spreading from your core out through your sore, tired, cold extremities, all the way to your finger tips and your toes. The chillies add the perfect twist of spice that becomes a slow burn the more you eat, and the ginger adds a lovely zippiness. 

This is a fantastic dinner or lunch soup, no need to make any sides, a big bowl of this is a whole meal. It comes together quickly, making a great weeknight meal, and it'll fill you up, and warm you from head to toe!

Spicy Coconut Yam Soup

2-3 thinly sliced thai chili peppers (+ extra for topping if you like spicy soup)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 inches ginger, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb sweet potato cut into 1" cubes
6 oz green beans into 1" segments
3 scallions
1 can coconut milk
32 oz chicken broth
1/2 lime
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp fish sauce

In a large, heavy pot pour 1 tbsp of olive oil, and add the chopped onions and minced peppers. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes, until onion begins to soften. Add the minced garlic and cook another 3-4 minutes, until onions are soft and translucent and the garlic is fragrant. 

Add the grated ginger, stir well, then add the sweet potatoes, followed by the curry powder and fish sauce. Stir well to coat potatoes in curry and fish sauce, then add the chicken broth, and coconut milk. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 a lime in, then bring to a boil. 

Once the soup is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook 5-8 minutes. Add the green beans and continue to cook until green beans and potato are soft and ready to eat, about 10 more minutes. 

While the soup cooks, thinly slice the white and light green parts of the scallions. 
Once potato and green beans are soft, remove soup from heat and ladle into bowls. Top each bowl with freshly sliced scallion, and any remaining sliced chilies. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie

Sweet potato in a smoothie. This is a new discovery for me, and oh, it is a great one. This smoothie is pie in liquid form. It has all the delicious sweet potato pie flavors- sweet, caramel-y dates, earthy sweet potato, cinnamon and nutmeg, and an undercurrent of apple cider, but is made only from delicious healthy ingredients. 

It's Smoothie Week over at Williams Sonoma, and the theme is Weird, Wild, and Crazy Smoothies. I would certainly say throwing a boiled sweet potato in a frozen smoothie is my idea of a wild morning! I've experimented with vegetables in smoothies before, but have always stuck to greens- kale, avocado, and spinach, and I've never made a smoothie with an element I had to cook first before. 

My inspiration for this smoothie was a sweet potato pie from a little Caribbean takeout place in Chelsea that I fell in love with in college, it was rich and decadent with the perfect touch of spice, sweet, but not overpoweringly so. I wanted to channel that sweet earthy-fruity flavor into a healthy smoothie. 

This was my first attempt at putting dates in a smoothie at home, and they added just the right caramel-y sweetness which really helped drive home the pie flavor. I softened mine up a bit by cooking them with some maple syrup first because my blender isn't very powerful. If you have one of those fancy high speed blenders like the Vitamix (which I regularly drool over online), then your dates will probably blend down perfectly smooth without being softened first. 

Boiling the sweet potato first didn't turn out nearly as laborious as I expected it to feel. One potato didn't call for a large pot or much water, so it got to boiling pretty quickly and softened up in less than ten minutes. You could certainly do this the night before to speed up your process if making this smoothie for breakfast, but I did not have that kind of forethought. I popped my boiled potato in the freezer while I prepped the other ingredients and it chilled plenty in that time. And gosh, it was worth it, this smoothie turned out tasting just like pie! 

I'll be putting dates in more of my future smoothies. they'd make a brilliant sweetener for a coconut milk and coffee dessert smoothie, or a chocolate peanut butter shake. The sweet potato was fantastic too, it adds a lovely silky texture to the drink, and pairs beautifully with the sweet and tangy pineapple. The notes of cinnamon and nutmeg shout of pie, and the dates and apple cider add a lovely sweetness. Not to mention its brilliant orange color makes it fabulously seasonal!

Sweet Potato Pie Smoothie

1 medium sweet potato
1 C frozen pineapple
1 C apple cider
heaping 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
5 dates, pitted

Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1 inch cubes, add to a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook about ten minutes, or until soft all the way through. Drain potatoes and bring to room temperature on counter or in refrigerator. You can also boil the potato the night before.

If your dates are fairly dry, like my Deglet dates were, pop them in a small pan with 4 tablespoons of apple cider and cook over low heat until the dates have softened, about 3 minutes. If you're using a soft date variety, such as medjool, this will be unneccesary

Add the drained potato cubes, the frozen pineapple, softened dates, apple cider, cinnamon, and nutmeg to your blender and blend on high until smooth. 

Pour into glasses and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Honeyed Rosemary-Lavender Shortbread

Sometimes, after work, and dinner, and doing the dishes, right as it gets to be late in the evening, around say ten thirty- I realize that I need something. Like desperately, anxiously, urgently, seriously- climb the tallest mountains, swim the longest oceans- I need a cookie. 

So, on Sunday night, when that craving set in, I headed into the kitchen, took stock of my supplies and considered my options. Then I made these. Buttery, toasty, melt in your mouth, the texture of these cookies is absolutely heavenly. They're simultaneously rich, and yet not too heavy, dense in texture but meltingly light on the tongue.  

Shortbread is one of those treats that is deceptively simple. A friend of ours tried these last night, and was blown away when I told him the short ingredient list. "That's all that's in here?!" He asked incredulously. Yep, that's all! 

One of my favorite things about shortbread is the consistency. I always want to call it sandy, but I know that doesn't bring up great connotations in most people's minds. Yum, a mouth full of beach sand. But that's really the best way to describe it, these cookies aren't crumbly to hold or transport or store, but when you take a bite they crumble apart in your mouth like packed sand would. The absolute best, non-gritty, softest, sweetest sand ever, of course. And then that impossibly soft and sweet sand melts in an incredible way on your tongue.

According to Wikipedia, the delightful sandy, crumbly texture of shortbread comes from the high fat content. The prevalence of butter keeps the gluten from forming long strands, and thus it crumbles instead. Just another reason to love and worship butter. 

When S first bit into one of these cookies he nodded happily and declared
"Just the right amount of sweet and savory."
The cookie is delicately sweet, the butter plays a starring role in the flavor and the sugar merely complements it, while the rosemary and lavender are a subtle but slightly surprising twist which matches wonderfully with the buttery, melty texture. The flavor of the herbs is light, certainly not overwhelming, but it is present. 

I've provided two variations on this recipe. One to make cookies like the ones I've photographed here-shaped, thin, crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. And one variation to make shortbread bars, quicker to make, soft throughout, and a touch thicker. I've made both versions- the bars are wonderful when you want a dessert fix more immediately, while the cookies are great if you have a bit more time, or prefer a shaped cookie. Both versions are out-of-this-world delicious, enjoy!

Honeyed Rosemary-Lavender Shortbread
2 C flour
1 C butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
3 tbsp honey
2 tsp dried rosemary 
2 tsp lavender

In a medium bowl combine the flour, lavender, and rosemary. Mix with a fork until herbs are distributed evenly throughout.
Cream together the butter and sugar, then add the honey and almond extract and mix until creamy again. 

Mix the flour into the butter, mixing until the dough clumps up and all the flour has been thoroughly combined with the butter. The dough will be crumbly. 

Option 1: Shaped Cookies
Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and pour out half the dough. Form into roughly a log shape, then use the plastic wrap to help you form the dough into a log. Squeeze it together firmly and shape until you have a log 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and about 6 inches long. If you'd like round cookies, pop the log in the fridge now. If you'd like square cookies, place the log on the counter and use a cutting board to gently flatten the top and bottom, then turn on it's side and flatten the sides. Repeat until you have a long rectangular log, then place in the refrigerator. 
Let chill at least 1 hour (I chilled mine 2). Preheat oven to 325 F.  Remove dough from refrigerator, gently reshape a bit if needed, then use a sharp knife to cut dough into 1/3 inch slices. Place the slices 1 inch apart on a greased baking sheet. 
Bake 15-22 minutes, until edges are very lightly golden brown. Cool on a rack for 3 minutes, then enjoy!

Option 2: Bar Cookies
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Dump the cookie dough into the baking pan, and use your hands to pack it down into one uniform layer about 1/2 inch thick.
Bake for 35-40 Minutes, until the edges are lightly golden brown. Remove and allow to cool at least ten minutes, then enjoy!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spiced Toffee Date Cake

This cake is made for Autumn. The rich, dense crumb, the sweet caramel-y dates, the nutmeg-cinnamon-clove spice combination- this is a cake to eat curled up in front of a fireplace while orange and red leaves drift slowly down past your window. This is a cake to eat after you carve a pumpkin, rake your yard, or pick a bushel of apples.

I made this cake all the way back during last weekend, but I didn't get around to posting it until now because I have a very seasonal problem, a cold. This has been a big work week for me though, so I've been pushing through the sniffles and the sore throat and the foggy head. Slices of this cake have helped give me strength. 

I've been working assisting a wonderful food stylist here and there for the last few months, Frances Boswell. Her work is just incredible. She has done extensive work for Martha Stewart and Real Simple, as well as written a cookbook. I've accompanied her on several editorial shoots for various magazines, and this Tuesday I had the good fortune of helping cook for a Martha Stewart Living shoot. 

I even saw Martha herself. It was pretty wonderful. For obvious reasons, I can't spill what the story was or what we made, but everything was beautiful and delicious. The Martha offices are a wonderland of cooking and crafting, and the test kitchen was essentially Disney World to me- so many Kitchenaids! So many ovens! Stainless steel everything! So many sizes and types of every cooking tool you could ever need! 

The day after the shoot at Martha Stewart Living, I came down with this cold, and haven't been able to beat it since. I console myself that at least I wasn't a sneezy mess on a food shoot, but if things continue how they are I shall be a sneezy mess while working a wedding tomorrow. 

A few slices of this cake for breakfast would probably make me feel better, but S and I finished it off long ago. When I was a kid my mother used to make something called spice cake, which was a bit like gingerbread sans the ginger, and this is similar, as if it were a dense spice cake but with tons of dates. Or a gingerbread, without the ginger, and with fruit. 

This cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg give this cake a decidedly autumnal taste, and the spiced toffee sauce with it's notes of cinnamon and almond really rounds it out. I adapted the toffee sauce from a raw vegan caramel sauce I found on Nutrition Stripped, and amped up with extra dates and spices. 

This cake is gluten and refined sugar free, and could be called Paleo, depending on your personal Paleo standards. If you wanted, you could make the cake without the coconut sugar. It will be slightly less sweet, so perhaps add a few extra dates, or another tablespoon of maple. This an excellent dessert after an autumn dinner, or even as an ending for a decadent brunch. Enjoy!

Spiced Toffee Date Cake

12 oz dates, pitted
1/2 C butter, melted
3 tbsp maple syrup
5 eggs, separated
1/3 C coconut sugar
3/4 C ground almonds/almond meal
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
heaping 1/2 tsp clove
heaping 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 Cup milk (almond, cow, whatever you prefer)

Spiced Toffee
(adapted from Nutrition Stripped)
3 dates
1/2 C maple
1/2 C coconut oil
1/3 C + 2 tbsp almond butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
scant 1/2 tsp clove

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees Fahrenheit, and grease a 9 inch springform pan, (if you don't have a springform line a pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper to make removing cake easy.) I also like to cut a circle of parchment paper to match the bottom of my springform pan, and line it with it, to make cake removal a snap.

Coarsely chop 4oz dates and set aside.

Place remaining 8oz of pitted dates to the bowl of a food processor, add the maple syrup, and blitz until a thick paste forms. Dump this out into a medium sized bowl, and add the melted butter to it. Mix until butter is well incorporated. 

In  a second medium sized bowl, combine the egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, sugar, and almond extract. Beat until pale and creamy, about 2-3 minutes.
Stir egg yolk mixture into date mixture and mix until well combined. Mix in the ground almonds, milk, and the coarsely chopped dates. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter gently. Do not be over aggressive mixing in the egg whites quickly, take time and fold them in slowly. 

Pour batter into prepared springform pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out almost entirely clean. 

While cake is baking, prepare toffee sauce. Combine all toffee ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, or a high speed blender, and blend for 1-3 minutes, until sauce is smooth. 

After removing cake from oven, allow to cool a minimum of ten minutes before removing it from the springform. Serve with toffee sauce poured over top.  Enjoy!