Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese Orecchiette

About a month ago, the first time the temperature dipped below 80 since June, everyone here in New York started talking about Autumn. How it was coming, how it was almost here, how you could feel the cold snap in the air and I, for one, was annoyed. 

I don't like words like Autumn, Fall, or Cold Snap in August. Not even late August. In my opinion, until labor day, summer is still in full swing. And in summer I don't want to talk about cold snaps, I want to talk about swimming, and farmers markets, and trips to the beach. Everyone is far too eager to speed August along into Fall. Meanwhile, I want to shout Stop! Slow down! Don't forget that Winter is Coming! BRRRRR! I said the words Indian Summer to S too many times this year, as if by hoping I could will one into existence.

But now it's mid-September, yesterday was the first actual day of Fall, the cold snap has settled in as a nice pleasant cool front, and I am ready to accept that it is Autumn. And Autumn calls for gourds, hearty foods, and cheese. This pasta has all three. 

I'm not quite sure what it is about the marriage of butternut squash and blue cheese, but the combination is divine. The blue cheese adds just the right amount of cheesy tang and earthy funk to the mild, sweet gourd. And of course heaping the squash on top of an herb and olive oil covered pasta can only serve to improve the flavor further. 

There's almost nothing more autumnal than roasted squash. The bright orange color, the earthy-sweet flavor, the caramelized, lightly blackened bits devoured straight out of the roasting pan beside the warm oven. Just looking at these photos makes me want to find a pile of leaves to jump in! Enjoy!

Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese Orcchiette

Butternut Squash
1 1/4 lb butternut squash
1 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary

1 lb orecchiette (or little shell pasta)
4 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 heaping tbsp chopped rosemary
3-4 oz blue cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut the butternut squash in half, and use a spoon to scoop out the stringy, seedy insides and discard them. Peel the squash and cut into cubes a bit smaller than 1" per side. 
Place squash cubes in a bowl and toss with a pinch of salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary. Spread squash in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and roast 15-20 minutes, until cooked through but still holding their shape. 

While squash roasts, boil a large pot of water, and add the orecchiette. Cook 8-10 minutes, until al dente. Drain and return to the empty pot.

While the pasta boils, mince 3 garlic cloves and 1 heaping tablespoon rosemary, add to a small frying pan with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and cook over low heat until the garlic is soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes.

Crumble the blue cheese and set aside.

Pour garlic-rosemary infused olive oil over the drained pot of pasta and mix well. Gently mix in the butternut squash cubes and 1/2 the crumbled blue cheese. 
Serve topped with additional blue cheese and enjoy!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

IPA Pretzel Bread

I have seasonal food habits.  In winter I make pot after pot of hearty soup, I roast winter squash nearly nightly, and apple crisps rule the dessert rotation, in the spring I relish in making salads with the first fruits and greens of the season. In the summer I juice, and juice, and juice, and produce copious amounts of popsicles.

But in the fall it's all about baking. Specifically pretzel baking. It seems like every fall I get this nagging little voice whispering about salty, deep golden brown crusts and soft, pillowy insides. Pretzels it whispers in my ear, soft, salty, addicting pretzels. And I cannot resist it. 

This weekend I fed my pretzel urges twice. Once with this beautiful luscious bread, and once with a pretzel sweet roll that I'll share with you soon. This bread though. This bread is incredible. Quite possibly the best bread I have ever baked. I used my go-to pretzel recipe, which I have previously presented to you covered in cheese. It has all the best elements of a pretzel- the salty sweetness, the unbelievably soft insides, the glossy, thin deep brown crust, but in sliceable form! Plus, it stays fresh and soft days longer than a soft pretzel.

I cannot even convey to you how wonderfully soft, pillowy, and perfectly textured the inside of this bread is. It's unbelievable. The salty edges of the slice are lovely but the real treat is the middle. It manages to be substantial and hearty, yet light on the tongue. 

I ate the heal of the bread plain, savoring every perfect bite, and then quickly followed it up with two pieces, spread with a thin layer of dijon mustard and topped with skinny slices of avocado. This is what lunch in heaven must taste like. I followed those up with most of the rest of the loaf.

This bread is wonderful as it only has to rise once, and only for one hour, and if you end up allowing it to rise for two or three hours, it's just as good, so you can easily throw together the dough, run some errands, and then come home and boil and bake it up before dinner. I think you could even let it rise in the fridge over night, if you wanted, though this would likely lead to denser bread. Boiling a loaf of bread before baking may seem like a strange move, but trust me on this one, it's the boiling that creates the deep brown pretzel crust and helps perfect the fluffy-yet-hearty pretzel texture inside. 

IPA Pretzel Bread

1/2 C warm water
1 1/2 C IPA beer divided into 1 C and 1/2 C 
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 cups flour
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter + extra for greasing
10 C water
1/2 C baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Coarse salt

Pour warm water into the bowl of your standmixer (or just a mixing bowl), sprinkle package of yeast over the water and let sit for 8-10 minutes, with the top of the bowl covered with a towel.
combine flour, sugar, and salt, mix until well combined. Melt butter in small saucepan over low heat or in microwave.

Measure out beer and bring to room temp- I just placed mine near my little pot of melting butter.

Once yeast has foamed up like the head of a beer add the flour to the bowl followed by the melted butter and 1 Cup beer. Using your stand mixer, or wooden spoon, mix until a dough forms, adding more flour if the dough is too wet, more water or beer if it is too dry. 
Once dough comes together, give it a couple of kneads  then form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. 
Allow to rise 1 hour, or until dough doubles in size. I like to cover my bowl with a towel and put it in a warm place like inside a slightly warmed (then turned off) oven, or on top of a running radiator. 

Once dough has risen, combine the remaining 1/2 Cup beer, the 10 Cups water, and the baking soda and bring to a boil. Preheat oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape into loaves. Once water/baking soda combination is boiling, lower 1 loaf into the water, and boil for about 30 seconds, turning it over once or twice while boiling, then remove from the water and place on the parchment paper lined baking sheet. I used a large mesh strainer with a handle to lower my bread and fish it back out, but a large spatula would also do the trick. Repeat process with second loaf. Brush each loaf down with the egg/water mixture, sprinkle with the coarse salt and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the crust is a rich deep golden brown. Allow to cool for about five minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Kale Citrus Beet and Burrata Salad

Burrata. One of my favorite Italian cheeses. With it's delicate, globulous mozzarella outsides and its soft, luscious, creamy almost-liquid insides. In the summer I like it with tomatoes and basil, or with strawberries and a bit of balsamic vinegar, but in the winter when citrus is in season I make this salad, it's a perfect mix of wintery earthy beets and summery sunshiny citrus. 
However, this time, the time I decide to document this lovely winter salad, I made a mistake. A terrible mistake. A nearly salad ruining mistake. A mistake it took trips to two different grocery stores to remedy before dinner. I'll start at the beginning, it began on Monday night, at Whole Foods.

Usually I shoot on the weekends, but on Saturday morning I went to Brooklyn to pick up a strawberry plant I'm helping to try to convince to bear fruit by January for a photo shoot, and on Sunday I had to process photos from a Wedding Reception I also shot on Saturday. So on Monday night after I work I hurried over to Whole Foods to grab ingredients to make this salad on Tuesday morning. I was in a hurry, it was nearly 7 and I still had to get ingredients for this and dinner, and walk the two miles back home, and it was cold out and I was hungry.

 I found my way to the cheese case, and spotted the burrata right away, but upon picking it up I discovered it was one large ball of burrata, and I wanted two small lumps, one for each salad (I actually wanted four, to pick out the best looking ones), but right behind the container with one ball of burrata, I spotted a container with two. I grabbed it and inspected the lumps. Indeed there were two, and they were round and plump looking, so I grabbed a second container, which also had two, popped them all in my cart and boogied on out of there thinking that had gone very well. 

The next morning I began to make this salad. As you'll notice, the burrata doesn't come in until the end, so I left it in the fridge, and prepared everything else. At 1PM, with only two hours before I had to leave for a job, I took the burrata out of the fridge, opened it up, and gently lifted one of the lumps of cheese out of the brine. 

The first thing I noticed was how much less delicate than the burrata I usually buy from Alleva dairy it was, but that wasn't much of a concern. I turned the ball over in my hand, and noticed there was no twisty top part. Now I was concerned. I set the ball down, selected a less attractive one, and cut it open. No creamy, curdly cheese ran out of the center. In fact, the center was totally firm, one hundred percent solid, as solid as fresh mozzarella. Fresh Mozzarella. It's always next to the burrata in the cheese case. But I had looked at the container, I had seen it's label saying burrata. 

That's when it hit me. I had only checked the label of the first container I picked up, with the one lump of cheese. I grabbed the lid of the container on my counter and read it. Lioni Mozzarella. My heart sank. But I had no choice, I had to work soon, so I shot the salad with the mozzarella you see in these photos. And then I ate it because I was starving. And then I went to work. On my way home I went to a different Whole Foods, where they were entirely sold out of burrata, but I was not to be daunted. I was eating this salad tonight, darn it. So I went to Fairway, where there were three different types of burrata and a sale on Ritter chocolate bars. So I guess the moral of this story is to always check your labels and that I should go to Fairway more. 

1 orange or tangerine
1 grapefruit
1 meyer lemon
2 burrata balls
8 oz lacincto kale
3 beets
dash olive oil

2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp oil oil
salt + pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degree celsius. Remove the stalks from the beets, drizzle with a dash of olive oil, and wrap in tin foil. Roast for 40-50 minutes, until a fork can be easily poked into them, but they are not super soft. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

While the beets roast, make the dressing. Combine the vinegar, honey, and a generous dash of salt and pepper in a bowl, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Slowly pour in the olive oil while whisking, and continue to whisk until oil is well incorporated into the vinegar. Stop as soon as dressing begins to thicken. Set aside.

While the beets cool, wash and dry the kale, then stack the leaves up about 5 at a time, roll them up like a long cigar, then slice across the top to produce thin ribbons. of kale. See here for more info. Place the kale in a large bowl. 

Once the beets cool, chop them into wedges of your desired size (I did 1 inch wedges, but 1/2" would work if you like smaller beet bites), and add to the bowl with  the kale. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Set aside. 

Jubilee the citrus by cutting off the top and bottom, then standing the citrus on it's end and cutting vertically to remove the pith and peel. More info on jubilee-ing here. 

Feel free to pause now for 30 or so minutes and allow the kale and beets to marinade in the dressing, which will turn a lovely bright pink. If you'd rather eat sooner, you don't have to let the kale marinade at all. 

Gently toss the citrus with the kale and beets. Split the salad between two bowls, and add the ball of barrata to the center of each. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ginger Chocolate Bark and Lavender Chocolate Bark

I am fairly picky about my sweets. If I'm going to eat a cupcake it better be a great, moist, dense cake with a lot of flavor topped in a buttercream that tastes more of butter than confectioners sugar, and even then, I usually remove most of the frosting. I'm not one for grocery store cupcakes, or sugary sheet cakes, and you won't find me eating a plain Hershey's bar any time soon.

When I was a young teen, growing up in Ohio supping on dry sheet cakes and overly sweet candy bars at birthday parties, I believed that I didn't really like cake or candy bars very much at all. It took me a while to understand that there was a difference between a Giant Eagle brand rainbow-frosted sheet cake, and a rich, moist, triple chocolate cake with chocolate ganache between the layers. Or, that there were Hershey's bars and Snickers bars, and then there were 70% cocoa dark chocolate bars with candied orange peel on top. I didn't dislike desserts, I disliked overly sweetened, poorly made desserts. 

When I first moved to the city, I lived on campus at the Fashion Institute, and during my second year I had a small kitchen in my dorm, which had a small refrigerator, in which I always had at least one exciting bit of chocolate. My favorites were a dark bar with cinnamon and spicy peppers, and a sweet-n-salty bar spiked with goji berries and pink sea salt. I preferred Vosges chocolates, which is not cheap stuff, so I would limit myself to two 1" squares of chocolate a night, taking tiny nibbles and letting the complex, spicy-sweet-salty-fruity bars melt in my mouth in chocolatey bliss. 

When I moved to a small city in Washington state to finish school all the convenience foods of Manhattan, bagel shops, juice places, fast food korean, boba, fancy chocolates, french macarons, were much harder to come by. Or, at least, they weren't within walking distance of my little house next to a goat and chicken farm and across the street from a forest. So I began to make desserts instead.

It started with cookies, but quickly evolved into lemon cakes and pineapple upside down cakes, to chocolate pies and blueberry crumble bars, coconut custard, lime squares, and foraged fruit crisps of every kind. But it wasn't until very recently that I started making chocolate bars. 

I can't believe how simple they are to make! I call these refrigerator chocolates, because you need to store them in the fridge to keep them from being as melty as a Reeses cup left in the car in July. They make a fantastic late night dessert nibble, every time I walk by the fridge I want to stop and grab another! I added cardamom to the cocoa powder to make a more complex bar base, and the little note of spice in the bar is absolutely lovely, and has a bit of an exotic taste.

I'm suggesting two different toppings for these slightly-healthier-than-most chocolate bars. One Paleo friendly option of dried lavender (which was absolutely lovely, if you've never tried lavender chocolate, now is the time!), and one slightly more sugary option of candied ginger, but you could top these in any number of things. Dried orange peel, slivered almonds, broken pretzel bits…. oh gosh, broken pretzel bits just sounds heavenly. I think I have to run out and get pretzels and make those asap! 

Chocolate Bark with Lavender or Ginger

Chocolate Bark:

1 C cocoa powder
1/2 C coconut oil
5 tbsp maple or honey
1.5 tsp cardamom


4 oz candied ginger
1tbsp lavender flowers

Line a small 6X6 or 6x8 pan with parchment paper or a silpat, set aside. Allow paper to come a bit up the sides, about 1 inch on each side.

Add coconut oil to a small sauce pan, over very low heat, and melt, then warm for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in honey or maple until well combined. Mix in the cocoa powder and cardamom, then whisk until mixture is glossy and shiny and cocoa powder is fully mixed in. Remove from heat.

Pour mixture into parchment lined pan and spread out into an even layer. Place entire pan into the freezer for 5-8 minutes.

Remove pan from freezer and top chocolate with a sprinkling of lavender flowers or candied ginger. Return pan to freezer for 45 minutes. 
After these have solidified, break or cut into desired sizes. Store in refrigerator. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Black Sesame Green Tea Cookie Sandwiches

So I took a little hiatus last week, and I wish I could tell you it was because I went on a really cool exotic vacation, or because I was assisting on a ton of food shoots, but unfortunately it is nothing so glamorous. I was absent last week due to a little camping mishap last weekend.

I was up early on last sunday morning, so I set about making myself a cup of tea on our camp stove, using our little backpacking pot. When the water boiled I took the lid off the pot and went to remove it from the stove, at which point I caught the bottom of the pot on the top of the stove and tipped the entire pot of boiling water straight down the front of my legs. Naturally, I screamed bloody murder, jumped over the picnic table bench I had been standing behind, and ripped off all my clothes from the waist down in the middle of a public camping ground. And then things got really ugly, which is also the right word to describe the current state of my thighs. 

Needless to say, I burned the heck out of myself. S sprung into action, pouring all of our remaining drinking water all over my legs, and making me cold compresses from the melting ice water in the cooler. Unfortunately for me, S does not know how to drive, so we were stuck there until I pulled myself together enough to pack my leg with bags of ice and drive back to Manhattan. Consequently I spent most of this last week going to the doctor, buying gauze, trying to figure out how to wrap the gauze so it doesn't all slowly slide back down my thighs, and sitting on the couch trying not to think about my legs and potential scarring. 

However, it was also S's birthday on Tuesday, and I wanted to make him something sweet. I had planned on making a matcha cheesecake with black sesame cream on top because S loves loves loves matcha, but my current limp and inability to bend over at the waist made cooking anything too labor intensive out of the question. 

Then I remembered I hadn't shared this black sesame cookie recipe with you after serving them at my creative meetup, and I knew they would be lovely paired with some green tea frosting. Sort of like an oreo, only much, much better. 

Typically when I make a recipe like this I try to find ways to reduce the amount of sugar, or to replace it with honey or maple syrup or dates, but I'm injured. I want comfort food. I want full fat, full-of-sugar buttercream frosting.  This is not one of my healthier, paleo-friendly dishes. There are three sticks of butter in this recipe. Three.

S loved these birthday cookies. I think their deliciousness helped him take in stride the blow of finding out there wasn't going to be a green tea cheesecake. Atleast not this week. There has been very little cooking besides these cookies this week. The cookies are definitely a bit addicting. Every time I walk by the fridge I tend to open it up and grab two, one for me, and one for S. 

The cookie base is based on an adapted recipe from Just One Cookbook, and I love them with the icing or even plain on their own. The original recipe calls for whole black sesame seeds, so if you can't find black sesame powder, you could definitely give it a whirl with whole seeds. I buy my black sesame powder at a Chinese grocery store in my neighborhood, but since every grocery store in my neighborhood is Chinese, I'm not sure how easy it is to source outside of this region. Whole black sesame seeds would work just fine though, and those can be bought at most grocery stores, in the spice aisle.

Black Sesame Green Tea Cookie Sandwiches

Black Sesame Cookies:

1 Stick Butter
1/3 C almond meal
1 C flour
2/3 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C black sesame powder
1 tsp almond extract
1 egg yolk
1-2 tbsp milk

Matcha Buttercream:

2 sticks butter
1 1/2 C confectioners sugar
1-2 tbsp milk
2 tbsp matcha powder
1/2 tsp almond extract
Cube the butter, then pop it in the fridge or freezer to stay firm while you prep the other ingredients.

In the bowl of a food processor (or in a medium sized mixing bowl), combine the flour, almond meal, sesame powder, sugar, and salt. Process until thoroughly combined. Add the chilled butter cubes and the almond extract, then process again, until the butter is well worked into the dry ingredients. The result will be a dry , crumbly mixture that will stick together if you mush it. 
Add the egg yolk and process one more time to combine. Dump the mixture out into a bowl and mix a bit more to help the dough come together. I find my dough is typically a bit dry (depending on how large my egg yolk was), and usually I need to add some milk. Add milk 1 tbsp at a time, mixing well to combine, until a dough forms that is still pretty dry, but which you can mold into a ball without it crumbling apart. Typically I add 2 tbsp of milk, 1 at a time. 
Form the dough into a ball, divide the ball in half, then place a sheet of plastic wrap on your workspace, and on top of it, form 1 half of the dough into a log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in fridge, repeat process with the 2nd log. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. 
If you're concerned about keeping your logs totally round to ensure the roundest cookies, take the dough out of the fridge after an hour or two and roll it again, gently, focusing on rolling out the flattened areas, then pop it back in the fridge. The trick is to do this quickly so the dough stays firm and doesn't re-flatten in the fridge.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F, remove 1 log of dough from the fridge at a time, then unwrap and slice dough into about 1/6" - 1/4" slices. Place on a parchment paper lined (or a buttered) cookie sheet, about 1/2" apart and back for 8-10 minutes, until they are just barely turning golden on the edges. Put any leftover dough log back in the fridge until it's time to slice and bake it.

While dough is baking make the buttercream. Place the softened butter into the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a large bowl, add 1/2 sugar and using your stand mixer, or an electric hand mixer, beat the sugar and butter until very creamy and smooth. Add the 2nd half of the sugar and beat again. Add the matcha powder, almond extract, and milk and beat again until totally smooth. 

Match up cookies into pairs by size and shape, then spread the bottom of 1 cookie with green tea frosting, and place another cookie (bottom side towards the frosting) on top. Refrigerate 30 minutes to 1 hour to firm up the icing, then serve fresh from the fridge. They are fine at room temp too, but the frosting is a bit softer and messier when not chilled, plus S and I sampled them fresh vs. chilled and agreed we liked them best chilled!