Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Pièce Montée and a Croquembouche

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a pièce montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Martha Stewart made it look easy and so pretty. The host of this challenge made it look easy and lovely. The other DBers made it look easy and amazing. But it wasn't easy or pretty for me. 
This is the final product. It is ugly and messy after two days of work. I had to make the pastry cream twice b/c the first one was too runny, the caramel sauce twice because I ran out of the first one, and the cream puffs twice because the dough (or batter in my case) was too runny. I had to do this all while having a serious toothache b/c of a wisdom tooth (or teeth) that I'm too chicken to get extracted. The pain was/is so unbearable that I didn't eat anything until the late evening. All of that work, and this so-called pièce montée ("assembled or mounted piece") and croquembouche ("crunch in mouth") is all I have to show for it.  I don't even like cream puffs, but I wanted to complete this challenge since I missed out on so many in the past.
Mise en place (the (failed) coffee pastry cream is in the bottle)
This challenge made me realize some things: 1) If I'm willing to spend all this time, effort, and money on a baking project, I should be able to extend even more effort on my dissertation. 2) I don't know if I can keep doing this Daring Kitchen thing. I was so frustrated today to the point of tears. *sigh* 
Anyway, below are photos of the process. I don't feel like going into details about the project. As far as taste is concerned, the pastry cream and puffs tasted good enough, but the caramel was so hard, I had to spit it out.
Blurry photo. Sorry.

So, yeah, I'm going to take a break from the kitchen for a few days. I don't even want to do anymore baking for a long time (hah! yeah, right). I should feel better by tomorrow.
You can find the recipe on Cat's blog.
Pastry Cream Process (the runny version): I was too tired to take photos of the good version.
I ended up using this pastry cream recipe on my second attempt.

Caramel (reheated a MILLION times):
First Creme Puff attempt was fine before...
adding the eggs...
Tried to work with the runny dough and ended up burning the puffs. Thanks overheating, old oven!
No, these are not macarons.

After adding flour to the runny dough...
Next day, second attempt.
 Better, but not great. 

The croquembouche kept falling, and I kept burning myself with the hot caramel that I had to reheat over and over again. Do I sound frustrated much?
A photo of the croquembouche caving in.

Oh well. I apologize for sounding so negative. I'm just tired and in pain. Take care, everyone!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Swedish Meatballs

Remember the black-peppered egg noodles? Well, I used them as a fragrant, flavorful base to these Swedish noodles. I searched for an authentic recipe that didn't call for sour cream and found an excellent recipe on Cafe Johnsonia's website.
Unfortunately, my limited exposure to Swedish meatballs includes the type you usually see in church potlucks. I remember popping them in my mouth like popcorn and feeling like 5 of those suckers were never enough.

I had a feeling that these meatballs would taste different b/c the potlucks I frequented were in the South, and I was right. The meatballs I was used to eating were more like Italian meatballs without the tomato sauce. These meatballs didn't have Italian spices, but it was flavorful and unique. I had to add some more salt to the dish after the fact, but aside from that, it was very good.
Accompanied with the peppered noodles, the dish was full of flavor and the spices that danced in your mouth. I added paprika in the noodles because I read that paprika is a common ingredient in Swedish noodles. The gravy is basically a roux plus beef stock or beef broth - my favorite type of gravy.
Did you notice the color scheme in the above photos? I tried to match the colors of the flag of Sweden. I didn't have a good background the same shade of blue, but this .75 cent blue plate from Bed, Bath, & Beyond was good enough. The yellow "napkin" is actually my Psi Chi Graduation Stole from undergrad LOL! 

I hope you give this recipe a go. It was definitely a new and welcomed dish for my tastebuds!

Swedish Meatballs
adapted from Cafe Johnsonia

Swedish Meatballs
from The Joy of Cooking

1 Tbsp. butter (I used margarine)
1 Tbsp. onions, finely minced

3/4 lb. ground pork (I used all ground beef)
3/4 lb. ground beef (I seasoned the meat with kosher salt before adding it into the mixture)
2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs*
1 cup milk or water
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. each: nutmeg, allspice, ground pepper

4 Tbsp. butter (I changed back to butter b/c margarine affects roux)
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups beef stock (I used one 14.5 oz can of beef broth)

Melt butter in a small, heavy-bottomed pan and cook the onions until soft, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the bread crumbs* and water. Let stand 2 minutes.
To the bread and milk/water, add the egg yolks, spices, salt, meat, and cooked onions. Beat on low speed until smooth.Turn the mixer to high and beat until the mixture becomes light in color and fluffy, about 10 minutes.
I apologize for the yucky photos of the beef. It isn't that red because it was stored in the freezer for awhile.

Use two spoons or a 1" small ice cream scoop dipped in water to shape the meat into 1" balls. Heat the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.

Cook the meatballs in batches of 15-20, making sure to brown them evenly on all sides. Divide the butter in half, and use 2 Tbsp. per batch of cooked meatballs instead of all 4 tbsp at once.

Remove the browned meatballs and drain them briefly on a plate. After all the meatballs have been browned and removed, add the flour to the skillet with the drippings and leftover butter.
Cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Slowly add the beef stock. Cook while whisking until the gravy is thick and smooth. Then, add the partially-cooked meatballs back to the gravy, and let them simmer for another 10 minutes or so.

Serve atop egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

*For homemade breadcrumbs, preheat the oven to 350 degrees; break up old (or fresh) bread, and place them in the blender (2 slices at a time!). Blend the bread, and pour the crumbs onto a jelly-roll pan. Spread the crumbs out evenly and toast for 15 minutes. (It is suggest that you toss around the crumbs halfway through, but I didn't do that, and it worked out fine. It was darker around the edges of the pan, but once I mixed it around, it looked fine.)
You can store the crumbs in your freezer for up to 3 months and use the crumbs for meatloaf, meatballs, and a topping on salads.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Black-Peppered Egg Noodles

Click on the above photo and enlarge it to see this beautiful pasta closely.

On our way back from the berry farm, my mother and I stopped at one of our favorite places - Barnes & Noble Booksellers. If you're not familiar with this place, it is essentially a big bookstore with a café serving Starbucks coffee.

Of course, I quickly sashayed (yeah, I don't sashay) to the cookbook section and picked up a bunch of stuff. The cookbook I spent the most time on was Mario Batali's Molto Italiano cookbook. I copied down many recipes to use for later, and my head continued to think about those recipes hours after I had left the bookstore.

The recipe I thought the most about was for these black-peppered egg noodles. It was mentioned nonchalantly as a variation of the regular egg noodles, but it appealed to me so much that I could not wait to pull out my pasta maker to make them.
Speaking of my pasta maker, I have a question for you: If you received a $100 Amazon card from your Chase Visa Rewards, what would you buy? Well, I used it for a Kitchen Aid Pasta Roller and Cutter Set that was on sell for 115.95 and paid only 15.95 out of pocket, and I don't regret the decision. Although I don't use the roller & cutter set much, I know I never would have been able to buy this coveted item (at least by me) on my own.
Anyway, these noodles were fantastic, flavorful, and oh so fragrant (oooh alliteration)! They looked so ugly at first that I thought I had wasted 5 eggs (I'm stingy with my eggs.). The dough was much rougher than regular pasta dough b/c of the black pepper. However, on a positive note, the black pepper prevented the dough from sticking together as much as the plain variety.
This ugly duckling became a beautiful swan!

If you have a similar pasta roller/cutter, I suggest working in small batches. I first divided the dough into four balls, but had to later divide those balls into two more smaller balls for a total of 8. This was way too much for one person, but I have dried out the noodles and plan to eat more as the week progresses.

Don't be deterred by how the noodles look and feel at the beginning; you will be rewarded in the end. They become lovely noodles after you boil them for merely 2-3 minutes. Stay tuned for what else I did with these noodles. You didn't think I just ate the noodles by themselves, did you?

Black-Peppered Egg Noodles

3 1/2 cups Tipo '00 or AP Flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 Tbsp black pepper (I used the powdery, cheap variety)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika (optional; I added this because of what I prepared with it)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil, based on desired consistency

Place the flour in a large bowl or atop a flat, wooden surface and make a well in the middle for the other ingredients. Next, add in the eggs, black pepper, salt, and paprika (if using).
With your hands or a fork, mix the ingredients together until you form a ball of dough (I would suggest using a stand mixer for this because the dough was somewhat coarse and hard to put together in a ball. Don't mix it too much, though). Add the olive oil as it mixes.
Keep on trucking. This ugly, questionable, brain-looking dough ball will form pretty noodles in the end; I promise!
Once you form the ball of dough, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before using. Next, separate the dough ball into 8 smaller balls. Flatten the balls of dough and put them through the pasta maker according to the instructions for your machine (I went up to the penultimate or next-to-last notch on the roller). Flour each layer so that the dough layers won't stick.
[From left to right: 1) dough balls that I had to divide into two again. 2) flattened dough ball that was still too big to fit into the pasta roller. 3) The layer of dough after going through the first notch on the roller. 4) the final product up to notch 7 with flour on top.]
Cut the flattened layers of dough into fettuccine noodles, or use the fettuccine cutter attachment. Make sure you sprinkle flour on the noodles so that they won't stick to each other.
Freshly-cut, floured, uncooked noodles that turned out much prettier than I'd expected.

**If making the noodles immediately, prepared boiled water with a bit more olive oil and kosher salt. Add the noodles, and cook them for 2-3 minutes.

***If using the noodles later, lay them out on a flat surface and allow them to dry out for a few hours. Store the dried noodles in a closed container for 2-3 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months in the freezer. More info here. You're welcome :).

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blackberry Cobbler w/ Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

When strawberry season was well underway, I wanted to go to a berry farm near where I live. I saw a link to all the picking farms in the United States (and many other countries) and found 2 places that sounded promising. Then, after I saw photos of some beautiful, enticing strawberries on Monica's photo site, Natural Lighting, I had to ask where she got the berries (actually, I just found out that strawberries are NOT berries. Read more about it here.). She told me that she got them from Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls, Texas.

Because I don't like to go to public places by myself (yeah, I have issues), I waited for my mom to arrive to go to the farm. Well, rain happened; my mom didn't want to go to the farm at first; and then, finally we went the day before she left....and guesss what?! We came the very day after the strawberries were in season there!! ARGH! I was so disappointed. I had been wanting to go for so long. Next time, I will have to get over my fears and go alone haha.

My mom washing her hands after berry picking. Her box was empty because we were going on our second round to look for any leftover strawberries. We were unsuccessful in our quest. :(

Anyway, even though the strawberries were no longer in season there, the blackberries were coming in with fury. So, my mother and I grabbed a box each and picked a bunch of these dark beauties. I thought I'd add that I picked the most berries*.*sidenote: Ignore the comment my mom is going to make about her picking the hard-to-get-because-they-were-deep-behind-or-in-the-middle-of-a-bunch-of-thorns blackberries for me. Don't believe her! She was just delirious from the hot sun! LOL!
So, what did I do with these luscious berries?! I made the only type of fruit cobbler I like - the one with a pie-pastry-like topping as opposed to cobblers with biscuits on top of the fruit.
I searched everywhere for the right recipe for a pastry-topping cobbler. I remember finding the perfect one over a year ago that I had made with peaches two or three times. Since I have a new laptop (I'M STILL A PC AND AM DARN PROUD OF IT! WOOHOO!), I no longer had that website bookmarked. Fortunately, I found the site again because the recipe is popular even though it was posted in 2006. In addition to his recipe, I picked and chose other ingredients and methods from three other recipes to end up with the one that is warm and settled in my tummy right now as I type. YUM!
This cobbler was amazing. My only mistake was not mushing up the berries. I think it is definitely a personal preference, but I didn't like tasting the less-hot interior of the berries after the first two bites. I think it would have been a better balance of crunchy, butter pastry taste and sweet, sour, berry taste if I had mushed them a bit. Nevertheless, it was still amazing.
I had run out of butter *GASP THE HORROR!* due to a 3-STICK ERROR (it still makes me sad to know I wasted that much butter) in a chocolate frosting I made, so I had to use butter-flavored shortening in the crust. I think the shortening caused the crust to be harder to handle. It still worked out in the end.

If you would like to use another pie pastry recipe, feel free to do so. I doubled the pastry recipe and used 2 extra cups of fruit because of the size of my dish (I will be blogging about this dish very soon). I like the double layer of pastry because you get a good amount of contrasting, yet complementary flavors.

Don't forget to make some vanilla bean ice cream to go with it!

Blackberry Cobbler - The Pie Pastry Variation
adapted from Stephen Cooks and other sites
Yield: 6 - 8 modest servings
Pastry (I doubled this for an 11" oval dish):
1-1/2 C flour
6 T butter
3 T shortening
1/2 tsp salt
3 T ice water
1/4 C sugar

Fruit Filling:
6 C blackberries
3/4-1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup AP flour
2 T cornstarch
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3 T melted butter

To make the pastry, place the flour, butter, shortening, salt and sugar in the processor bowl with the steel blade. Pulse a few times until the mixture is like cornmeal. Add the ice water and pulse a few times, just enough to mix the water into the other ingredients. Turn the mixture out into a plastic food storage bag (it will be crumbly, not yet like dough) and quickly knead it through the bag a few strokes, till it just starts to hold together. Refrigerate for an hour or more.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 475º. Combine the blackberries, sugar, flour, cornstarch, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir mixture until you see mostly the color of the berries.Taste and correct seasoning and sugar content. Stir in the melted butter (I didn't have butter, so I added the 1/2 Tbsp left of COLD butter to the top of the filling right before baking. See photo below).

Reserve and keep cold 1/3 of the dough. Roll out the rest to the approximate shape of your dish. (I used an 11" oval baking dish with double the pastry, but with the recipe as is, you can use a 5" x 9" oval baking dish about an inch and a half deep or a 6" square dish or 7" round dish). Butter the baking dish and spoon in half of the fruit mixture. Lay the pastry sheet over the fruit.
Bake about 12 minutes in a preheated 475º oven, until the pastry is just starting to brown. Spoon in the rest of the fruit mixture.
Ooops! I messed up on the collage of process photos. Just ignore the first and last photos.

Roll out the reserved dough, cut in strips and lay in a lattice pattern over the fruit.

Sprinkle with sugar and bake about 15 minutes more, until the fruit is bubbling and the lattice is browned.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Daring Cooks: Stacked Enchiladas and Giveaway Winner

¡Hola! from the land of Daring Cooks. Our hosts this month, Barbara of Barbara Bakes and Bunnee of Anna+Food have chosen a delicious Stacked Green Chile & Grilled Chicken Enchilada recipe in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The recipe, featuring a homemade enchilada sauce, was found on and written by Robb Walsh.

Yes, I'm a Daring Cook. Yes, I'm late. Yes, I've been a Daring Cook for a long time without posting anything. Shame on me. I saw this dish, though and knew I had to make it. It didn't come out as pretty as I'd like, but the enchilada sauce was amazing. Click here for more!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Guittard Chocolate Review and a "Bittersweet" Giveaway!!

Finally, I'm back! My mom is in town. My students took their final exam last week. I had to do a lot of grading and a study session with my students. Now, I will be turning in final grades tomorrow, and then I can say that I am done...well, for now.

This summer I did not get a teaching job for the first time since I've been a grad student here, but I'm okay with that because I officially paid off my car, and I need to just focus on my qualifying paper/dissertation proposal. So, I will be working on the paper all summer and am looking forward to that. I'm glad that I won't have to grade, teach, or prepare lessons all summer. It will be a different experience for me, but I'm ready for it.
Anyway, I received a special package in the mail! Want to know what's inside? Click here for more.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Store and Make Ahead Flour Tortillas *UPDATE*

From the fridge to the skillet to the calentador de tortillas hecho en México
(tortilla warmer made in Mexico)!

I make these flour tortillas quite often enough that I have the recipe memorized, and I know just how the masa or dough should feel. It should be very warm from the hot water, moist but not too wet that it leaves remnants of dough on your hands, and it should not feel dry anywhere on the dough. If it is, keep fiddling with the dough ball until it is all moist. Click here for more...