Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dragon's Beard

I felt like a zombie when we arrived in Sydney. Over 22 hours of travel will do that to a person (we had a very long layover in Los Angeles, if you curious how all that time stacked up). On our first day/night in Australia, Dave and I were determined to get out and see things instead of succumbing to unbelievable jet lag. We ambled through the Chinatown Night Market, refusing table offers from persistent maitre-d's. (Or where they drug dealers? Not sure - too tired to tell.) We stopped at a confectionery stall to watch an impressive candy-making demonstration.

Dragon's Beard is a Chinese treat that dates back over 2000 years. The outer part of the candy is made by folding and pulling sugar repeatedly until it turns into superfine threads, like hair. The strands are wrapped around a finely ground filling of toasted coconut, peanuts, and sesame seeds. Because of it's fine texture, Dragon's Beard is extremely sensitive to heat and humidity. It's shelf life is pretty much nonexistent, so it kind of felt like a privilege to see these candies being made by hand, and then getting to eat it immediately.

There is a lot of texture wrapped into a Dragon's Beard. The crumbly filling is hard to control once the silky exterior has been broken. The freshly pulled sugar still retained a bit of heat, allowing it to stretch by inches when bitten. There's a pretty embarrassing photo of me on my first bite of Dragon's Beard in which my eyes are rolled far back into my head with pure bliss. It's indicative of how yummy the candy was, but I'm thankful to Dave for not including it in the Flickr stream for our trip.

Check out some more of Dave's photos from Australia. There are more to come, and I'll be writing a bit more about fun things from our trip soon.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tiramisu Terrine - Daring Bakers February

Alright, here's the deal. I spent some time earlier this week prepping for this month's Daring Bakers challenge. Tiramisu, the long way. This one requires a lot of advanced steps and timing, and I thought that I was all over it. The brandy-spiked pastry cream and zabaglione were chilling, the mascarpone was straining, and the ladyfingers were cooling. All's right, right?

Last night, as I began assembling these prepared components into the main attraction, I realized that it had slipped my mind to bring home heavy whipping cream to round out the luscious tiramisu filling. I'm convinced that it was a Freudian slip, triggered by the fact that I had spent half of the day developing a recipe for Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie. Yesterday I consumed more than anyone's fair share of whipped cream before the work day was done. I'm pretty sure my subconscious, or my hardening arteries, were telling me to give the heavy cream a rest. Thus, with no cream on hand, I decided to wing it. Thickest mascarpone, silken pastry cream, and boozy zabaglione were whisked together. Delicate ladyfingers were soaked in extra-strong American coffee (whoopsie, also forgot the espresso). Individual ramekins were lined with plastic wrap and filled to the brim with alternating layers of the caffeine-laced cookies and spoonfuls of filling. I pressed firmly on the third and final layer of ladyfingers before dousing them with the remains of the filling, covered them, and left them to freeze.

Today, viola, it's Tiramisu Terrine for one. Without the addition of all of that extra whipped cream, the brandy and coffee flavors really sing, and even a faint hint of lemon shines through. After warming up for a few minutes, with a simple strawberry and balsamic vinegar salad on the side, this baby is cool, creamy, and fantastic.

Let's hear it for Freudian slips, y'all.

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Double-Bean Chili with Lime Sour Cream

Looking for a quick, easy, and super healthy recipe that doubles and triples easily? This chili is flavored with the four "c"s - cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, and chili powder. There's a seeded jalapeno thrown in for good measure, too. Make sure to use the freshest ground spices you can get your hands on. If you use the cumin that's been lurking in the corner of your cabinet since you went on that Indian food kick in '98, and your two-bean chili has no depth of flavor, you've no one to blame but yourself.

Make a big old batch of this stuff, eat on it for a day or two, and divide the rest into individual servings. Your freezer never looked so good. I tripled this recipe and served it at Stir It 28 alongside fresh corn bread with salted honey butter. Thanks to everyone who donated to the cause - it was a great time!

Double-Bean Chili with Lime Sour Cream
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large Spanish onions, diced (about 2-1/2 cups)
2 large red peppers, diced (about 2 cups)
2 carrots, diced
2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-16 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes, chopped, liquid reserved
2-15 oz. cans black beans
1-15 oz. can kidney beans

1-16 oz. container sour cream
zest and juice of one lime

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil. Saute onions over medium heat until beginning to turn translucent. Add red pepper, carrots, jalapenos, and garlic. Saute until carrots are nearly fork tender, about 12 minutes. Add all salt and spices; stir 2 minutes to evenly distribute. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato liquid and both beans; stir to combine. Drop heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently or until some of the liquid evaporates and the chili is thick.

Add the zest and juice of one lime to a 16 oz. container of sour cream. Serve chili with grated mild cheddar cheese, fresh cilantro, and a healthy dollop of the sour cream.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stir It 28

I am participating in a special benefit for Haitian earthquake relief, and am hoping that you can be a part of it, too. This Sunday, in several cities across the country, food bloggers, home cooks, and professional chefs are working together for Stir It 28 - Food Bloggers Align for Haiti Relief. Spend Sunday afternoon sampling good eats, sipping cocktails, and taking in fantastic views at Three Peas Art Lounge. Let's face it - a lot of people need our help, and you'll need to eat something at some point on Sunday, so you might as well make it tasty and for a great cause!

Chicago's Stir It 28 function is hosted by my friend Courtney of Coco Cooks. I've been to dinner at Courtney's house, so believe me when I say that you definitely want to eat whatever Courtney is cooking! Advance tickets are avaiable for $30 at Coco Cooks, or at the door for $35. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Share Our Strength and YĆ©le Haiti. Please spread the word far and wide. Events are being held in Atlanta, L.A., and New York City, too. Not near one of these cities? Feel free to make a donation online.

Stir It 28
Sunday, February 28
3:00 - 6:00 pm
at Three Peas Art Lounge
75 E. 16th Street
(Between Michigan and Wabash)
Chicago, IL 60616

Monday, February 1, 2010

Apple Strudel Bread - HB in 5

A lot of Sydney cafe chalkboards pushed a breakfast combo of sultana toast and coffee for a walloping $6.50. At present, the Aussie dollar is worth about $0.93 to the American dollar. I hope there's more than just sultanas (nothing but raisins to us Westerners) in that toast! Yes, Sydney was outta hand expensive, but more on that later.

This installment of the HB in 5 Bread Braid included recipes for Soft Honey Whole Wheat Bread, Hamburger Buns, and an apropos Apple Strudel Bread that included sultanas. I mean raisins. The base dough for these recipes is enriched with whole eggs, similar to challah and brioche. The fat from the eggs produces a super tender, fine crumb and a soft, smooth crust. To make the Apple Strudel loaf, the dough went through and initial rise, was rolled into a thin rectangle and covered with chopped apples and sultanas (sorry, raisins) and a bit of cinnamon. It's rolled into a thick log and rested again before egg washing, sprinkling with a little cinnamon sugar, and baking.

This loaf looked straight up perfect straight out of the pan. It had great shape and was perfectly browned on all sides. When I cut into it, I wasn't surprised to find that there were gaps of air between the bread and apple and sultanas raisins, a problem that's also common when making pie with raw apples. As the fruit cooks, it releases it's liquids and shrinks and creates steam and the whole thing is a mess because the apples aren't holding up their end of the bargain. Next time, the apples and sultanas are getting cooked beforehand. The apples and raisins are getting cooked. Maybe with a splash of Calvados.

Even if it didn't look perfect, the bread tasted great. It's much less sweet than commercial brands I'm familiar with, and the cinnamon is faint. The tart apples and plump sultanas (Didja know sultanas are just raisins, mate?) add moisture and texture to the bread. It's perfect for brekkie or afternoon tea.

The HBin5 Challenge is hosted by Michelle at Big Black Dog. Michelle will be sharing the links to all the other participants in this week's challenge on February 1st.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Daring Bakers January - Nanaimo Bars

I've eaten a graham cracker or two in my day. I grew up eating the Keebler ones dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and plain ones with a bit of peanut butter. These days I use graham crumbs for all kinds of crusts and streusels. For years, I've enjoyed these crunchy, perforated treats for years, but I've never once thought about making grahams from scratch, until this month's Daring Bakers challenge came along.

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and

I opted to make my grahams with regular all purpose flour. Time and budget constraints prevented me from purchasing the special flours required to make the gluten-free wafers, but I hope to try them another time. My grahams were delicious - crispy, browned, and lightly sweetened with honey. They were great on their own.

The fresh graham crackers were crumbled and used to make Nanaimo Bars, a rich Canadian cross between a bar cookie and fudge. The graham crumbs are combined with cocoa powder, toasted almonds, and coconut, to form a rich base. A thin layer of buttercream enriched with vanilla custard is spread over the chocolate base. Melted chocolate tops it all off. Traditionally the bars would be assembled in a sheet pan and cut into squares or bars. I opted to build mine in silicone muffin tins for a slightly sleeker look. I froze the finished Nanaimos until just firm, and they popped out of the muffin tin easily.

A bite or two of these Nanaimo Bars is all it takes - these babies are super sweet. Try making them in a silicone mini muffin tin for tasty, layered petit fours.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day - Master Recipe

I've always been a little intimidated about making bread at home. The real process requires hours of time for the dough to aerate and develop flavor and texture, requiring a baker to plan well in advance when fresh bread will be on the menu. 2010 is the year that I put this phobia behind me. I'm very excited to be a part of a group of food bloggers who are baking (but not kneading) our ways through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a new book by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoe Francois. They've built a method of bread baking that bypasses several steps of the traditional method and allows bakers to easily mix bread dough that can be used for up to two weeks when stored in the refrigerator. All of the recipes in HB in 5 include whole grains and wholesome ingredients. Their unique method is ideal for bakers who want fresh bread often, but lack the foresight to know when they'll want it. It's like this book was written just for me!

Our first challenge was to mix the Master Recipe from Healthy Breads. Part of the dough was shaped into a loaf and baked plain. It had a chewy, soft crumb with lots of tunnels. With a bowl of homemade turkey noodle soup, this bread made a really hearty wintertime meal. I especially liked it sliced and lightly toasted.

One third of the dough was shaped into an epi, a gorgeous decorative loaf that I haven't quite mastered yet. First the bread dough is gently coaxed into a baguette shape. Long, shallow cuts are made with kitchen shears down the length of the bread. The resulting scales are positioned to alternate to the left and right of the loaf. When it's baked, the epi should look a bit like leaves coming off of a vine. My cuts were a little wonky, so instead of leaves my epi looks slightly lumpy. I need to cut longer scales next time.

The remaining portion of the Master Recipe bread dough was turned into spicy crackers. With the help of lots of flour, the dough is rolled out paper thin, sprinkled with seasoning, and cut into strips with a pizza wheel. My cupboard was stocked with cayenne pepper, so the dough was dusted with that and a few granules of coarse sea salt. The baked crackers were crisp and spicy, and paired wonderfully with simple hummus. I loved the differences in shapes and sizes, caused by the dough stretching as it was transferred to the baking sheet. Very lovely.

You can find other interpretations of these recipes through Michelle of Big Black Dogs. She's the host of this group, and has been fantastic at organizing a schedule for all of us bakers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Playing Catch Up

It's been busy around these parts. The holidays came and went, Dave busted his left shoulder, and soon we're leaving on a jet plane to Australia to eat meat pies and drink Shiraz.

There were lots of good things to eat and drink in December, but very little time to write about them. Here's a quick pictorial retrospective, and a recipe for my 2009 holiday-cookie-of-choice. Despite its short ingredient list, these little cookies have an amazingly enticing aroma and flavor. Since Dave is on the mend, I've been taking my own (crappy) photos. Let's hope he's back to good very soon!

Laurel and Bob's Wedding Cake
Devils Food Cake - Chocolate Mousse Filling - Vanilla Buttercream - Sugar Flowers

Baby Shower Cookie Pops
Almond Butter Cookies - Royal Icing - Sparkling Sugar

Classic Tiramisu
Ladyfingers - Espresso - Mascarpone Custard - Chocolate Shavings - Cocoa Powder

Chewy Amaretti Cookies

8 oz (1 can) almond paste
½ cup sugar
1 egg white
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
12 maraschino cherries, patted dry and halved
¼ cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, break almond paste into pieces. Add sugar and beat on low speed until mixture is sandy. Add egg white and beat until mixture is very smooth.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons onto parchment lined pans, spacing 1” apart. Using your index finger, make a slight indentation in the center of each cookie. Push a cherry half into each indentation, and press slivered almonds around the cherry.

Bake 22-25 minutes, or until cookies are lightly browned around the edge. Cool for 5 minutes before removing. Cool completely before storing in airtight container.

Makes 24 cookies