Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I should have titled this post as "Challah: Epic Fail," but then no one would want to read it. This was my second attempt at this lovely braided bread, but I still didn't get it right. Sure, it looks pretty, and I thoroughly enjoyed kneading and braiding the dough, but the taste and texture were nowhere near what I expected. I'm no expert on challah- my only experience with it is the stuff you get at a high-end grocery store bakery, which isn't bad, but I imagine the real stuff must taste better. I've heard several people who know what they're talking about (you know, those lucky people with Jewish grandmas who make it right) describe it as a rich egg bread, like brioche. I'm quite familiar with good brioche, and let me tell you- this challah didn't exactly remind me of anything remotely close to brioche. It was marginally better than the store bought stuff, but not nearly eggy or tender enough to convince me that I got it right. I know it's just a matter of finding the right recipe, but I hope I don't have too many more failures before I get it right.


1 1/2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus extra to oil the bowl
5 eggs
1 Tbsp. salt
7 to 7 1/2 cups AP flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 Tbsp. sugar in 1 3/4 cups of warm water. Whisk oil into yeast, then mix in 4 eggs one at a time with 1/2 cup sugar and salt. Gradually add flour until dough can be kneaded.

2. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size. Punch down, cover, and let rise again in a warm place for half an hour.

3. Divide the dough in half, then divide each half into 6 equal parts and roll each part into a 12" rope (this will make enough for 2 loaves of 6 braid challah). Pinch the ends of 6 ropes together and braid the challah. Place each loaf on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

4. Beat remaining egg and brush onto challah (save enough for a second brushing) and let rise another hour.

5. Preheat oven to 375 and brush loaves with the remainder of the egg. Bake in the center of the oven for 35-45 minutes or until golden. I usually have to put a layer of foil over the top of my challah after 20 minutes to prevent the top from darkening too quickly.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pad Thai, for Kirsten

This past weekend, the hubs and I took a spontaneous trip that, surprisingly, worked out perfectly and proved entirely rewarding, and I didn't realize how much we needed it until the trip was over. We visited my friend, Kirsten, whom I hadn't seen in 7 years, and frankly, I don't think my husband and I have been able to feel as comfortable and relaxed as we were with her and her husband for a very long time. I feel as if I have reconnected with a sister I never knew I had. We spent the weekend cooking, of course, but in between our chatty banter about the nuances of sheep's milk cheese and using an outdoor turkey fryer and bricks to devise a MacGyver-worthy outdoor burner, I found a kindred spirit and discovered a wonderful friend who I admire and greatly appreciate.

Kirsten shares my love of food like no other friend I have. She's passionate, detail-oriented, and quite thirsty for knowledge, and she has no qualms about repeatedly preparing a dish until she gets it right; because of these qualities, I had no reservations when she told me we would be having Pad Thai for dinner our first night. The dish itself isn't hard to prepare, but figuring out the sauce can be challenging. Many recipes I've seen call for distinctly un-Thai ingredients such as white sugar or even ketchup. Ew. This recipe, however, utilizes palm sugar, fish sauce, and tamarind to get that wonderfully unique sweet-salty-sour balance so familiar to Thai cuisine. It's important to make this one serving at a time to avoid a textural disaster, and before you taste it, be aware: once you do, you'll never be satisfied with most restaurant adaptations of Pad Thai again.

Pad Thai

Tamarind concentrate
A good fish sauce
Palm sugar
Thin, flat rice noodles, prepared
Chicken or Shrimp
Green Onion
Bean sprouts
Crushed peanuts

To make the sauce:

Reconstitute the tamarind concentrate.

Julienne carrots. Cut green onions into two inch pieces and then into strips.

In a small saucepan , combine equal parts tamarind, fish sauce and palm sugar over medium heat. Simmer for a minute or two and then taste test to make sure the flavors have combined adequately. You should be able to notice a change in taste between the onset of the simmer and a minute or two later (you want balance between the flavors). Adjust sweetness/saltiness/sourness as necessary.

Heat wok on high heat. Add oil, swirl, add chicken or shrimp, and then add carrots, green onions, and bean sprouts. Cook for a minute, then add a handful of noodles. Stir noodles, allowing them to heat through and then add egg, pushing other ingredients aside so the egg can scramble.

Add sauce from saucepan (you don't want it too saucy- this isn't marinara sauce).

As soon as sauce is added, stir and allow to cook for about ten seconds, then add green onions and bean sprouts and cook for just a few more seconds.

Dish noodles onto plate, sprinkle with crushed peanuts, cilantro, and bean sprouts and squeeze a wedge of lime over the top.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies

First off, the mandatory shpiel:

This month's Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole of Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

I've been wanting to make marshmallow at home for ages, but for some reason it always gets thrown aside for something not so basic... but wow, is it good! It's unfortunate for my husband how making simple things like marshmallow at home can shed so much light on how bad the store bought counterpart is. I know he had to be internally weeping when I told him I'd be making my own marshmallow, because he knows that once I made it, we'd never buy the store-bought kind again- EVER - which means that his rice krispie treats just got a lot more complicated than they were meant to be. Really, though, it's quite simple to make your own. There's very little effort involved, and the shockingly smooth, lightly sweetened, heavenly pillows you get for such little effort are well worth the few extra minutes it takes to do them right.

But I digress... these wonderfully fluffy, chocolaty treats turned out quite well, though I wasn't thrilled with the texture of the actual cookie. I was hoping for something a tad bit more firm, but overall, it was a fun challenge. I didn't do the Milan cookies, but I'll post them with the rest of the challenge and hope to get around to them sometime soon.

Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website
Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies
Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

• 3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
• 1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
• 3 eggs, whisked together
• Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
• Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.
9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

Homemade marshmallows:
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/4 cup light corn syrup
• 3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
• 2 tablespoons cold water
• 2 egg whites , room temperature
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Chocolate glaze:
• 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
• 2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website
Milan Cookies
Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies

• 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
• 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
• 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
• 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
• 2 tablespoons lemon extract
• 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
• Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
• 1 orange, zested

1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Quick Mango Salsa

Lately, I haven't been doing much in the way of meal planning. Or, more accurately, I've been coming up with a weekly meal plan, buying the ingredients, and then totally throwing the plan out the window and rearranging the ingredients I've purchased to fit whatever whim I have on any given day of the week... and by "rearranging," I mean realizing I have roughly half of what I need for what I want and running back to the store to fill in the gaps. Good time management? No. Fiscally sound? Definitely not. But hey, I can't always know on Sunday what I'll want on Thursday. Luckily, when a craving for mahi mahi with mango salsa hit the other day, the only things I didn't have on hand were the fish and the mango, neither of which I would buy until the day I need them anyways. I love the play between flavors in this salsa, and it was wonderful on the fish.

I didn't write down any measurements for this salsa, but the recipe basically goes like this:

Mix together one mango, one cucumber, and a half of a red onion, all diced. Add a pinch of salt, the juice from one lime, a touch of Thai chili paste, and a handful of roughly chopped cilantro and stirred everything together, then let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes so the flavors can blend and the juices can be drawn out. Try not to eat it all with a fork before dinner.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake

I came across this recipe the other day when I was looking up the recipe for apricot-lacquered wings in Gourmet. It's sitting right across the page from the wings, looking completely oblivious to its own awesomeness potential and almost expecting to be ignored, kind of like the geeky wallflower with coke-bottle glasses and full dental headgear you went to high school with who blossomed into a complete knockout by college. You know the type- plain and forgettable, until you really get to know her; once you do, you'll wonder why it took you so long to do so. That's how this cake is: it looks like something that could easily turn into comfort food, like a glorified pancake, but it has spunk and panache.

Though I used blueberries this time, this is a great basic recipe to use as a springboard for several different variations. I'll probably use raspberries next, but I can see cherries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, plums, peaches, and many other additions in the near future.

Blueberry Buttermilk Cake

1 cup AP flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup plus 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 cup fresh blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter and flour a 9" round cake pan.
2. Whisk together dry ingredients.
3. Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well.
4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until just combined.
5. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter berries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
6. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn on a rack and cool until warm, 10-15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Wings for People Who Don't Like Wings

I've had this recipe sitting in my "To Do" folder for several weeks with no plans to actually make it. Honestly, I only made note of it because I figured Yves suffers through enough of my girlie meals (or as he says, appetizers) and deserves some good man food every once in a while. While I am perfectly content to nosh on half a head of sauteed sesame cabbage and call it dinner, he needs meat to feel satisfied. Of course, in my usual subconsciously selfish manner, I completely forgot about the recipe because I didn't intend to make it for my own dinner. I don't like wings.

Fast forward to a few nights ago: I'm doing my weekly "What can I quickly throw together for dinner with limited ingredients because I'm too lazy to run to the store for what I really want" kitchen dance, and I came across a small jar of apricot jam that had been condemned to the back of the pantry, and it struck a chord in my memory about a recipe for wings I had found in Gourmet. The plan was to make the wings for Yves and then figure out something else for myself, but that plan came to a screeching halt once I tasted the sauce I had made. It had this wonderfully balanced sweet and spicy quality with a nice kick from fresh ginger, and once it thickened under the broiler into a sticky mess of goodness... wow. Chicken wings have never tasted so good.

Apricot-Lacquered Chicken Wings

3 garlic cloves
1 3" piece ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
2/3 cup apricot (or peach) jam
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. water
1/4 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
4 lb. chicken wings

1. Preheat broiler.
2. Drop garlic into food processor and finely chop. Add ginger and finely chop.
3. Add preserves, soy sauce, water, and pepper flakes and pulse until sauce is combined.
4. Line bottom and sides of a large 4-sided sheet pan with foil. Lightly oil the foil.
5. Pat wings dry and place on sheet pan. Season with salt, then pour sauce over wings and toss to coat. Spread wings into one layer.
6. Broil 4-6" from heat for 5 minutes, then turn over and baste with sauce from pan. Continue to broil, rotating pan and turning and basting 3 more times until chicken is cooked through and browned in spots, 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

The hubs and I leave for Chicago tomorrow morning for a short trip. While we're there, I'll have a full day of nothing but one-on-one time with the city, so any suggestions about things to do are welcome. We've got some packing and last minute planning to do tonight and a very early morning ahead of us, but we're both excited about this trip and what it could potentially mean for us, so sleeping might be difficult tonight. For now, I'll leave you with the hummingbird cake I made for our family cookout this weekend. It's become my staple cake this summer, and I'm waiting for another excuse to make it again.