sexta-feira, 12 de dezembro de 2008

pecan shortbread cookies

Shortbread is a type of biscuit (cookie) which is traditionally made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts flour. It is so named because of its crumbly texture, from an old meaning of the word short. The cause of this texture is its high fat content, provided by the butter. The related word "shortening" refers to any fat that may be added to produce a short (crumbly) texture. The recipe asks for 3 sticks of butter, but hey, it's the holidays...

Shortbread is not to be confused with shortcake, which is similar to shortbread but made using vegetable fat instead of butter, giving it a different texture. By coincidence, it is now understood that the short or crumbly texture is a result of the fact that the fat inhibits the formation of long protein (gluten) strands.

Though it's now a year-round favorite, this tender-crisp, butter-rich cookie was once associated mainly with Christmas. The classic way to make shortbread is to press the dough into a shallow earthenware mold that is decoratively carved. After baking, the large round cookie is turned out of the mold and cut into wedges. Today, more often then not, the cookies are formed into simple squares or rounds.

pecan shortbread cookies

  • 3 sticks of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and the sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. in a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter and sugar mixture. Add the pecans and mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough 1/2 inch thick and cut into 2 1/2 inch squares or rounds with a plain or fluted cutter. Place the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown. I always do a test with just one cookie to find the precise timing.
Allow to cool to room temperature and serve. Makes 20 to 24 cookies.

sábado, 6 de dezembro de 2008

roquefort-honey ice cream with roasted pears

If not the "king of cheeses" as some proclaim, Roquefort is at least one of the oldest and best known in the world. This blue cheese has been enjoyed since Roman times, and it is made with sheep's milk that is exposed to a mold and aged for three months or more in the limestone caverns of Mount Combalou near the village of Roquefort in southwestern France. Roquefort has a creamy-rich texture with a pungent, sharp, somewhat salty flavor.
This amazing combination of flavors will certainly surprise you. It's one of those ice cream recipes you can't stop having because of its sweet and salty complexity. A great way to serve it is to roast pears with some honey and vanilla. Not only do they taste delicious together, but the combination does double-duty as the cheese course and dessert. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm sure roasted fresh figs would work just as well.

You can substitute the Roquefort with a favorite blue cheese. Just be mindful that their salt content and creaminess vary. If you are using raw honey or a strong-flavored one, use the smaller amount indicated. You can always add more honey to taste at the end of the process.

roquefort-honey ice cream

  • 6 to 8 Tbsp good honey
  • 4 oz Roquefort cheese
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Warm the honey in a small saucepan, then set aside. Crumble the cheese into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top.

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warm egg yolks back into the saucepan.

Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until it thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cheese. Stir until most of the cheese is melted (leaving some small cheese bits is a good thing). Stir in the cream and honey.

Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream machine according to its instructions. Serve with honey roasted pears (recipe follows). Makes 3 cups.

honey-roasted pears:

  • 4 ripe bosc or comice pears, quartered lengthwise and cored
  • 3 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup good honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, halved

Preheat the oven to 450.
Place the pears and walnuts in a large, heavy skillet.
Drizzle with honey and dot with butter. Sprinkle with vanilla over the pears and set the pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 8.

sábado, 29 de novembro de 2008

spicy red cabbage with cumin seeds and tomatoes

This is a great Indian-inspired side dish that will make your house smell as if your Indian grandmother was cooking. It can certainly go with some basmati or jasmine rice and a curry dish. But honestly, I serve it with anything I have in the house, probably because I love the flavors of cumin and cilantro, both warm and cooling. The raisins bring a slight sweetness into this very aromatic preparation.

Another good idea is to prepare some yogurt by adding some salt and chopped mint to it. The creamy, refreshing and acidic texture of the yogurt gives the cumin a softer, more round flavor to rely on. Sour cream also works great.

spicy red cabbage with cumin seeds and tomatoes:

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 medium shallots, thinly chopped
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 small head red cabbage, cored and sliced into thin strips
  • 1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes with their juices
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the cumin seeds and saute for 1 minute. Add the shallots and the pepper flakes and saute for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the cabbage, tomatoes, and raisins. If using whole tomatoes, crush them against the pan by using the back of a wooden spoon. Raise the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the 1/2 tsp of salt, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, covered, until the cabbage is tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and cilantro. Season with salt if desired, and serve. Serves 4 to 6.

quinta-feira, 20 de novembro de 2008

cauliflower soup with roquefort

When Michael and I go out for our day-long walks in and around Boston during the cold months, we always crave warm soup. There's something about the velvety texture and the warmth that makes soups and stews so appealing right now.

Since vegetables are so hearty during the fall, they allow us to slow cook them, developing more robust flavors with the addition of cheeses, stock and olive oil. So, I thought about cauliflower soup.

A member of the cabbage family which is composed of bunches of tiny florets on clusters of stalk, cauliflower may be white, green or purple. The entire floret portion is edible, so are the green leaves at the base.

I got the idea of a cauliflower soup from Heidi Swanson, a great photographer and blogger from San Francisco. I did some changes though. Instead of 4 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable stock), I only used 3 and added 1 cup of white wine. I used Roquefort instead of Gorgonzola. I also used a chinois to strain the soup to make it even silkier.

cauliflower soup with roquefort:

  • 1 cauliflower
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1 cup of white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
  • 1/3 cup roquefort cheese (or any other blue cheese)
  • 1/3 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
  • parsley for garnish

Remove and discard the outer leaves from the cauliflower. Chop the florets and the stalk into small pieces. Set aside. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat for 5 minutes until translucent.

Add the cauliflower, thyme and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in stock and wine, stir and bring to a simmer. Then cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is soft.

Crumble the cheese and stir over a low heat to melt into the soup. Add the creme fraiche and stir to combine.

Pick out the thyme sprigs and the bay leaves, then blend the soup in a blender until smooth.

Return the soup to the pot. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with parsley. Serves 4

domingo, 16 de novembro de 2008

wild mushroom fricassee over farro

Peter Berely has a wonderful book called Fresh Food Fast, where he presents delicious vegetarian dishes that are full of flavor and easy to make. He divided the book into seasons, and the dish of this post is the first one on the autumn section.

I love this dish! The flavors are amazing. The combination of the herbs with mushrooms and the chewiness of the farro with the sharpness of parmesan cheese make my eyes roll. If the Buddha was a chef, this fricassee would be in his bistro's menu.

If you haven't cooked with farro, or can't find it in your area, don't be discouraged. You can substitute with any grain or even pasta if you prefer. Farro is another name for spelt, an ancient, protein-rich strain of wheat that can be tolerated by a lot of people who are allergic to modern wheat. It's a semi-refined grain, only the most outer husk is removed. This makes it faster to cook and easier to chew and digest than whole wheat berries. Like rice, farro will cook on the stove top in about 25 minutes, or just 9 minutes in a pressure cooker.

If you can only find one type of mushroom, that's fine. Just don't use the white variety, since they render no flavor.

wild mushroom fricassee over farro:

  • 2 lbs mixed mushrooms, such as shitake, chanterelle, cremini, and oyster, cleaned
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly milled black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups farro
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup dry red wine
  • 3 Tbsp parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese

To prepare the fricassee, place a baking dish on the middle shelf of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

Cut the large mushrooms into 1-inch pieces, leaving small ones whole.

In a bowl, toss the mushrooms with 2 Tbsp of the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Spread the mushrooms on the hot pan and roast for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the farro. In a medium saucepan bring to a boil 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Add the farro and let it simmer for 25 minutes in low heat. When the water is almost all absorbed remove from heat and put the lid on.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over high heat. Add the onions and 1/2 tsp of salt. Saute until he onions begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the roasted mushrooms to the pan with the onions. Add the flour and saute, stirring, until it browns and begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.

Add the wine and 1/2 cup of water. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.

Add the herbs and garlic to the pan and simmer for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over farro and sprinkle with grated parmesan. Serves 4.

sexta-feira, 14 de novembro de 2008

baked cauliflower and broccoli cannelloni

As the days get colder, and when it starts to get dark at four in the afternoon, my cravings for pasta and baked dishes flourish. This dish is very easy to make, but it leaves the impression that you spent a big chunk of the day cooking. Here's why: the pasta does not have to pre-cook. It cooks itself in the sauce, making the pasta absorb all the flavors; and the white sauce is a great shortcut I learned by mixing creme fraiche (or sour cream) with parmesan cheese. The addition of anchovies gives the dish a layer of flavor that does not resemble in any way the taste of fish, but it gives that salty bite on the tongue that you can't quite tell what it really is. 
A good idea is to make the cannelloni in two separate baking dishes so you can have leftovers. 

Baked Cauliflower and Broccoli Cannelloni:

  • 1 pound broccoli, florets and stalks, chopped
  • 1 pound romanesco or white cauliflower, florets and stalks, chopped
  • 7 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 (1 once) can anchovies in olive oil, drained and chopped
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes with juices
  • 2 cups creme fraiche, or sour cream
  • 7 oz parmesan cheese, grated
  • 15 cannelloni tubes
  • 1 small bunch basil, leaves picked
  • 7 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
 To make the tomato sauce, chop two garlic cloves and add them to a medium sauce pan, and fry the garlic to a golden brown color in olive oil. Add the canned tomatoes with juices, salt and pepper to taste, and cook the tomatoes, covered,  in very low heat for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and drop in the chopped broccoli and cauliflower. Boil for 5 to 6 minutes, until cooked, then drain and reserve a cup of cooking water. 

Heat a wide saucepan, pour olive oil to coat the pan and add the garlic. Fry for a few seconds, then add the thyme, anchovies, and chilies and continue frying for a few seconds before adding the cooked broccoli and cauliflower with 4 Tbsp cooking water. Stir everything together, put the lid on the pan, and cook for 20 minutes on medium-low heat. Remove the lid for the last 5 minutes to let the moisture evaporate, then use a potato masher to crush the vegetables until it becomes a coarse pure (see third photo). Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the the mixture on a baking sheet to cool. 

Get yourself another baking dish and pour in the tomato sauce. To make the white sauce, mix the creme fraiche with half the parmesan, a sprinkle of salt and pepper and some of the vegetable cooking liquid to thin it down.

Spoon your cooled broccoli and cauliflower mixture into a pastry bag or sandwich bag and cut off the corner. Squeeze the mixture into the cannelloni tubes, making sure the tubes are completely filled. Place them in a single layer on top of the tomato sauce. Lay the basil leaves over the tubes and spoon the white sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle over the remaining parmesan and tear over the mozzarella, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden and bubbling on top. Serves 4 to 6.

quinta-feira, 13 de novembro de 2008

the perfect roasted brussels sprouts

The first post will be about a vegetable cultivated in 16th century Belgium. Brussels sprouts are a member of the cabbage family and, indeed, resemble tiny cabbage heads. It is in season now, and it's always nice to find the sprouts still attached to the stalk for freshness (see photo).

Everybody knows I'm the cook at home, but this week Michael surprised me with a great side dish of roasted brussels sprouts accompanying pumpkin raviolis. I've been roasting this veggie since I started using it, but Michael blanched them first for just a minute in boiling water and transfered them to the baking dish to roast. The results? A less bitter, much softer, faster to make brussels sprouts. Without the blanching the vegetable would take around forty minutes in the oven to roast. When you blanch it, the time is cut in half and the results are definitely improved. How's that for a great Thanksgiving side dish?

Michael's roasted brussels sprouts:

  • About 12 brussels sprouts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil to coat

Preheat the oven at 400 degrees.
Clean the brussels sprouts by cutting the bottom (the part that was attached to the stalk) off. Halve them lengthwise.
In a large pot of boiling water, add the prepared brussels sprouts and blanch them for 1 minute.
Strain and transfer to a roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the oil and toss.
Roast for 18-20 minutes. Once they are done roasting, finish them with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and pepper. Serves 2 as a side dish.