Monday, May 30, 2011

Kaiser rolls

A couple weekends ago, I was in the mood for some bread baking. I had roast beef on the menu for Sunday dinner, and anticipating lots of leftovers that would make delicious sandwiches, I decided to try making the Kaiser rolls from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I had tons of fun making the bread - it is so satisfying to start with a pile of flour and then pull these out of the oven at the end. If you enjoy baking bread at all, you should definitely try these. There is nothing complicated about the recipe, but it does require planning ahead, since there is an overnight fermentation step. The rolls were fantastic and made wonderful sandwiches with our roast beef!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Asparagus salad with bacon and eggs

In spite of the fact that the sun has barely shown its face in the last couple weeks, growing season in Massachusetts has officially begun. I got some fresh asparagus and salad greens at the farmers' market on Saturday and decided to use them for this salad, which is a simplified version of a recipe from Around My French Table. I knew the salad would show off the quality of the vegetables, plus the recipe included bacon, which is always a bonus. This was my first time trying soft-boiled eggs, and I loved them - the set whites are perfect as a salad topper and the runny yolks become part of the dressing. We really enjoyed this salad, which we had as a light dinner last night - the combination of asparagus, bacon, and eggs is fantastic and perfect for spring.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

A couple weeks ago, Andrew and I went to the New England Mobile Book Fair, which is an awesome discount book store. The cookbook section is the biggest I have ever seen, so naturally I was in heaven. Especially when I found out that some of the cookbooks were on sale for 40% off. I came home with the Flour bakery cookbook, Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table, and Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain (believe me, it took a lot of effort to pare down my selections to just those three). I'll be doing posts about all these books as I try them out, but for today, I'm focusing on Good to the Grain. I have heard a lot about this book, which has earned rave reviews from some of my favorite food bloggers. The book focuses on baking with whole grain flours, which is a topic that gets very little attention in other cookbooks. Different grains have a great variety of flavors and textures that can add a lot of baked goods, as long as the recipes are created with care (you can't really substitute different flours without knowing their properties really well). The recipes in Good to the Grain are supposed to be fantastic, and I'm excited to finally have a copy of the book.

Yesterday I baked a batch of the whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. I had a craving for sweets and figured I'd see how the whole wheat cookies compared to my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. This is the only cookie recipe I've tried that uses cold butter for creaming with the sugar instead of room temperature. I'm sure there's a good reason for that, though I don't know what it is. But it doesn't really matter - the cookies are great! They are sweet and chocolatey, nice and chewy in the middle but crisp at the edges, just the way I like. You should make these, and not because they are made with whole wheat. They're just really good chocolate chip cookies.

Whole wheat chocolate chip cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain
Makes about 22 cookies

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
8 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped into small (1/4 - 1/2-inch) pieces

Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 deg F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. If there are bits of grain or salt that remain in the sifter at the end, pour those into the bowl as well. Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars together at low speed just until they are blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and mix each until they are combined. Add vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl and add all of the chocolate. Mix until chocolate chunks are evenly distributed throughout the dough and then transfer the dough onto a work surface. Use your hands to mix and make sure all ingredients are fully incorporated (sometimes the stand mixer doesn't completely mix the stuff at the bottom of the bowl).

Scoop balls of dough (about 3 tbs in size) onto the baking sheet, with about 3 inches between them (you'll fit about 6 on each sheet). Bake cookies for 16-20 minutes, rotating pans top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until the cookies are evenly golden brown. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and repeat with remaining dough.

Note: If you want to save some cookie dough to bake later, you can scoop it out and refrigerate the balls of dough for about a week (wrapped in plastic). You can also freeze the balls of dough on a tray until firm and then transfer them to a freezer bag.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Asparagus, edamame, and arugula salad

Here's a nice springtime salad that I made last week as part of my sister's birthday dinner. It features edamame and very thinly sliced raw asparagus, which are somewhat unexpected for salad ingredients, but make a nice combination with the arugula and cheese. I found the recipe in The Gourmet Cookbook - the original recipe calls for fresh fava beans, which apparently are traditionally eaten with pecorino cheese in Rome during the springtime. The salad recipe is inspired by that combination, but I substituted edamame for the fava beans, since fresh favas are not available right now in this area. Feel free to use them if you can get some!

Asparagus, edamame, and arugula salad
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
Serves 6

1/2 pound medium asapargus, trimmed and peeled (peeling isn't necessary for very fresh, thin spears)
2 cups shelled edamame (I used frozen)
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. baby arugula
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Pecorino Romano cheese, for shaving

Cut asparagus stalks lengthwise into very thin slices, 1/8-inch-thick at the maximum, leaving 1 inch intact at the tips. Reserve tips and cut stalk slices into 1-inch segments.

Bring a 4-quart saucepan of well-salted water to a boil and blanch asparagus tips (not stalk slices) for 2 minutes, then immediately transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water. Bring the water back to a boil, then blanch edamame for about 3 minutes if frozen (1 minute if fresh), or until tender. Immediately transfer edamame to the ice water containing the asparagus tips.

Drain edamame and asparagus tips, then toss them in a bowl with the sliced stalks, 1 tbs oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss arugula separately with the remaining 1 tbs oil and salt and pepper to taste. Divide arugula among 6 plates, and top with with edamame/asparagus mixture. Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin slices of cheese over the vegetables, then drizzle salad with balsamic vinegar.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Chocolate cake with Nutella frosting

My sister's birthday was last week, and we had her over for a birthday dinner last night. I asked her what kind of cake she wanted me to make, and she said chocolate with hazelnuts. I didn't find a satisfactory recipe in my cookbooks, so I decided to adapt a double chocolate layer cake recipe that I found in Gourmet Today. To get the hazelnut flavor in there, I added Nutella to the chocolate frosting, and also used Nutella between the cake layers instead of frosting.

Let me tell you, this cake is incredible. Just incredible. It's rich, intensely chocolatey, and very moist, and the Nutella adds a nice flavor dimension. The frosting is a ganache, which was pretty easy to make and work with. This chocolate cake recipe is an absolute keeper, and popular opinion agrees with me - turns out it is one of the all-time highest rated recipes on Epicurious. You'll never need another chocolate cake recipe again after trying this one!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Artichokes with sesame dipping sauce

Hi there. Sorry I haven't posted in a while - life has been busy, and there haven't been many blog-worthy meals at my table lately. But spring is here now, which always gets me energized to be more productive, so I'm going to do my best to post more regularly from now on...

Anyway, on to the artichokes! This was my first experience cooking and eating whole artichokes. In the past, I've only had the hearts, either canned or frozen. But I was in the mood to try something new when I was vegetable shopping this week, so I decided to pick up some whole fresh artichokes. I found some really interesting recipes for stuffed artichokes online, but decided that since it was my first time cooking them, I wanted to keep it more simple. I ended up adapting this recipe, which I found on Epicurious. It was great - the artichokes were really fun to eat, and the dipping sauce was delicious. I think the sauce would work nicely as a dip for many other vegetables as well, or maybe even as a sandwich spread.