Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where in the World is Dinner?

I often think that my favorite set of dishes is the one I'm using at the time.  The one that reflects the current season, holiday, or situation.  Lately, though, I find that I am absolutely over the moon about this recent acquisition of service for 8 of Fitz & Floyd's "Old World Maps."  I have been wild about them since I first saw them seventeen years ago and have longed for them ever since.  It may be because I have had a fascination with maps ever since I was a child.  It may be due to my love of travel, but whatever the reason I've been using these a lot lately and find that despite the intricate pattern and very specific colors, they lend themselves to so many different table coverings - both light and dark -, a wide variety of flatware (in this case a whimsical set made of bamboo), and glassware from elegant to casual as easily as I can swap out the safari wine glasses with the cut-glass crystal.
The travel theme is always a fun one as it gives me the opportunity to drag out a variety of souvenirs from trips, remembering each adventure fondly.

Sour Cream Snickerdoodles

These are the cookies I made yesterday while involved with the very successful 5-Minute Artisan Bread (that we're still swooning over).  First off, I have to tell you, that I am not a particular fan of Snickerdoodles.  I always found them to be good, but nothing special.  My husband, on the other hand, LOVES them, so I decided to make this recipe for him.  I did so, however, with great trepidation because as a lover of Snickerdoodles, he is a Snickerdoodle purist.  He doesn't like anyone to mess with something he considers the apex in crisp sugar cookie deliciousness.  Knowing this, and knowing what sour cream can do to a cookie I wasn't quite sure he'd be pleased with the results.  As it turned out, we were both pleased!  I sampled them warm from the oven and they were like little cinnamon clouds.  They reminded me somewhat of the teacakes I used to have as a child before my mother lost the recipe and stopped making them.  I'm a big fan of the crisp cookie, but these cinnamon softies won my heart.  Jim likes them as well.  They were not at all what he expected, but still surprisingly good, and sometimes it's nice to be surprised.
I found the recipe (and a wonderful tutorial) on the La Kocinera blog.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

5 Minute Artisan Bread - The French Boule

I am one of those people who just can't make bread, and because I can't do it, I am completely fascinated by it.  The process, the yeast, the flour, the shaping, the baking, the heady aroma, that first butter-laden bite.  All of this just sucks me in.  As a consequence I find myself drawn to the process, to the aisle of bread cookbooks at the local bookstore (many of which sit, dusty, on my shelves), and reading books of fiction that feature subplots on baking such as Barbara O'Neal's How to Bake A Perfect Life and Judith Hendrick's wonderful Bread Alone.  I was so captivated by the latter, that midway through the book I had to set it down, run to the kitchen, and bake a baguette using the recipe from the book.  How could I fail?

It was beautiful!  A gorgeous loaf  that smelled absolutely wonderful.  But...the crust was impenetrable even, I imagine, by shark teeth, the spongy interior would have easily removed permanent crowns and the most secure of fillings with ease, and it was so heavy I feared dropping it lest someone nearby fall victim to a piece of bread shrapnel.

Clearly, I had to accept that this was just one talent that I lacked.  Some people have the bread baking gene and some don't and, clearly (my family was quick to remind me) I don't.  Once I did check out the book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking, from the local library, but my fear caused me to return it unread. 

What made me attempt it again is anybody's guess, but having stumbled upon the recipe for the simplest of the 5-minute breads, the classic French boule, I decided to give it a try. First thing this morning I put the ingredients together in a big metal mixing bowl wherein I promptly ignored it as I went on about my day.  Forgot about it actually, until hours later when it was puffing up beyond the sides of the bowl and, in a panic, I stuffed it into the back of the refrigerator.

An hour or so before dinner while I was making Sour Cream  Snickerdoodles (a future blog post, stay tuned) I decided to pull off a chunk of the dough, shape it and pop it into the oven.  It would give me a chance to use the pizza stone and peel that I'd gotten for Christmas three years ago.

The little ball of dough looked a bit sad on that big peel, but I reminded myself that it was supposed to be a small loaf, so tossed on some flour, made three cuts in the top, as directed, and carefully slid it onto the hot stone in the oven.

For the next 30 minutes I paced.  I dare not open the oven door to get a peak for fear of the steam I'd created by pouring a cup of water into a broiler pan beneath the stone would escape.  When the timer went off I opened up the oven and peered inside.  I was met with a blast of heavenly scented steam from the baking bread that immediately transported me to Paris.  My little loaf had baked up beautifully with an aroma that begged for a bite. It was torture waiting long enough for it to cool so I could dive right in.
When the time came, I cut the end off, slathered on some butter and took a taste.  I felt quite chuffed that I got a knife through it not to mention that the inside had a beautiful, non-doughy texture.  Biting into the piece revealed a perfect loaf.  A chewy and crusty exterior, with a light interior.  I had done it!  I handed the piece to my husband and urged him to take a bite.  He chewed thoughtfully and looked at me and said,  "We'll never have to buy bread again."

Neither will you.

The recipe can be found in various places, including the book, that I am off to buy once I post this entry, but for ease and expedience, you can also find it here.  

How to Bake a Perfect Life: A NovelArtisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home BakingBread Alone: A Novel
This post is linked to:
Tuesday Night Supper Club
Tempt my Tummy Tuesdays

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spicy Sausage and Potato Soup

It's hard to imagine waking up near the end of March and seeing five inches of snow on the ground, at least where we live, so inasmuch as springtime normally doesn't have me thinking about thick, hearty soups, today certainly did.  In digging through the fridge I found the remainder of a package of andouille sausages that we'd bought for making jambalaya and remembered that I'd printed out a recipe for an andouille and potato soup, so decided to give it a try.  The recipe can be found here, but for the sake of convenience I've also listed it below.

Before I proceed, let me tell you that it is delicious!  I'd never made soup in a skillet before, so that was a first, nor had I ever made soup with andouille.  The skillet preparation makes it quick and easy, with little need for extensive clean-up afterwards, and the andouille makes for one delicious soup.  It's very hearty, so a bowl of this and a roll, and you have dinner.  I served mine with a tiny little side of mixed greens.
The recipe called for the sausage to be diced, but my husband thought he'd prefer it sliced, so that's what I did.  I'm not so sure dicing isn't the better idea in order to get a better sausage-to-spoonful ratio, but do whatever you'd prefer here.

Spicy Sausage and Potato Soup

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
12 to 16 ounces andouille sausage or other smoked sausage
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried leaf basil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups chicken broth
2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery, and diced (or in my case, sliced) sausage.
Saute until the vegetables are tender and sausage is lightly browned. 
Stir in the flour until smooth and well-blended.
Stir in green onions, parsley, basil, salt, and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring, for 1 minute. 
Blend in the chicken broth. Add the diced potatoes, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. 
Stir in the heavy cream and continue cooking until heated through.  

Serves 6.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cranberry Orange Scones

I was all set for a nice fresh bowl of fruit this morning, when I got up and opened the blinds.  Snow!  At the end of March!  Snow!  Not a lot, mind you, about an inch, along with sleet and drizzle.  It was the type of weather that called for something warm and comforting for breakfast.  I glanced at the recently purchased jar of Double Devon Cream on the counter and said to myself, Scones!

I've been eyeing this recipe of Ina's for some time, and figured why not try it today.  I cut the recipe in half since I was sorely lacking in dried cranberries, doubled up on the orange zest because I love it, and instead of dragging out the stand mixer, I thought I'd give these a try in the food processor.  It worked great!  Not only was it faster, but the texture was light and delicious, while still being suitably, umm, sconey!  My husband, who was just finishing up a breakfast of ham and eggs decided he'd try just a half of one, and quickly went back for the other half. 

The glaze was good, but the quantity unremarkable, so the next time I'm making it a bit thicker and putting on twice as much.

Cranberry Orange Scones

4 cups plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 cup dried cranberries
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix 4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup sugar, the baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs and heavy cream and, with the mixer on low speed, slowly pour into the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will look lumpy! Combine the dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of flour, add to the dough, and mix on low speed until blended.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn't stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.

Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Allow the scones to cool for 15 minutes and then whisk together the confectioners' sugar and orange juice, and drizzle over the scones.

Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like FamilyBarefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over AgainThe Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blueberry Crumble

This is the quickest, easiest dessert you'll ever make.  I call it "Blueberry Crumble" because I used blueberries, but truth be told you can use raspberries and call it Raspberry Crumble, blackberries and call it Blackberry Crumble, a variety of berries and call it Mixed Berry Crumble, peaches and raspberries and call it Peach Melba Crumble, well, you get the idea.  You can pretty much use any berry that you like, or peaches, nectarines, or plums, and come out with a delicious dessert, that will draw both admiration and praise.  I've been known to throw this together as surprise guests are having coffee in the living room, only to serve it an hour later.  The key is simply keeping fruit on hand. (I always have blueberries in the freezer - they freeze beautifully and, as a consequence, I'm never left guessing what to make for dessert when the pressure's on.)

The amount of fruit you use is pretty much up to you.  I grab a bowl the size of whatever amount of fruit I have and dump it in.  Be sure to wash the fruit thoroughly before use and allow it some time to drain (or pat it dry with paper towels if you're in a hurry).  If you're using fruit that has a pit, as in the case of peaches, plums, and nectarines, cut them in half and pit them, then slice them into wedges about a half inch thick.  (I do recommend the peach/blueberry or raspberry combination for both color and taste.)
Wash the fruit thoroughly before use and drain well.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. 
Put fruit into any size bowl that happens to be handy and that supports the amount of fruit you have on hand. I used this old favorite 1-qt. oval casserole.
Place the following ingredients into the work bowl of your food processor:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, and hazelnuts work well here)
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt

Pulse a couple of times until nuts are chopped fine and thoroughly blended into the flour/sugar mixture.
Cut 1 stick of cold butter, into 1/2-inch cubes and add to the dry mixture.  Pulse until mixture begins to clump. This will be your streusel topping.
Pour the topping evenly over your fruit, pressing down a bit.  If you have any left over, put it in a freezer bag, label it and freeze it to use for a future crumble, or topping on muffins or baked oatmeal.
 Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the fruit juices bubble on the side.  If the top starts to get too brown, cover it with a piece of foil.

Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream.  If there are any leftovers, I'm sure you can convince yourself that they would make an excellent breakfast, considering the serving of fruit and all.

Try it, and tell me what you think!

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