Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 30: Scallion Pancake

With work being hectic and my project to take down the tree, I've been wanting to make something in the kitchen.

I was looking through books at the library and came across a dim sum cookbook.

Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch by Ellen Leong Blonder, 2002.

One recipe that looked simple to make was scallion pancakes.

Scallion Pancakes

1 1/2 C All-Purpose Flour [I weighed out 215 g]
1/2 C Boiling Water
2 T Cold Water
4 to 6 Scallions (white and green parts, thinly sliced about 1 C) [I used 1/2 green onions and 1/2 Chinese chives totaling about 3/4 C]
1T Vegetable Shortening or Toasted Sesame Oil
Salt [I used Kosher]
2 to 4 T Vegetable Oil

Sift flour into a large bowl.
Stir in the boiling water and blend well. Add the cold water.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 4 to 5 minutes or until the dough is firm and elastic.
Dust the dough with flout and wrap with plastic for a 30 minute rest.

Instead of sifting, I added the flour to the food processor and let it run for 10 one second pulses.
After, that the boiling water was added and pulsed ten times... The dough will appear crumbly.
The 2 T of water was added and the dough started pulling away from the sides... about 20 pulses.

After kneading, the dough was smooth and not as stiff as I expected.
Wrap for a 30 minute rest.

My toppings: Green onion (aka scallions) and chive mixture; Kosher salt and sesame oil.

After 30 minutes, the dough was divided into 6 equal portions.
The dough was rolled out to about an 8 in round.
Sesame oil is brushed on the pancake.

A couple pinches of kosher salt and 1T of the scallion mixture is sprinkled onto the dough.

Folded over sides (about thirds)

Rolled into a cylinder.

Stand on end to....

mash down for more rolling...

Roll to about a 5 " diameter.

Using the veg oil Pan-fry over medium heat about 3 minutes per side.

Cut into wedges and serve.

Overall, had a nice oniony flavor and the texture was chewy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

May 27: Daring Bakers' Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Not a lot of rules this month from our hostesses, we have complete freedom for the filling and shaping of the dough. The only thing that's mandatory is to make the strudel dough.

For additional tips and technique, feel free to go the Linda's blog (make life sweeter!) and Courtney's blog (Coco Cooks). Many thanks to them for hosting this month's challenge.

Hmmm... Apple strudel??? Isn't that the the oblong danish looking pastry that's made from an enriched dough or puff pastry? Also, doesn't it have an icing?

One of the reasons I joined the Daring Bakers was to learn new techniques and make new foods. So imagine my surprise, when I read through the challenge, that I've been wrong about what a strudel is. I don't like being wrong. :-p I know it happens to the best of them. I guess I'll have to roll with the punches and somehow carry on.

So OUT!!! with my preconceived notion of strudel...

And... FORWARD!!!! to making a real strudel...

Apple Strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

Strudel dough
1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

Lately I've been liking the food processor, especially for doughs.
Add all the ingredients into the food processor and apply ten 1-second pulses. Really simple and less mess!

After ten pulses, the dough balled up and pulled away from the sides.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

Now the fun part... kneading and throwing/slamming the dough onto the counter top. The dough is silky smooth and kind of stiff. Throwing the dough onto the counter is supposed to help align the gluten which makes for thinner sheets. True or cooking myth?
This stiff dough is supposed to stretch out very thin? Hmmm... Well see.

While the dough is resting, I moved onto the filling

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking) I used Granny Smiths.

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. In another bowl, mix the cinnamon and sugar.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high.
Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted.
This will take about 3 minutes.
Let it cool completely.

Food processor again. 3 slices of whole wheat bread. I didn't have white bread so I used what I had. Again ten 1-second pulses.

Brown the bread crumbs in butter.

Stretching the Dough:
1. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

Here's my setup on my round kitchen table. I had a large box (16 inches x 32 inches) that I used as a platform... something from a YouTube video. Instead of a ruining a table cloth, I purchased an inexpensive ($4) twin bed flat sheet and cut it in half. White is best. You can bleach and wash it with no problems.

Dust the cloth with flour and rub the flour in.

Wow! After an hour rest, the dough is very pliable.

Very stretchy! I'm surprised.

2. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

I was able to stretch the dough thin enough to drape over the entire box. In fact, if I didn't use the box, I could have stretched the dough to cover a majority my dining table (41 inch diameter). No holes formed, but you can see there are spots that are almost transparent.

Thin enough to read something underneath.

Note/Hint: Few small holes in the dough is not a problem as the dough will be rolled, making (most of) the holes invisible.

Filling the Dough

1. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper).

Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

I used a strainer to spread the bread crumbs and keep out the large chunks.

I thought I had walnuts, but I found pecans instead.

Mixing the apple filling

2. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

Using the cloth to lift and roll the studel. This is like rolling a giant sushi roll.

Rolled and ready to transfer to a baking sheet.

Brush with butter and bake.

3. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

I actually baked about 40-45 minutes. I lost track of time.
HINT: If you don't use parchment, remember to grease the pan or in this case the aluminum foil. This strudel had a stickage problem.

Now that I've made the basic recipe... This is my "creative version of strudel.

Breakfast Strudel
The rolled strudel looked like a giant burrito. So I decided to make a breakfast strudel akin to my breakfast burritos.

Supplemented the bread crumbs with crumbled bacon.
Instead of walnuts, I used sliced breakfast sausage.
No apples... Potatoes fried with onions, mushrooms and spinach.

Wait! There's more...
A layer of bacon gravy, scrambled eggs and cheese.

Rolled and baked for 30 minutes! I remembered to set the timer this time. :)

Right out of the oven, looking like a baguette.

The Finished Strudel

The apple strudel... still slightly warm. Nice apple pie-like filling with a light crust. I think some ice cream on the side would have been nice. Personally, I'm not a big fan of warm apples. To me, the strudel tasted much better strudel the next day when cooled.

My breakfast strudel... which I had for dinner. lol :)
Thinly sliced and served on more gravy, topped with a little grated cheese and hot sauce.

Overall, I enjoyed the challenge. The recipe was very straight forward. Originally, I had my misgivings about the dough, but that stuff stretched out very thinly. Best of all I learned something new and corrected a misconception on what a strudel is.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May 14: Daring Cooks: First Ever Challenge

This is our very first Daring Cooks Challenge!
Our hostesses for this challenge are the the founders of the Daring Bakers, Ivonne (Cream Puffs in Venice) and Lis (Lia Mia Cucina).

A message from our hostesses:
"Two-and-a-half years after the birth of The Daring Bakers, Lis and I are so happy to inaugurate The Daring Cooks with the first ever challenge! Thank you so much to all of you for joining and for supporting us!

to do away with the suspense, we're happy to announce that the very first Daring Cooks' challenge is ... Ricotta Gnocchi!

We have chosen a recipe from the stunning cookbook by Judy Rodgers, named after her restaurant, The Zuni Café Cookbook."

I'd like to thank Ivonne and Lis for hosting our first challenge, also, for having the gumption and inspiration to form The Daring Bakers.

Personally, I'm an engineer/scientist/geek. Experimentation and learning is encoded into my DNA. Fortunately, cooking is a happy form of experimentation where the end results are edible.

Being a Daring Baker and, now, a Daring Cook gives me an enjoyable way of experimenting around with different ingredients and learning new techniques.

For our first challenge, we're making ricotta gnocchi.

Ricotta gnochhi? I've heard of potato gnocchi. In fact, I've been meaning to make gnocchi after watching PBS Italian cooking maestro, Lidia Bastianich.

My first challenge and I'm making something new and unknown to me. Gotta love it!

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
Source: The Zuni Café Cookbook. by Judy Rodgers and Gerald Asher
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

For this challenge, I used store bough ricotta. The ricotta was set onto a strainer and allowed to sit overnight in the fridge.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Wow! This part took longer than expected. I opted to use my fine mesh strainer to press the gnocchi through. My objective was to smooth the ricotta by mashing any larger curds through the mesh.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

I added nutmeg and pulled out the hand mixer. Not sure if the mixer was too harsh on the mixture, but I mixed until combined and looked "fluffy".

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour

Whoa! The dough is very soft, almost like a thick batter. Hmmm... I'm getting worried here. NOTE: after a few tries, refrigerating an hour helped firm up the gnocchi a little more.

I found that spoon angle is very important. Too steep and you'll end up with a splat and too shallow, you'll end up with more on your finger than the gnocchi. The ideal angle I found is the gnocchi will fall back on itself like a soft serve (ice cream) swirl.

Also, the the dough being very soft, the deep layer of flour helps. You can't pick the gnocchi up with your fingers for it will mash. However, with the thick layer of flour you can go underneath the gnocchi ball and roll.

I tried to show the progression from right to left: The initial gnocchi off the spoon. The finger tracks in the flour illustrate the technique of rolling the gnocchi from underneath. Objective... coat with flour.

either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

The next trick is picking up the dough ball. I found the two-handed method worked. Acting like steam shovel, you pick up the gnocchi from underneath, fingers slightly apart to allow the excess flour to fall out. Now you can transfer to one hand, gently cradle and move your hand back and forth so the gnocchi rounds off.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Finally, gnocchi formed and ready for the refrigerator for some firming up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Variations: For the gnocchi, you can flavour them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourselves. Surprise us!!!

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

However, I went more towards a piccata sauce - lemon, butter and capers. Also, I had a pan with beef fond (fancy way of saying I cooked a steak and had some nice tasty bits on the bottom). Garnished with parsley and lemon zest.

Initially, since my gnocchi dough was more like a thick batter, I was concerned that the gnocchi fall apart during the boiling. However, the results were surpisingly good.

The gnocchi was very light and airy. It was like eating a cloud or a foam. The gnocchi dissolved in my mouth leaving the light taste of ricotta, nutmeg and the sauce.

This was a fun and challenging recipe... not knowing what to expect and how the dough should look. However, the final results were very good, especially the the melt-away texture.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May 11: Music from a Tiny Violin.

Did I mention the OT has me confused about what day of the week it is?
I came home from work and wanted breakfast food.

Breakfast for dinner!
Biscuit with bacon gravy, fried potatoes with onions, mushrooms and spinach [got to have some veggies on the plate... lol] and scrambled eggs.

Ahhhh! Nice to relax to a nice breakfast, err! I mean dinner, and listen to the music from tiny violins. :)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

May 9: Stress Relief

I've been working a lot of OT... which means a lot of staring at a computer, going to meetings, back to my desk to stare at a monitor, a note pad or a layout drawing. It's very sedentary work.

Walking the dogs is gets me out and gets the blood circulating to prevent traveller's thrombosis (aka deep vein thrombosis)... blood clots from sitting too long. :)

With all a lot of pent-up energy and some good weather, I finally tackled a 12-foot tree that died from the cold winter.

The poor Yucca just couldn't take the cold weather.

I was able to cut half the tree down. I was sure thinking of buying a chain saw as I was going at it with a hand saw.

This is going to be a long term project - a couple weeks as I fill the green bin with the remnants of the tree. Also, trying to decide if I will undercut the root ball to pull out the stump.

At least I was able to use of that pent up energy. :-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

May 5: Chile Verde

Today is Cinco de Mayo. Also, with all of this talk about swine flu and the irrational fear some people have for pork. It only seemed appropriate to make a pork dish today.

First, we, humans, can't catch the flu from pork. More importantly, the flu virus is destroyed when it's heated above 160F. Well, I for one don't eat raw pork nor do I plan to lick my hands when handling the meat.

To start... The secret ingredient for today is....

Tomatillos are also known as husk tomatoes. Tomatillos have a tart, bright flavor to them and are typically used when green.

Prep work is simple... peel the husk and cut.

The internal structure seems more like a fig than a tomato. There doesn't seem to be multiple chambers for the seeds.

Slow Cooker Chili Verde
1 lb Tomatillos, coarsely chopped
21/2 lb Pork Shoulder, cut into 1" cubes
1 4oz can Roasted Green Chiles
1 C Onion, chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 C Green Salsa (Medium heat)
1/2 C Jalapeno Salsa
1 cube Chicken Bouillon

1. (Optional) Brown the meat... add the onion and garlic. I did this step bring the food up to temperature for the crock pot. With two beagles and me going to work, I didn't want to give the boys a chance to sample the food while I was gone.

2. Add all the ingredients to a slow cooker. Turn on to low and wait 8 hours.

The results after 12 hours. A long day at work.

Side Dish....
I made a simple salsa to accompany the chile verde. I wasn't up for making rice and beans. Also, the avocado and the tomato were ripe and ready to go, plus I wanted dinner to be on the light side.

Quick Avocado Salsa
2 Tomatoes, chopped
2 T Onions, chopped fine
1 T Cilantro, chiffonade
1/2 Avocado, diced
2 pinches salt
1 pinch Oregano, rubbed
1 T lemon juice

Add all the ingredients to a bowl and mix gently.

The finished dish...
Salad topped with the avocado salsa, corn tortillas and the chile verde.

Chile verde is one of those dishes you really can't go wrong. I enjoy the slight heat from the green chiles and the tartness from the tomatillos.