Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pears in Wine syrup

It all started with a leftover Merlot and a rare find of beautiful, local pears.   This desert signifies autumn to me.   It has the fall colors and the smell of spice reminds me of pies.  I once made these pears for Thanksgiving and they were a hit.  This time I changed up the spices and played with wine combination.  Since I had only about a cup of dry red wine, I wanted to add some sweetness without adding to much sugar.  Port would have been a good choice, but I only had a few little bottles left, that seemed too precious to use on the sauce.  I remembered a bottle of semi-sweet table wine we brought back from Finger Lakes.  It is a blend of local grape verities and is too sweet for my liking .  We originally brought two bottles to give away to our parents (they like sweeter wines) but never got around to it.  I used one for the Sweet Wine and Peach Sorbet and decided to use the other one for this desert. 
I am sure that by combining the sweet white wine with dry red I must have committed some-kind of culinary crime, but the sauce came out great… it even had the hint of cherries.

Pears in Wine syrup.

6 to 8 Bosc pears, ripe but still firm. 
1 tsp of whole pink peppercorns
Orange zest from ½ orange
1 cinnamon stick
½ inch knob of fresh ginger
2 cardamom pods lightly crushed
1 full bottle of a semi-sweet white wine, such as Moscato or Cauga.  You can also use semi-sweet Reisling.
1 Cup of Dry red wine ( any leftover wine will do)
1 cup of sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar.

Peel and core the pears.  Leave the stems intact, it looks prettier and makes it easier to handle hot pears.  Place the pears in a pot large enough to fit them all up-right. 

Add the peppercorns, orange peel, cinnamon stick, and cardamom.  Peel and grate the ginger and add it to the pears.  Pour all of the white and red wine over the pears.  They should now be submerged almost to the top.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 – 30 min or until pears are fork tender but not mushy. 

Remove the pears and set aside.  Strain the remaining liquid to remove all the spices and place it back in the pot.  Add the sugar and the vinegar and reduce until the syrup coats the back of the spoon.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fig and Rosemary Crostata

Fig is a highly praised fruit.  According to some sources it was the "forbidden fruit" consumed by Adam and Eve.  Since, it has traveled from Asia to Middle East and to the Mediterranean region.  Egyptians made what we now call "Fig Newtons" by rolling dried figs in dough.  Figs work great in both savory and sweet dishes.  Some of the European cultures use dry figs to flavor coffee.  In the Arab world they are fermented for spirits.

When figs are in season, which is June through October one just has to take advantage of their natural sweetness.  The taste goes perfectly with the two things I love most:  cheese and wine.  Crostata is the simple to make, festive enough to entertain with and can be made in many sizes, from family style to individual portions. 
Crostata is a tart that is baked without the tart pan.  The filling is enclosed by folding up the edges of the dough.  I have made sweet and savory crostatas and the recipe is versatile enough that you can use whatever is your pantry or fridge at the time.

Fig and Rosemary Crostata.
For the dough:
1 ½ cups of all purpose flour
6 tbs butter ( very cold and cubed)
½ tbs kosher salt
¼ cup of cold heavy cream ( milk or ice water can be substituted)
1 egg ( for eggwash)
½ tbs of French Flower salt ( this is course gray salt, which has a very earthy flavor, which enhances the earthy rosemary falvor.  You can substitute with any coarse salt)

For the filling
2 Qts of fresh figs
2 Tbs honey
3 rosmary springs minced

Preheat the oven to 350F.  In the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade attachment combine flour, salt, and cubed cold butter.  Pulse a few times until the mixture looks like coarse meal.  Add the heavy cream ( or water/ milk) and pulse just until the dough comes together.

Wrap the ready dough in plastic and let chill in refrigerator for at least 30 min.  If you are in a hurry, you can pop it into the freezer for 10 min.
While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.  Clean and quarter the figs, drizzle with honey and toss with rosemary.  If the figs are very ripe, try not to handle them to much so they keep their shape.
Roll out the dough on a well floured surface with a well floured rolling pin.  This dough is sticky… so I warned you!  You want a rough circle of about 12’ in diameter for a 9’ Crostata.
Add your filling to the middle of the rolled dough, keeping roughly to a 9’ diameter and fold the left over edges onto the filling, crimping as needed.  You may need to trim some of the uneven edges.  This dough is very forgiving, so if there is a tear it can be repaired easily.
Paint the dough of the ready Crostata with egg wash and bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment for about 35 min or until the top is golden brown. 
Let cool on the cooling rack and serve warm or at room temperature with your favorite soft cheese and wine.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Challah to break the fast.

I was breaking Yom Kippur fast at a friend’s house so I decided that Challah is traditional, pretty and not that hard to make.  At the onset, my husband did not fail to remind me that although I made Challah before, I have never done it successfully.  The bread always came out either to greasy or dense or both.
He also chastised me for making the bread roughly the size of a tire.  I mean it was huge.  He urged me to leave half of it at home, but I wouldn’t budge… I took the whole thing and not a piece was left.
I took the recipe from the  book called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking”.    I had to think about the method for a little bit to avoid the density in the bread.  I realized that since Challah dough requires a lot of fat ( butter or oil, eggs) over kneading might have been my problem.  When fat particles stay large in any dough, they give it lightness and “lift”.  If you mix or knead the dough to much you are at risk for very heavy bread without any crumb as all the fat particles have been reduced to a tiny size.  Challah or any fortified bread dough, such as Brioch, has to be approached with an opposite mentality as regular bread dough, which only contains flour, yeast, water and salt.  The more you knead the regular bread dough, the more gluten develops, the better tasting bread you will have.    This time around I exercised restraint.
This Challah came out pretty well.  First of all, I made one loaf out of dough portioned for at least 2 or maybe even 3.  I had to adjust the cooking temperature and time, but the recipe below is for the normal size Challah ( if round, about 8’ or 9’ in diameter).  Second, Challah bread should pull apart in long airy strands.  Mine was a bit crumbly for my taste, but I suspect it is because I used oil and not butter.  The book suggests this substitution. I also use instant yeast instead of granulated, and the amount makes a difference.  My husband’s comment was  that the Challah should have been sweeter, I will leave that up to you ( see notes below).

1 ¾ cups of lukewarm water.  You can use milk but the bread might come out greasy
1 ½ Tbs of Granulated Yeast, If using instant use 1 ¾ TBS
1 ½ Tbs of salt
4 eggs
½ cup of melted butter or vegetable oil
¼ cup of honey.  Use a bit more if you like your Challah sweeter or use the combination of ¼ cup of honey and 1 Tbs of sugar
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour.
1 egg for eggwash
2 tbs of poppy seeds ( optional)
( makes 2 large Challahs or 3 smaller ones)

Combine the water, Yeast, salt, eggs, butter ( or oil) and honey in the bowl.  Wisk slightly and let stand for 10 min.  Using a dough hook attachment or a wooden spoon add all 7 cups of flour at once.  Slowly mix together until the no more flour is showing.  The dough should still look pretty lumpy.  At this point cover the dough with plastic wrap and walk away.  Resist the urge to knead or mix anymore.

Let the dough rise about 2 hrs or until it is doubled in size.  Turn out to very well floured surface and knead very gently for no more than a 1-2 min.  Divide the dough into 2 equal parts.  If not baking the same day place the dough in the lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.   You can also freeze the dough by putting it into several freezer proof zip tip bags.    On baking day, let the dough come to room temperature before forming the loafs.
Form the Challah by dividing the dough into 3 equal strands and breading.  Or you can divide into 4 or 6 and use the basket weave, which is what I used.
Cover the formed Challah with a tea towel  and let rise on the counter for  1 ½ to 2 hrs.  In the mean time, preheat the oven to 360F.  If using baking tiles or stones, pre-heat for no less than 30 min, better a full hour.
Right before baking, paint the loaf with a beaten egg and sprinkle poppy seeds on top ( if using)
Bake the Challah directly on the stones ( or a baling sheet) for 25 -  30 min. minutes or until the top is golden and when tapped, the breads sounds hollow.
Let cool  completely on the cooling rack.  Resist the urge to eat hot bread, it is never as good as the one that fully cooled!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's Greek to me

On a recent wine trip upstate NY we stopped at a little college town called New Platz.  We were looking for place to lunch and the town had, what looked like, a few nice places.  We ended up in a little Greek restaurant called Yanni's.  Now Greek food is not glamorous, but if done right can be deliciously simple.  We ordered a few things that were freshly made and great, like sautéed eggplant, pepper dish which name I forgot and Skordalia (mashed potatoes, garlic dip).  The best was an appetizer, which for American diners is called babaganush on the menu, but in reality is Melitzanosalata.  Now I have eaten and made many different variations of this dish.  A similar dish exist in Russian, Ukrainian and Middle Easter cuisine, but I really liked this particular one.  I asked the owner and the chef for the recipe, which he did not divulge, however he did give me a few hits.  So I set out to re-create it the best I could.  Here is the recipe and some thoughts on changing it ( next time).

2 Medium Eggplant
1 clove garlic chopped
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tbs white wine vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs of chopped Italian parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Poke a few holes in the eggplants and roast on a baking sheet until soft inside, about 40 min.  You can also roast on the grill; it takes less time and adds a nice smoky flavor.  (Don’t forget those holes, as eggplants can explode, and the cleanup is not pretty).
Let the eggplants cool and remove the outer skin scraping down and reserving the flesh.  Place the eggplant, garlic, vinegar, lemon juice and parsley in the food processor and pulse until combined.  Add olive oil, salt and pepper and pulse a few times more.  You will now have a smooth eggplant paste delicious served with warm pita bread.
Next time I would process only a about a quarter of the eggplant with all other ingredients.  I would roughly chop the rest and then combine altogether.  It will give the dish a bit more texture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Accorn and Mushroom soup with Asiago brittle.

When the weather turns colder I start thinking soup.  A few years ago I discovered pumpkin, squash and acorn as a great vegetable soup base. When I was a child, I hated pumpkin.  It was something served as mushed up something, with sugar and honey.  It tasted kind of gritty and I was thankful my Mom did not serve it often. I recently realized that roasted pumpkin, butternut squash and acorn have a wonderfully nutty, sweet flavor and pair very well with many different combinations of fall vegetables.  This soup was inspired by something I had at a friends house last fall.  I played around with different spices and made it my own.

For the soup:

1 Medium acorn or butternut squash

1 medium yellow onion roughly chopped

1 lb of white button mushrooms chopped

1 cup of celery chopped

2 springs of rosemary

4 springs of thyme

1 tbs of chopped fresh oregano

1 tbs of smoked paprika

1 tsp of cinnamon

2 cardamon pods crushed

4 tbs of olive oil

1 chilli in adobo

1 tbs of adobo sauce

5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock



Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut the acorn into veges, remove the seeds.  Drizzle with 1 tbs of olive oil, season with smoked paprika, cinnamon and cardamon and roast for about 1 hr or until fork tender.

When the acorn or squash is done, let it cool long enough to handle and remove the outer skin, leaving just the flesh, set aside.  Pre-heat a large skillet, add the remaining olive oil and saute onions, celery and mushrooms until browned and tender.  At the last 5 minutes add the chopped rosemary, oregano and whole thyme springs.  Transfer the mushroom mixture and the acorn to a soup pot and add all of the stock, chopped up chilli and adobo sauce.  I like this soup spicy, so if you want it a bit milder omit the chilli, but keep the adobo sauce, it gives the soup a great smoky flavor.

Simmer the soup for 20 min.  Pure in a blender until smooth and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with croutons or cheese brittle.

Fornthe cheese brittle.
2 cups of coarsely grated Asiago or Parmesan.  You can use any combination of hard, aged, salty cheese.  An old sharped aged cheddar works great also.

Preheat the oven to 475F.  On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat spread the cheese into a thin layer.  Bake for about 5 or 10 min, until the cheese is bubbly and browned a bit.  Do not walk away these burn very quickly.  Cool on a cooling rack.  when the cheese brittle has cooled it will become, well .. brittle... Break apart and serve as a garnish for soups, salads and just a snack. 

Enjoy, this spicy soup is meant to celebrate fall flavors and take a chill off a rainy day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bread and Butter

This weekend was all about family. My father-in-law’s birthday has always been a center stage time in our family, but now with age and withering health it is a grand performance. It is the time to tell him just how important he is in our lives, how much we love him and I try and do my part with food.

The whole family getting together at our house for brunch and I overcooked as usual. I sort of went a little nuts with the muffins, scones and various condiments. But simplicity always wins, everybody’s favorite is always bread and butter.

I have been baking bread for a while now, and although I normally strive for the crusty, artisanal, Italian or French style yeasted breads, I decided to give this simple zucchini bread a try. It seemed simple and fresh and did not require any rising.

I also made sweet butter to go with it. Just because I find it fascinating how to make butter. One of these days I will post the whole process with pictures, but for now, just a recipe for making sweet butter.

Simple and makes a great breakfast or snack.

Yogurt Zucchini Bread  

1 cup of sunflower seeds

2 cups of all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbs sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup veg oil

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 cup coarsely grated zucchini

Preheat the oven to 325F. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and set aside. In another bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until foamy. Add the oil and yogurt and whisk until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Add the grated zucchini and the sunflower seeds. Stir gently carefully making sure the batter does not become too tight.

Butter a 9” loaf pan. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top out. Bake for about 1 hour and 10 min or until toothpick will come out dry.

Sweet honeyed butter

I whip my own butter and one of these days I will post the process. For this sweet honeyed butter, you can just take
8 tbs ( 1 stick) of butter at room temperature

                                                 2 tbs honey

                                                 1 tsp freshly grated cinnamon

                                               Mix and enjoy with your Zucchini bread.