Last week, for about point five seconds, I entertained the idea of making petits fours for a baby shower. I’m so glad I came to my senses. In fact I’m so glad I tossed out all of my grand ideas: stork-shaped frosted cookies, a baby-buggy cake, mini baby brownie pops.
Instead, I made one batch of my favorite brownie recipe and one batch of lemon bars, a recipe I have been making for years, (one that surely will be used at Olalie Cafe … you can’t have a café and not offer lemon bars, right?)
What can I say, with a dessert platter filled with these super lemony and fudgy brownie bites, nobody missed the precious pastelly pastries previously prancing around my head. I would wager in fact that this duo of desserts in any social situation would satisfy nearly all sweet tooths (teeth?).
For fun, I made some red velvet cupcakes, too, always a hit, but truthfully not as much a crowd pleaser as the lemon bars and brownies. And what could be easier? Nothing. Tis the season for showers … food for thought for keeping it simple.
½ lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
7 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup lemon zest
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ cup all-purpose flour
powdered sugar for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. Beat butter till fluffy. Beat in the powdered sugar. Beat in the flour one cup at a time. Add a pinch of salt. Press the dough into the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch pan. Bake crust till golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Beat sugar with eggs until blended. Add lemon juice and zest, baking powder, flour and salt, and beat until blended. Pour filling over hot crust. Bake until the filling is set in center and begins to brown on top, about 20 minutes.
Rich Fudgy Brownies
Yield = 16 (2-inch) brownies
Note: If you have a scale, I highly recommend using it. I use my Salter digital scale when I make these and they come out perfectly every time.
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
15¼ oz. (2 cups) granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
2½ oz (¾ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
3 oz (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour; plus more for the pan
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. table salt
1. Preheat oven to 350°F and position rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar and whisk until well combined. Add the beaten eggs and vanilla and whisk until well blended. In a large separate bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. Transfer butter mixture to bowl with flour and stir with spatula or wooden spoon until batter is smooth.
3. Spread into prepared pan and bake for approximately 37-40 minutes. Insert a pairing knife or steak knife straight into center. If it comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs, the brownies are done. Let cool completely in pan on rack.
Red Velvet Cupcakes
2¼ cups (9¾ oz) sifted flour (sifted, then measured)
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoon red food coloring (2 1-oz bottles)
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
1½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz butter, softened
1 teapoon vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place liners in 12-cup cupcake pan.
2. Sift sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend.
3. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.
4. Spoon batter into cupcake liners only 2/3 or ¾ of the way full—don’t be tempted to fill them higher: they’ll bake into mushroom caps instead of nice rounded domes, and if they are filled too high, there will not be enough batter for the 24 cupcakes. Bake cakes until inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 23-26 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan onto racks; bake remaining cupcakes; cool all completely before frosting.
Frosting: Beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla until smooth and combined. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until smooth.
Bebeka, you ask? Well, Bebeka means baby in Greek, and about a month ago I had one. For as long as I can remember, my mother addressed me and my siblings as “bebeka” or “bebeka mou” (my baby), and today I find myself most often addressing my little Ella as bebeka. Anyway, the reason I have been MIA this past month (months … yikes) is because a bebeka is more work than I ever imagined. I don’t know where the day goes.
So, I have been meaning to post this entry since the beginning of February when I last made it. It’s a yummy winter salsa, perhaps a nice accompaniment to those bean and cheese burritos? Something fresh like this is actually just what those burritos are missing.
I don’t really have a recipe here but if you know how to make a tomato salsa, you know how to make an orange salsa: Dice an orange, a red onion and a jalapeno (or other hot pepper); roughly chop some cilantro (or mint or basil or whatever); toss it all together with some salt and freshly squeezed lime juice and voila, you have an orange salsa. You can make a salsa with anything in fact — cucumbers, peaches, jicama, pineapple, etc. I was disappointed the fall came and passed without allowing me to make a persimmon salsa. I think that would be particularly nice.
Anyway, I hope this post finds you all well and I hope to get back on the blogging track soon. Here’s a picture of the bebeka:
And here’s a video on how to cut an orange for salsa. I mean, you can cut an orange however you like, but if you feel like making it pretty, here’s a little guide. (Note: Try to watch the video on the 720p or HD setting otherwise it looks blurry.)
I have a confession. I eat at Taco Bell about once a month. And I love it. More than love it. Look forward to it even. I know, I know. You hypocrite, you say. Well, let me explain.
You see, the reason I eat at Taco Bell is because when I meet a dear friend for lunch every month, our dining options are limited to El Pollo Loco, IHOP, Togo’s and Taco Bell.
And at Taco Bell I can order a bean and cheese burrito, two in fact, and I can pry open the steaming nearly transparent tortilla holding those beans and cheese from oozing out, and I can smother it with hot sauce. What a treat. Seriously, it’s the little things.
All I’m saying is that if you, like me, are picky about what meat you eat, know that at Taco Bell a delectable vegetarian option awaits you. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Incidentally, I was searching cooksillustrated.com for a taco recipe when I stumbled upon the results of a refried bean taste test. Which brand do you suppose prevailed on top? That’s right, Taco Bell Home Originals Refried Beans. Despite these results, however, I like to use Trader Joe’s refried pinto beans “salsa style.” They are tasty and made with just a handful of ingredients (… you may recall Michael Pollan’s eating algorithms.)
So what could be better than a Taco Bell burrito? Why one made in your own home, of course, with homemade flour tortillas. I know, homemade tortillas, “come on” you are saying. “What’s wrong with store-bought flour tortillas?” Indeed, store-bought tortillas are a perfectly fine product, one I undoubtedly will purchase again. That said, if you have the time and the curiosity, I think you’ll find the value in making them from scratch — these homemade tortillas are light and lovely with just a hint of butter taste, and truthfully, not too tricky to make. The dough requires minimal kneading and a short 30-minute rest before being rolled. And while a tortilla press is nice to get the rolling process going, it is an unnecessary tool in this process. A rolling pin does the job.
While nothing makes me happier than a couple of refried bean-and-cheddar burritos for dinner, I am conscious of my husband’s preferences, too, which lean toward meat-based entrees. Fortunately, I always have some of J&J’s grass-fed ground beef in the freezer and thanks to Cook’s Illustrated, I now have a favorite beef taco recipe. The filling, a mixture of sautéed onions, tomato sauce, a little vinegar, a pinch of brown sugar and a homemade spice mix — cumin, coriander, chili powder and oregano — is a snap to make. We’ve been eating tacos once a week here. They are awesome.
And as you can imagine, this beef mix makes a nice burrito filling as well.
Tortilla Dough. Note: A tortilla press is unnecessary. I mostly use my rolling pin.
When making homemade tortillas, you don’t really want them to brown too much, especially if you are making burritos. You want them to be cooked, but still pliable, capable of being filled and rolled.
See that pan in the lower left corner of the above montage? It’s filled with beef taco filling. We’ve been eating tacos once a week here. I found the recipe (included below) on CooksIllustrated.com. It’s fantastic.
Bean and Cheese Burritos
Yield = However many you’d like
refried beans, I like Trader Joe’s brand
large flour tortillas, homemade if you are feeling ambitious, recipe below
salsa and sour cream, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread flour tortillas with beans and cheese. Wrap burrito style. Wrap in foil. Place in oven until cheese is melted, about 20 minutes. I’m not totally sure how long these take, but if you have a whole bunch wrapped and heating in the oven, just pull out one to check and adjust time accordingly.
Note: I ended up placing the beans in a small frying pan to heat before I spread them onto a tortilla. This is mostly because it was hard to stir the beans up while they were still in the can. Also, a little beans and cheese go a long way — think “less is more” while assembling.
Homemade Flour Tortillas
Yield = 8 to 9 taco-sized tortillas or 4 to 5 burrito-sized tortillas
9 oz. (about 2 scant cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt (not kosher) I used sea salt, fine
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. With a knife cut little pieces of the butter into the flour. Then with two knives cut the butter into the flour until mealy, smaller little bits of butter than in a pie dough.
2. Stir in 2/3 c. warm (not from tap, preferably) water with a fork until a shaggy dough forms.
3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 3-4 minutes until smooth, soft, and not sticky.
4. Cut the dough into 2-oz. pieces for taco-sized tortillas or 3-oz pieces for burrito-sized tortillas. You will have 8 to 9 small pieces or 4 to 5 larger pieces. Shape pieces into a ball.
5. Cover with a very light kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Be careful that your room isn’t too hot. Let the dough rest 30 minutes and up to two hours.
6. Roll out each ball to about 9 to 10 inches (taco) or 11 to 12 inches (burrito) in diameter, or till you can see the counter start to come through. Note: A tortilla press is nice to flatten the ball into a disk to get things going, but ultimately a rolling pin works best. The tortilla press is unnecessary if you don’t have one.
7. Heat a 12 inch non-stick or cast-iron pan (do not add any oil) on medium-high. Lay the tortilla in the pan and cook until it puffs and little brown spots on the underside appear. Turn with tongs and cook. Each tortilla takes about 45-60 seconds. You don’t really want the tortilla to brown at all. The tortilla in the above picture was actually cooked a little too long.
Notes: When making tortillas for burritos, it’s best if the tortillas are cooked just before you plan on filling them, wrapping them and placing them in the oven. This way they’ll stay pliable.
Source: Cook’s Illustrated, Published May 1, 2002
Yield = 8 tacos, serves 4
2 teaspoons vegetable oil or corn oil
1 small onion , chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin*
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound 90% lean ground beef, I used J&J grass-fed beef
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar (preferably cider vinegar)
Ground black pepper
* I like to toast whole cumin and coriander seeds and then grind them in my spice grinder with all of the other spices listed above. Just a thought, if you have the time.
Shells and Toppings:
8 taco shells or small tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 ounces), or Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 small tomatoes , chopped small
1/2 cup sour cream
1 avocado, diced medium
1 small onion, chopped small
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
Tabasco sauce , or another brand of hot sauce
1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.
2. Using wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among taco shells; place two tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately.
I should just rename my blog “Liza’s Daughter’s Blog.” These days, it seems, I only make dishes that my mother has fed me or told me about. When I was home in CT for my sister’s wedding last month, I was welcomed with a steaming bowl of this Vermont cheddar cheese soup, a slice of spanakopita, warm homemade bread, and yogurt cake for dessert. I devoured every morsel then fell into a several-hour-long food coma. It was heaven.
It’s hard to find fault in lots of extra sharp cheddar cheese, tons of fresh thyme, and vegetables sautéed in rendered pancetta fat, but several unexpected ingredients — beer, mustard, worcestershire and Tabasco — make this soup truly special. Oh, it is just wonderful!
I find the method for making this soup interesting. Now, I have never made a cheesy soup before, so perhaps this method is standard, but in this recipe, the grated cheese is tossed with flour before being stirred into the hot milk. This mixture thickens in its own pot before being added to the pot of sautéed vegetables, beer, stock and sauces. And while I wouldn’t think to err from my mother’s detailed instructions, my auntie Marcy reported that this step cannot be omitted — if the cheese and milk (with or without the four) are added directly to the vegetable stock pot, the soup will never come together — it will just curdle and separate into a mess. So, be warned.
And while any bread would go well with this soup, I have been enjoying beer bread with it for the past week. I used to make beer bread all the time. Not sure why I stopped because it is the SIMPLEST bread to prepare. No kneading or rising is required. If ever you want homemade bread with dinner and fear you have no time, consider this recipe — it literally takes five minutes to assemble and 40 minutes to bake. Simps.
For a light but comforting meal, serve this soup with bread (perhaps beer bread) and a wintery salad of arugula, candied pecans, diced pear and blue cheese. Yum yum.
Vermont Cheddar Cheese Soup
Source: Mother Liza and Auntie Marcy
Yield= a ton (about 14 cups)
½ cup small-diced pancetta (about 4 oz.)
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced (to yield about a cup)
2 ribs celery, diced (to yield about a cup)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 T. fresh thyme
1 large red potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade*
12 oz. beer such as Otter Creek Copper Ale or Nut Brown Ale (I used an Amber ale)
3½ cups whole milk
3 T. Dijon mustard
3 dashes Worcestershire
2 dashes (or more) hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
freshly ground pepper
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about a pound)
2/3 cup flour
fresh Italian parsley, optional
*only homemade if you ask Liza and Marcy
1. In a large soup pot, sauté pancetta in olive oil until crisp and brown. (Alternatively, place the pancetta in the pan without any oil, cover the pan, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 5 minutes. This should render out some of the fat . Remove the lid, turn the heat up to medium and cook until the pancetta is crisp.) Remove pancetta with slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
2. In the rendered fat, sweat the onions, carrots, celery and pepper over medium heat for 15 minutes until soft.
3. Add thyme, potato and chicken broth and simmer until potato is soft, about 10 minutes. Add beer.
4. Heat the milk in a separate pot until it just barely boils. Meanwhile, grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a grater and place it in a large Ziploc bag. Shake with the 2/3 cup flour. Add this cheese-flour mixture to the hot milk and stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture has thickened slightly.
5. Add the milk mixture to the pot with veggies and stock. Add mustard, sauces and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk for a few minutes to avoid curdling.
6. When serving, sprinkle some reserved pancetta in each bowl. Add more hot sauce to taste. Serve with bread.
Note:Soup is even better the next day.
Yield = 1 standard loaf pan or 3 mini pans
butter for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 beer, I like Magic Hat #9 or any amber ale or Bass or whatever
4 tablespoons butter
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
2. Grease a 9X5X3-inch loaf pan (a standard loaf pan) with softened butter.
3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add beer, stir until combined and place in prepared pan.
4. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for 30 minutes longer (or less) or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and place pan on a cooling rack. Let bread sit in pan.
5. Meanwhile, melt butter. Pour the butter over bread. Let sit for five minutes then turn bread out onto a cutting board and serve immediately with more softened butter.
Greetings! It’s that time of year again. Somehow I find myself just as I did last year, with Christmas rapidly approaching and without a single gift purchased. Yipes. I did, however, finally find a home for all of the corks I have been collecting this past year. This cork wreath is now hanging in the little cafe where I work.
Interested in making a cork wreath? I found everything (with the exception of the corks) I needed at Michael’s Craft store:
corks (a ton … couldn’t tell you how many I used) 18-inch or 12-inch straw wreath* pins (you know, sewing pins) glue (I used clear craft glue … there are one million choices at Michael’s. ) a decorative berry garland (optional, but I think it adds a nice touch) red wire (thick enough and strong enough to hold up the wreath) 2.5-inch wide red ribbon thimble (optional, but helpful)
* I used an 18-inch straw wreath. The next time I make one of these, I might try using a styrofoam wreath instead. The problem is that the styrofoam ones I saw at Michael’s were white (naturally). I think the texture of styrofoam might hold the pins better but I think it would be necessary to spraypaint the wreath a light brown color. Might be something to consider. Styrofoam wreaths are oddly much more expensive than straw wreaths, too. Interesting.
I basically followed the method outlined on the blog Daily Inspiration. Truthfully, I doubted the wreath would come together the entire time I spent making it. Not until I wove the berries through the corks, tied the big red ribbon around the top and saw it hanging in the cafe where I work did I accept it had all worked out.
Here is what I did:
1. Lay newspaper across a big table. Put in a good movie or turn on some good tunes.
2. With your thimble on thumb, insert pins about halfway into as many corks as you can before you get bored.
3. Working with 10 to 20 at a time, squirt some glue onto the exposed portion of the pin. Begin inserting corks at a slight angle into the wreath as tightly as you can. This is harder than it sounds. I felt like I couldn’t get the corks packed tightly enough together, but just trust that it will all work out in the end.
4. Repeat until the wreath is completely filled with corks. Carefully weave the decorative berries through the corks and around the wreath.
5. Make a big loop with the red wire. Cover the wire with the wide red ribbon.
6. Hang your wreath, step back and admire your handy work.
Please email me if you have any questions about this. I wish I had better photo-documented the process but alas I have not.
I just received a nice email from a Reader, Janice, who shared her method, which sounds better than the way I made mine. I am going to make one this year using her method:
This is what Janice does: I use double pointed wooden toothpicks. (AK’s Note: I just purchased some double-pointed wooden toothpicks, however, and am having a hard time getting them into my corks without breaking. They were from the Dollar Store, which could have something to do with it, so I am going to try another brand as well as plastic double-pointed toothpicks.) I push the picks in the corks first and then I put glue in a small bowl and dip the end in before pushing them into the wreath. I have use the straw wreath forms, they seem to be the easiest to work with, for me anyway. I have a friend who used a floral foam wreath form. Her’s looked great too. She wrapped the form with untwisted raffia paper.
Also: If you are looking for some ideas for food-related gifts this holiday season, here is a little list I put together last year. If you have any other good ideas of your own, food-related preferably, let me know and I’ll add them to the list:
Also, I’m refining a recipe I have for flourless chocolate cake. The recipe I have is pretty good but the quantity is so large — it’s written in restaurant proportions — so I need to scale it back and tweak a few things before I can share it with you. I made it for Thanksgiving and it was well received. My brother polished off two of these mini cakes in one sitting. He’s such a good boy.
Now, I also am wondering if any of you have a good recipe for homemade sticky buns? I really want to make them for my family over the holidays and I have about five or six different recipes on file that I have been comparing. I’m starting to get overwhelmed. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them.
About a month ago, a hankering for homemade hamburger buns led me to a wonderful discovery: Belles Hamburger Buns. You see, I wanted to find the perfect vehicle to hold the burgers I have been savoring every week since stocking up on J&J grass-fed ground beef at Delaney’s 100-Mile Market in Temecula back in August. Oh if I only lived closer to this store! I would never be without Jordan Stone’s legendary homemade pastas, or cans of American Tuna, or wonderful local produce, chickens and eggs, and as I already mentioned, this tasty grass-fed beef.
Alas, back to the buns. Belles Hamburger Buns happened to be the first recipe to turn up on my google search. I have made the recipe three times now and have had success with every batch. The dough is simple to make and forgiving, too — yesterday, for example, I mixed the dough before work, let it rise in the fridge during the day, punched it down when I returned and proceeded with the recipe as if I had never stepped out of the kitchen. I have frozen the portioned dough, too, let it thaw in the fridge overnight and proceeded with the recipe the following evening. Simps.
Now, I know it’s not really burger season, but Liza, my mother, has turned me onto a burger recipe — a preparation, really — that has become a weekly staple. It’s simple: Roast green peppers, chop them up, and mix them into hamburger meat with a little kosher salt and pepper. Then, form patties and cook them in a cast iron pan for about four minutes a side for delectable medium-rare burgers. Not sure what it is, but the roasted green peppers — and it’s important to use green not red though I can’t give you a scientific reason why — add just the subtlest bit of flavor, enough to keep the burgers juicy and tender but not so much as to mask the flavor of the meat.
And while any skillet will likely work, the cast iron skillet has produced consistent results every time: Four minutes a side for patties about an inch thick weighing five to six ounces each has become my magic formula for producing medium-rare burgers. I don’t care what anybody says, cooking a burger to a desired temperature is damn hard, and I attribute the success I have had thus far to the cast iron pan’s ability to retain heat so well. I might add, too, that it is a cinch to clean — mine, a gift from Liza, is seasoned such that I rarely have to do anything but wipe it out with a paper towel. If bits do stick, I clean the pan the same way I clean this pan, by heating some kosher salt in it, then wiping it out with a paper towel. Simps.
Like many of my mother’s suggestions, this one took a few months to consider. Why haven’t I learned? Liza doesn’t mess around, especially when it comes to food. I should just immediately make and do everything she tells me to. Anway, try this burger-cooking method! I know you’ll find success. And if you have the time to make homemade buns and locate some yummy grass-fed beef, you have quite a memorable meal in store. Thanks, mama, for another wonderful recipe, and thank you, Belles, whoever and wherever you are for a fantastic bun recipe.
I hate to bore any of you who have already heard my thoughts on grass-fed beef, so here are a few links to past posts and articles if you are interested in reading up on this matter:
Making these buns couldn’t be simpler: Combine yeast and flour in a stand mixer. Heat milk, water, sugar, salt and butter together until warm to the touch. Add the warmed milk mixture to flour and let the stand mixer do its thing for 8 minutes. Ta-da! The dough is ready to go.
Cooking these burgers couldn’t be simpler either. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast-iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins swirling in the pan, add the patties and reduce the heat to medium-high. Cook for about 4 minutes. Flip. Add cheese, if desired, and cook for about 4 minutes longer for medium rare. Yum.
Are these not the cutest little buns you have ever seen? You can make them, too! Promise. It’s easy and fun and delicious.
Update 5/4/2012: If you’re looking for a brioche burger bun, try this recipe. It’s my new favorite burger bun recipe. I love love love Belles Hamburger Buns, but there’s something about a brioche bun and a burger, you know? They’re just a perfect match.
1 cup milk
1 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups (about 23.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 (.25 ounce) envelope active dry yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
sesame seeds (optional)
1. Combine the milk, 1 cup of water, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Heat until warm to the touch and until the butter has melted — this only takes a minute or two. Remove from the heat. If you have heated the mixture longer than you had intended, let it stand till room temperature. Warning: if the mixture is too hot, it will kill the yeast.
2. In a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), stir together the flour and yeast. Pour in wet ingredients and stir until the dough starts to pull together. If you have a stand mixer, use the dough hook to mix for about 8 minutes. If not, knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let stand until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
3. Punch down the dough and divide into 12 portions. Make tight balls out of the dough by pulling the dough tightly around and pinching it at the bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Note: I would only bake 6 buns at a time on one sheet and place only one pan in the oven at a time to ensure even baking. Set rolls aside until they double in size, about 20 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Mix together the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water in a cup or small bowl. Brush onto the tops of the rolls. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if using.
5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until nicely browned on the top and bottom. Let cool before slicing and serving.
Note: I have served these warm, which I love, and also sliced and toasted, which I think is even better for burgers — the toasted buns don’t get soggy.
Liza’s Burgers with Roasted Green Peppers
Yield = As many as you wish
Note: This is more of a method than a recipe.
hamburger meat (I usually use about a pound) green peppers (I usually roast about 2 peppers per pound of beef, but don’t end up needing all of them for the patties.) Parchment paper, for easy cleaning olive oil
freshly cracked pepper Homemade buns (optional), recipe above Burger accoutrements: cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, Dijon, ketchup, mayo, etc.
1. Roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and stem. Place peppers cut-side down on the prepared pan and place in the oven. Roast until the skins are browned and blistery, about 20 minutes. This may take longer or shorter, depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them towards the end — you don’t want them to be totally charred. Remove the peppers from the oven. Place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside. When peppers are cool enough to handle, remove skins and discard. Chop peppers into small pieces. Set aside.
Note: This can be done days in advance. Also, you might not need all of the peppers. Save any remaining to add to an omelet. Yum.
2. Prepare the patties: Spread the meat into a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Sprinkle as many of the diced peppers over the meat as you like. Gently begin forming your patties. I portion mine into either 5- or 6-ounce patties depending on the day. Season each side of the burgers with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a cast iron pan over high heat. When the oil begins to gently swirl, add the patties and turn the heat down to medium or medium-high. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip. Top with a thin slice of cheese, if desired, and cook for about four minutes longer for medium-rare. Serve on a toasted bun with all the fixins.
I have blogged about this cake before. It is one of my favorites, and I want it to be one of yours, too.
The roots of Balzano apple cake lie in the Alto Adige region of Italy, where Scott Carsberg of Seattle’s Lampreia trained as a young chef. There, Carsberg worked at the Michelin one-star restaurant, Villa Mozart, whose menu reflected the simple foods of the region, and whose chefs taught him how to make Balzano apple cake, a classic northern Italian peasant dessert. Over twenty years later, Carsberg put the cake on his menu, serving it with caramel ice cream. Yum.
I adore this cake, but classifying it as a cake, I am discovering, is perhaps misleading. The word cake is why several of you, I suspect, have had trouble with this recipe, mostly with the baking time — some of you have had to wait 90 minutes for your cakes to finish cooking.
I know every oven is different and every pan conducts heat differently, so baking times will surely vary, but I worry that cooking this “cake” for over an hour will severely alter its delicate texture and flavor.
You see, Balzano apple cake is more like a cross between a clafouti and a pancake — and the most delicious clafouti-pancake cross you’ve ever tasted at that. After the cake is removed from the oven, it falls, and the slices of vanilla-seed speckled apples meld together sinking into the tiniest of tiny layers of cake. It is delectable.
If you fear your oven’s temperature and dial aren’t quite calibrated accurately — mine certainly are not — I recommend getting one of these little oven thermometers. Mine hangs from my top oven rack, and I refer to it every time I use my oven.
When testing the doneness of this cake, inserting a knife will offer little guidance. The paring knife I used emerged covered with little bits of batter. I still removed the cake from the oven after 55 minutes of cooking and let it cool in its pan on a rack for more than 30 minutes before tucking in.
It has been over a year since I made Balzano apple cake, and I have forgotten how much I love it. I most enjoy eating it when it has cooled to room temperature. I’d wager, in fact, that it peaks at breakfast the day after it has baked. Yum yum yum.
Smit Orchards’ apples, found at the San Clemente farmers’ market:
1 stick butter, plus more for greasing pan
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 Fuji apples
½ cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt such as fleur de sel (or 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)
½ cup milk at room temperature
1. Heat oven to 350ºF. Grease a nine-inch-circle pan with butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan and place inside pan. Grease sides of pan and parchment round with butter.
2. Melt butter in small saucepan. Set aside. Beat together eggs and half of sugar in a bowl. Continue to beat while slowly adding remaining sugar until thick — it should form a ribbon when dropped from spoon.
3. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape seeds into the egg-sugar mixture and add pod to melted butter.
4. Peel apples and cut straight down around the core into four big chunks. Discard the core then slice the apple pieces thinly.
5. Remove vanilla pod from butter and discard. Stir butter into sugar-egg mixture. Combine flour, salt and baking powder, then stir into batter alternating with the milk. Stir in apples, coating every piece with batter. Pour batter into pan.
6. Bake for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, but not for much longer, or until cake pulls away slightly from the pan and is brown on top. Cool for at least 30 minutes, then cut into wedges sprinkling each with powdered sugar if desired.
I never thought the day would come when I would consider sautéed greens over polenta topped with a fried egg as the idea of the most delicious dinner. Well, the day is here (has been for a little while now), and I am so glad it is, because nothing could be simpler to prepare.
Before I write another word, however, I just want to extend a huge thank you to the reader who submitted my blog in the comments section of this Bitten post. I am so touched that you thought of me and am so shocked to have been selected. Thank you, too, to the Bitten bloggers for considering alexandra’s kitchen as a worthy under-the-radar blog.
I could think of no better way to commemorate this moment than by making one of my favorite Bittman recipes: Polenta without Fear, which recently appeared in the featured recipe section of Bitten. I first made this dish shortly after returning from a dinner party where, upon arrival, I had been charged with polenta-making duties. I went to work, but what I had hoped to produce to complement the host’s delectable braised short ribs left me embarrassed. (I must note that it didn’t help that the host didn’t own a whisk, but I can’t turn all the blame elsewhere.) My polenta was lumpy, dry and unflavorful. Why?!
Of course my mother had the answer. Or at least a solution. Have you made Bittman’s polenta recipe, she asked? No, I hadn’t. But I would soon, and I did. And it’s delicious. The recipe uses a ratio of 1 cup stone ground cornmeal to 3 cups of liquid (1 cup whole milk + 2 cups water) with the addition of 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano and 2 to 4 tablespoons of butter at the end. Minimal stirring is required and the addition of a little water towards the end of the cooking process is all the doctoring necessary to produce “creamy, soft, mouth-filling polenta,” as described on Bitten.
So, as the title suggests, this polenta, topped with some sautéed greens — chard, kale, spinach — and a fried egg makes a great dinner-for-one. Would I love some braised short ribs on my polenta? Of course, but there are better opportunities for that. Need another dinner-for-one idea? Try these Zuni Cafe Eggs Fried in Bread Crumbs … so yummy!
1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
1 cup coarse cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 4 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup or more freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to taste, optional
1. Bring milk to a boil with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan and add a large pinch of salt. Adjust heat so liquid simmers. Add cornmeal in a steady stream, whisking as you do to prevent lumps. When it has all been added, let mixture return to a boil, then turn heat to low. Polenta should be just barely simmering.
2. Cook, stirring occasionally and being sure to scrape sides and bottom of pan, for 15 to 20 minutes, until mixture is creamy and cornmeal tastes cooked. If mixture becomes too thick, whisk in some water, about 1/2 cup at a time. (I added about 2/3 cup water in 1/3 cup increments.)
3. Taste and season polenta as necessary with salt and pepper. Take pan off stove, stir in the butter or oil and the cheese if you are using it, and serve, passing more cheese at the table if you like.
Serve with sautéed greens and a fried egg for a simple simple dinner.
I never expected to receive a return phone call. I had been agonizing over how I was going to make my bread pudding … with fruit baked in it or without? Did Tartine really not add any fruit to the bread pudding while it baked? Their cookbook says without, but I thought I remembered bits of warm peaches dotting the pudding throughout. I needed affirmation before proceeding, and so I placed a call to Tartine itself.
I called about 10 times before leaving a message. I explained that I had read the preface to the brioche bread pudding recipe in the cookbook, which explains that Tartine serves their bread pudding with seasonal fruit lightly sautéed in butter and then heated in a caramel sauce. Was this accurate, I asked? Or did Tartine sometimes bake the fruit right in with the custard and brioche? I left my number, hung up the phone, accepting I would likely have to make the decision on my own.
Not so. Later that day, I turned on my phone to find a message from Suzanne, a lovely Tartine employee. She confirmed exactly what the cookbook says, that Tartine indeed bakes the bread pudding without any fruit in it. They do also warm a seasonal fruit of choice — peaches, berries, apples, pears — in a caramel sauce, the recipe for which I have included below though have yet to test. Moreover, when the busy bees in the bakery remove the pans of bread pudding from the oven, they poke holes in it to let steam out and to create space, and then they pour the warm fruit in caramel sauce over top. Brilliant! Thank you, Suzanne.
I have been meaning to post this for months now, and I am afraid peach season is long over. So, while my picture below is a little dated, I write this with even more confidence in this recipe. You see, I have just returned from a most wonderful wedding of two most wonderful people in San Francisco, where I was able to sneak in a visit to Tartine with five friends. Together we ate two bowls of bread pudding, one slice of quiche, one croque monsieur, one croissant and one chocolate croissant. As anticipated, the bread pudding triumphed as the table’s favorite. With my new knowledge, too, I was able to discern a caramel flavor permeating the pudding. I must note, too, that the Tartine caramel sauce is as light as a caramel sauce can be. It adds a subtle yet critical flavor, and I most definitely will make it the next time I prepare this bread pudding.
Hooray for apple season! I imagine apples warmed in caramel sauce will make a lovely topping for this most delicious bread pudding.
Just some quick notes here about the recipe:
• I decided to make the brioche from scratch, which was well worth the effort, but also a two-day affair. If you have a good source for brioche, by all means, buy it! The recipe for the bread pudding itself is quite simple and so long as the brioche you purchase is baked in a standard loaf pan and you can slice it into one-inch pieces, you should be able to add an accurate amount of bread to your pudding.
• Really follow the instructions about the ratio of bread to custard. I was shocked by how much more custard there was in my pan than bread, but I trusted the recipe and went with it. That is the key! The bread soaks up all the custard. The key to producing a moist bread pudding is to not crowd the pan with bread. This is by far the best bread pudding I have ever made and I attribute that mostly to sticking to the proportions prescribed in the cookbook.
• The cookbook suggests using a 9X5-inch glass loaf pan. When I made this, I hadn’t yet purchased this size pan but had success with an 8X8-inch pyrex pan I happened to have on hand. I am looking forward to using the real deal next time around.
Below are some invaluable notes from the Tartine cookbook. I took their suggestion for what to do with remaining custard. Delectable!
• Never crowd the bread slices in the mold — when a bread pudding is dry, crowding is usually the cause.
• If you use a shallower mold (than a loaf pan), reduce the baking time.
• If you end up with more custard than you need, transform it into a simple dessert: pour it into ramekins, place them in a hot-water bath, and bake in a 350ºF oven until set, about 40 minutes.
• If you have left over bread pudding, chill it, slice it, and fry it as you would French toast.
• This recipe works equally well with croissants, chocolate-filled croissants, challah or panettone
Brioche Bread Pudding
Yield = one 9×5-inch pudding, 6 to 8 servings
6 brioche slices*, cut 1-inch thick, see recipe below
8 large eggs
3/4 cup + 2 T. sugar
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
* I did in fact make the brioche for this recipe, and it is a great recipe. Just a warning, it is quite a process … it takes literally about 2 days to make. If you have a source for good brioche, by all means, use it — buy the brioche … your bread-pudding-making experience will be all the more enjoyable.
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 9×5-inch glass loaf dish. Arrange the brioche slices on a baking sheet. Place in the oven until lightly toasted, 4 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
2. Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Add the sugar and whisk until smooth. Add the milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve.
3. Place the toasted bread slices in the prepared loaf pan, cutting the slices to fit as needed. Pour the custard evenly over the bread, filling the dish to the top. You may not be able to add all of the custard at this point. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, so that the bread can absorb the custard.
4. Just before baking, top off the dish with more of the custard if the previous addition has been completely absorbed. Cover the dish with aluminum foil, place in the oven, and bake the pudding for about 1 hour. To test for doneness, uncover the dish, slip a knife into the center, and push the bread aside. If the custard is still very liquid, re-cover the dish and return the pudding to the oven for another 10 minutes. If only a little liquid remains, the pudding is ready to come out of the oven. The custard will continue to cook after it is removed from the oven and it will set up as it cools.
5. Let the pudding cool for about 10 minutes before serving. You can serve the bread pudding by slicing it and removing each slice with an offset spatula, or by scooping it out with a serving spoon.
¾ cup nonfat milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups bread flour = 8 ¾ oz.
2 T. + 1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 large eggs
1 ¼ cups whole milk
3 ½ cups bread flour
¼ cup sugar
1 T. salt
1 cup + 2 T. unsalted butter, chilled but pliable
4 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
pinch of salt
1. To make the preferment, in a small saucepan, warm the milk only enough to take the chill off. The milk should not be warm or cold to the touch but in between the two (80º to 90ºF). Pour the milk into a mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the milk, stir to dissolve the yeast with a wooden spoon, and then add the flour, mixing with the spoon until a smooth batter forms. Cover the bowl with cheesecloth and place in a cool, draft-free area for 1 hour and then refrigerate for at least 1 hour or for up to 3 hours to cool down. The mixture will rise until doubled in volume and not yet collapsing.
2. Meanwhile, measure all the ingredients for the dough. Once you measure the butter, cut into cubes and return the eggs, milk and butter to the refrigerator to chill.
3. To make the dough, transfer the preferment and then the yeast to the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until the yeast is incorporated into the preferment batter, which will take a minute or two. Stop the mixer as needed and use a spatula to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl, folding the loosened portion into the mixture to incorporate all the elements fully. When the mixture has come together into an even, well-mixed mass, begin to add the eggs one by one, increasing the mixer speed to medium or medium-high to incorporate the eggs and stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
4. Once all the eggs are incorporated, reduce the mixer speed to low and begin slowly to add 1 cup of the milk. When the milk is fully incorporated, stop the mixer and add the flour, sugar and salt. Engage the mixer again on low speed and mix until the dry ingredients are incorporated, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until you see a dough forming and it starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Turn off the mixer and let dough rest for 15 to 20 minutes. While the dough is resting, place the chilled butter cubes into a separate mixer bowl. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment and mix the butter on medium speed until the cubes are pliable but not soft and are still chilled.
6. Remove the bowl holding the butter from the mixer and replace it with the bowl holding the now-rested first-stage dough. Refit the mixer with the dough hook and begin mixing on medium speed. When the dough again starts to come away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium-high. At this stage the dough will appear very silky and elastic. With the mixing speed still on medium-high, add small amounts of the butter, squeezing the cubes through your fingers so that they become ribbons as they drop into the bowl. Stop the mixer to clean the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed with the spatula. Make sure that you don’t add too much butter too quickly and also make sure that you don’t mix the butter too long after each addition or you will heat up the dough. When all the butter has been added, allow the mixer to run for another 2 minutes to make sure the butter is fully incorporated. The dough should still be coming away cleanly from the sides of the bowl at this point.
7. Now, slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup milk in increments of 1 tablespoon and increase the mixer speed to high. Mix until the dough is very smooth and silky and continues to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. This should take another 2 minutes.
8. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Spread the dough evenly on the prepared pan. Dust the top lightly with flour and cover with cheesecloth. Put the pan in the freezer for at least 3 hours and then transfer to the refrigerator overnight.
9. Brush three 9X5 loaf pans with melted butter. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface in a cool kitchen. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Press each portion into a rectangle the length of a loaf pan and slightly wider than the pan. Starting from a narrow end, roll up the rectangle tightly, pinch the ends and seam to seal, and place seam side down in a prepared pan. The pan should be no more than one-third full. The dough increases substantially during rising, and if you fill the pan any fuller, the brioche will bake up too large for the pan. When the pans are filled, place them in a draft-free area with relatively high humidity. Let rise for 2 to 3 hours. During this final rising, the brioche should at least double in size and look noticeably puffy but still be resilient to the touch.
10. Preheat the oven to 425ºF for at least 20 minutes before you want to begin baking. About 10 minutes before you want to begin baking, make the egg wash: whisk together the yolks, cream and salt until you have a pale yellow mixture. Using a pastry brush, brush the wash on tops of the loaves. Let the wash dry for about 10 minutes before baking.
11. Place the loaves in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350ºF and bake until the loaves are a uniformly dark golden brown on the bottom, sides and top, about 45 minutes longer. Remove the pans from the oven, immediately rap the bottoms on a tabletop to release the loaves, and then turn the loaves out onto wire racks to cool. The loaves can be eaten warm from the oven or allowed to cool and eaten within the day at room temperature or toasted. If you keep them longer than a day, wrap them in plastic wrap or parchment paper and freeze them indefinitely.
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 of one vanilla bean
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
2 T. light corn syrup
3/4 tsp lemon juice
4 T. unsalted butter
• Use a good-sized pan when preparing this caramel. When the hot cream is added, the caramel will boil furiously at first, increasing dramatically in volume. Have ice water nearby in case of burns.
1. Pour the cream into a small, heavy saucepan. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape the seeds from the pod halves into the cream. Place over medium-high heat and bring to just under a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low to keep the cream warm.
2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar, water, salt and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then cook, without stirring, until the mixture is amber colored, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
3. The mixture will continue to cook off the heat and become darker, so make sure to have your cream close by. Carefully and slowly add the cream to the sugar syrup. The mixture will boil vigorously at first. Let the mixture simmer down, and then whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice. Let cool for about 10 minutes.
4. Cut the butter into 1-inch chunks and add them to the caramel one at a time, whisking constantly after each addition. Then whisk the caramel periodically as it continues to cool.
The caramel will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one month.