artichoke ravioli

Spring break was last week. I miss it already.

On the other hand, I’m apparently bad at spring break. I had plans to do all these big things, and then when I didn’t get every single one of them done, to perfection, every day, I got all annoyed. Plus, you know what I did instead of work? Chores. I hate chores, and I like my job, so…forget what I said about missing spring break.

I’m sure it’s a surprise to no one that the one thing I did find time for was cooking. I kept to the mostly-healthy, mostly-vegetarian routine we normally stick to on weekdays instead of going for the all-out, life-is-a-celebration, let’s-eat-meat-and-drink-wine routine we tend toward on the weekends. And I realized that another reason I often stick to vegetarian meals on weekdays is that they’re easier.

Not so with ravioli, of course. Once you mix and knead the pasta dough, roll it out, make your filling, fill the ravioli, cook the ravioli, make your sauce – well, that adds up to a nice project for a day off from work.

Fortunately, the end result of this one is definitely worth avoiding chores over. The artichokes are subtle, but not invisible. The sauce is rich, but not heavy. And the fresh pasta – well, it’s fresh pasta. You can’t go wrong.

It’s meals like this that make me miss spring break.

One year ago: Cooks Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Two years ago: Spinach Feta Pine Nut Tart

Printer Friendly Recipe
Artichoke Ravioli With Tomatoes
(adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

4 to 6 servings

This is a good time to utilize your food processor if you have one. I think the best order to process the ingredients in (to avoid cleaning the bowl in between uses) is parmesan, onions, artichoke mixture, tomatoes. You could also make the pasta dough in the food processor, although I’ve had better luck using the stand mixer or kneading by hand.

Ravioli take well to freezing.  Just freeze them in a single layer on a flour-dusted baking sheet.  Once they harden on the pan, transfer them to freezer bags.

Pasta:
6 ounces (1¼ cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
2 large eggs

Filling:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 onion, chopped (½ cup)
2 (14-ounce) cans quartered artichoke hearts, drained
2 ounces (1 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 large egg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Sauce:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 ounces (1 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1. For the pasta: Add the flour and egg to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until thoroughly incorporated. Change to the dough hook and knead for 5-6 minutes, until smooth. Add flour as necessary – the dough shouldn’t be sticky.  Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes. (You can also mix and knead the dough by hand. It’s easiest – less messy – in a large, wide bowl.)

2. For the filling: In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foam subsides, add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts and continue cooking while stirring occasionally, until they’re tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the artichoke mixture to the food processor (scraping but not washing the pan), and process in pulses until the artichokes are coarsely chopped. Stir in the parmesan, parsley, yolk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

3. Divide the dough into 6 balls. Work with one ball of dough at a time and leave the others covered with a damp dishtowel. Flatten the dough slightly, then roll it through the widest setting on a pasta roller. Fold it in thirds like a piece of paper going into an envelope, then roll it through the pasta roller again, feeding it with one of the open sides first. If at any point the dough is sticky, brush it with flour. Repeat the folding into thirds and rolling a few times. Without folding, run the pasta through the widest setting once more. Adjust the pasta roller to the next-thinner setting and roll the dough through the machine. Continue to gradually thin the dough until the second-to-last setting. Brush it with flour if the dough starts to stick at all. If the strip of dough becomes too long to handle, cut it into two shorter strips and work with each strip separately. Repeat the rolling, folding, and thinning with the remaining balls of dough, laying the sheets of pasta on dishtowels.

4. For the sauce: Melt the butter in the now-empty skillet over medium heat. When the foaming subsides, add the onion and sauté until just golden around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice and the salt and simmer over low heat until the sauce is thickened, 15-20 minutes. Stir in the pepper, most of the parmesan and the heavy cream. Set aside.

5. The pasta sheets should be approximately 4 inches across. Place small balls of filling (about one rounded teaspoon each) in a line one inch from the bottom of the pasta sheet. Leave one and one-quarter inches between each ball of filling. Fold over the top of the pasta and line it up with the bottom edge. Seal the bottom and the two open sides with your finger. Use a fluted pastry wheel to cut along the two sides and bottom of the sealed pasta sheet. Run pastry wheel between balls of filling to cut out the ravioli.

6. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large stockpot. Add about a tablespoon of salt and half of the pasta. Cook until doubled edges are al dente, 3-4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the ravioli from the pot and transfer them to warmed bowls or plates. Keep warm in a warm oven while the remaining ravioli are boiled. Top the ravioli with sauce and the remaining parmesan; serve immediately.

whole wheat brioche

This recipe cracks me up. Each little brioche roll has 1¼ tablespoons of butter in it, so it doesn’t matter how much whole grain you use – these are not good for you.

They are, however, good. Of course they don’t have much in common with their white flour cousins, which, if we were talking about people, would be one of those unceasingly friendly people who always have something nice to say. The whole wheat version is more akin to a sarcastic friend who always manages to make you laugh, but sometimes at your own expense. Both are good! Just different.

The whole wheat brioche is made along the same lines as the rest of Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. What’s fun about this recipe is that the liquid used in one of the pre-doughs is melted butter, and in the other, it’s eggs. The one with the butter had a texture very different from the normal water-hydrated doughs – and not a particularly appetizing one, truth be told, as the best word to describe it would be ‘greasy’. Fortunately, after sitting in the fridge for several hours, the butter hardens and the mixture is more palatable – plus, of course, the liquid has had an opportunity to break down those bran fibers, which is the heart of Reinhart’s whole wheat bread method.

I tried a trick with this bread that was marginally successful. After the final dough is mixed and kneaded, it’s shaped immediately and then needs to rise again – for 3 to 4 hours. We tend to eat breakfast kind of late on weekends, but not that late!

So I reduced the yeast quite a bit, with the goal of extending the rising time to about 8 hours, or overnight. I wanted to wake up, heat the oven and throw the perfectly risen brioche rolls in to bake.

It turns out, though, that I decreased the yeast too much, and the poor little guys didn’t have enough strength to lift up that heavy dough. I still think the method is sound; I just need to use more yeast than I did. (The under-risen after 8 hours brioche were salvageable; I just had to give them an hour or so in a really warm environment before I could bake them.)

Usually my theory is that if food is supposed to be indulgent, then make it indulgent! Why worry about whole grains if you’re mainlining butter? But sometimes it’s just fun to make something weird, and whole wheat brioche is, indeed, weird.

One year ago: Pecan Sour Cream Biscuits
Two years ago: Chocolate Cream Pie

Printer Friendly Recipe
Whole Wheat Brioche (rewritten from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads)

I reduced the yeast in the final dough to ½ teaspoon, hoping I could stretch the rising time to 8-10 hours, or overnight. This was too little, but I still think the method is worth trying, but with 1 teaspoon yeast.

I froze the brioche rolls after shaping, before rising. I let them defrost in the fridge for a few hours before moving them to room temperature to rise.

The melted butter kept leaking out of its pre-dough. Once the dough had chilled somewhat, I stirred it back in, so that the pre-dough would be homogeneous.

For the final cup of flour, after both pre-doughs are combined, I used white flour. I know that’s cheating, but I’ve had better results with Reinhart’s whole wheat bagels when white flour is used at the end, and I thought it was probably similar here. The rolls are still 80% whole wheat.

Pre-dough 1:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup whole milk, scalded and cooled
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

Mix all of the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Pre-dough 2:
1¾ cups (8 ounces) whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
4 large eggs, slightly beaten

Mix all of the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Using a rubber spatula or wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for a couple minutes; it will be very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead again for 1 minute. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

Final dough:
Both pre-doughs
1 cup (4.5 ounces) whole wheat flour (see note)
¾ teaspoon salt
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (see note)
3 tablespoons sugar

Egg wash:
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt

1. Chop the chilled pre-doughs into to 12 pieces each. Combine the pre-doughs, flour, salt, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (or a large bowl if mixing by hand). Mix on slow speed for 3 to 4 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed, (or knead with wet hands) until the pre-doughs are assimilated into each other. Add flour or water, as needed, to form a soft and slightly sticky dough. Knead (either with a mixer or by hand) for 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough is cold, firm, and slightly tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

2. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and round each into a smooth ball. Spray 12 brioche molds or a 12-cup muffin pan with spray oil. To shape the brioche, roll each piece of dough into a cone; poke a hole through the larger end and slip the small end through the hole. (I also sometimes just formed a much smaller round from a small portion of the dough and stuck that on top of the larger round. I didn’t notice a difference in the baked versions of the two shaping methods.) Place the shaped rolls into the prepared pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, until the dough has grown to about 1½ times its original size.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the risen rolls with egg wash and place them in the oven, lowering the temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 17 to 25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the brioche are dark golden brown, measure 195 degrees in the center, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (after one is removed from its pan).

4. Remove the rolls from their molds; cool on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.

chicken mushroom spinach lasagna

I’m hardcore – I made an Emeril recipe more complicated. I did skip a few of his steps, so maybe I’m not completely ridiculous.

It’s just that if I’m going to go through all the trouble of making lasagna, with cooking chicken, stirring béchamel, layering and baking, I might as well go all the way – homemade pasta and damn good chicken.

So there was no cooking of boneless skinless chicken breasts in a dry pan – weird, isn’t it, that I’m not a fan of dry tasteless meat. Heck no, I roasted those suckers – bone-in, skin-on, thankyouverymuch. And before that, I brined them – hey, it’s a step that takes about 2 minutes of effort and you ensure fully seasoned, moist meat. Why not do it?

But if I’m going to add homemade pasta and brined, roasted, shredded chicken to an already ambitious recipe, I probably needed to cut some corners somewhere. Since I can’t seem to convince myself to enjoy cooked spinach, I decided to skip the cooking and blanching of the spinach and just add shredded baby spinach directly to the béchamel. I wasn’t able to use quite as much, but that’s okay – it was still a colorful, healthy, easy addition.

Okay, so I guess I only skipped one little step in Emeril’s recipe. Oh wait, I also mixed all the chicken and parmesan into the sauce, so I was really only layering two things – sauce and noodles. That probably saved 30 seconds or so of effort. That’s okay, I had fun making the lasagna, and I was completely confident that the extra bit of work I put into it would give me a perfect result, and, yes, it did.

One year ago: Deli-Style Rye Bread
Two years ago: (Almost) No-Knead Bread

Printer Friendly Recipe
Chicken, Mushroom and Spinach Alfredo Lasagna (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)

This is how I made the lasagna, but there are some things you could do differently. The original recipe keeps the chicken and some of the parmesan separate from the béchamel, laying pasta-béchamel-cheese-chicken instead of just alternating pasta and chickeny parmesany béchamel, like I did.

Also, the type of pasta you use is entirely up to you. You could use the no-cook dry noodles or buy fresh noodles or make your own. And I don’t know for sure that fresh homemade noodles need to be blanched for lasagna, but the one time I skipped that step was a disaster.

One more thing – the original recipes calls for double these ingredients to be layered into a 9- by 13-inch pan, but I was concerned that I’d have overflow. While my lasagna is a little on the short side, I think twice this height would have been too much for my standard 9- by 13-inch pan. But maybe the quantity of ingredients that I used would make an ideal 8- by 8-inch lasagna?

6 to 8 servings

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on, trimmed of excess fat and skin
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 ounces button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large shallots, finely chopped
4 cloves minced garlic
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3½ cups milk
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 ounces spinach, stemmed, washed, sliced into ¼-inch ribbons
3 ounces (1½ cups) grated Parmesan, divided
fresh lasagna noodles (if homemade, use 1 egg + ⅔ cup (3.2 ounces) flour, kneaded and rolled to the
next-to-thinnest setting on a pasta roller, blanched as described here)

1. (Optional) Stir 2 tablespoons salt into 2 cups cold water until it dissolves. Add the chicken; refrigerate for 30 minutes, then remove the chicken from the brine and pat it dry.

2. Adjust an oven rack to the middle-low position and heat the oven to 450ºF. Heat a small oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan; place the chicken breast in the pan skin-side down. Cook without moving until well-browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the chicken over and move the pan to the oven. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken measures 160ºF or the juices run clear when small cut is made in the chicken. Remove the pan from the oven and set aside. When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove and discard the skin (or eat it, because it’s crisp and delicious!) and shred the meat with your fingers or two forks. Decrease the oven temperature to 375ºF.

3. Béchamel: Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until their liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are slightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the shallots to the pan and sauté until soft and translucent, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, to make a light roux, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5 minutes. Add ¾ teaspoon of the salt, the pepper, nutmeg, spinach and 2½ ounces (1¼ cups) of the Parmesan and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 2 minutes, then add the shredded chicken. Taste the sauce to decide if it needs more salt. Remove the béchamel from the heat and place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface until ready to assemble the lasagna.

4. Spray a 9 by 13-inch pan with nonstick spray, and spread about ¼ cup of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of the dish, avoiding any large chunks of chicken. Arrange a single layer of noodles evenly over the sauce. Then alternate layering béchamel and noodles until you run out of noodles – I was able to make 4 layers, I believe. End with the remaining béchamel and sprinkle the top with the remaining parmesan.

5. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for about 20 minutes, until bubbly. Let the lasagna rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

jalapeno-baked fish with roasted tomatoes and potatoes

I need every weekday meal to be exactly like this one.

First, it took only 20 minutes of actual effort. Sliced potatoes are softened in the microwave right in the baking dish. Meanwhile, I pureed a few other ingredients, mostly straight from cans, with my immersion blender. Then I laid some fish filets over the potatoes and poured the pureed sauce on top.

Second, it only bakes for 20 minutes. This was the perfect amount of time for me to empty the dishwasher, clean up the kitchen and unpack groceries.

Third, it’s nice and light, with lean white fish, vegetables, and just a small amount of oil to help the potatoes cook.

Fourth, and of course the only point that really matters, it was just so good. The fish, potatoes, and sauce were balanced nicely and the spice level was just right.

My favorite meals have all the ingredients jumbled together like this, protein and starch and vegetables. It’s especially nice on a weeknight so I don’t have to make side dishes as well. I haven’t found many fish recipes like that, so this is perfect – in every way, really.

One year ago: Red Velvet Cake comparison
Two years ago: Olive Oil Bread

Printer Friendly Recipe
Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
(from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Dinner and Dessert)

Serves 4

4 medium (1 pound total) red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
Salt
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 large garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
⅓ cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
About ¼ cup sliced canned pickled jalapenos
1 tablespoon jalapeno pickling juice
Four 4- to 5-ounce (1 to 1¼ pounds total) skinless fish fillets, preferably ¾ to 1 inch thick

1. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees. Scoop the sliced potatoes into a microwaveable 8×8-inch baking dish. Drizzle on the oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then spread the potatoes in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the top. Microwave on high until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, combine the tomatoes with their juice, garlic, cilantro, jalapenos, and pickling juice. Process to a puree, leaving just a little texture.

3. Lay the fish fillets in a single layer over the potatoes. Pour the tomato mixture evenly over the fish and potatoes.

4. Slide the baking dish into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the fish flakes when pressed firmly.

5. Scoop a portion of the fish-potato-sauce onto each dinner plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve right away.

baked ziti

I am officially out of recipes to share. I am now raiding my “Probably Not” folder – the rejects that either didn’t taste good or didn’t photograph well. I’ll spare you that ones that didn’t taste good.

It seems like I could just make something new and blog about it, right? The thing is though, nothing is working quite right for me lately. My delicious banana cream pies keep coming out with a layer of candy armor over the crust; the southwestern pasta salad recipe I patched together was too similar to and probably not quite as good as this one; I never got the ratios right in my cocktail last weekend (despite many attempts), and I forgot to take final photos of my pesto.

I’m just lucky that the photos of the baked ziti aren’t as ugly as I’d remembered. For this is not in the “didn’t taste good” category. With a mixture of pasta, tomatoes, cheese, and herbs, how could it not be delicious?

And although it’s hard to believe, you can make it halfway healthy without sacrificing much in the way of flavor or creaminess. In my experience, good whole wheat pasta (I like Bionaturae) is hardly different from refined versions. I’m perfectly happy with 1% cottage cheese and skim mozzarella. That just leaves the heavy cream to worry about, and with a slight increase in the cornstarch, you can get away with using milk instead.

And you can make it ahead, and it freezes well, and it reheats well, and heck, it isn’t half bad cold if you’re too impatient to bother heating it up. This is certainly worth pulling out of the reject file.

One year ago: Herbed Lima Bean Hummus
Two years ago: Country Crust Bread

Printer Friendly Recipe
Baked Ziti (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 8-10

Healthy tricks: Use 1% cottage cheese, whole wheat pasta, part-skim mozzarella, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch plus 1 cup milk instead of ¾ teaspoon cornstarch with 1 cup heavy cream.

1 pound whole milk or 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 ounces parmesan cheese (about 1½ cups), grated
table salt
1 pound ziti pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 5 teaspoons)
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
black pepper
¾ teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼ inch pieces (about 1½ cups)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in ½ cup basil and sugar, then season with salt and pepper.

3. Stir cornstarch into heavy cream in small bowl, transfer mixture to Dutch oven set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce and ¾ cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.

4. Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle with remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining ½ cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

5. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 3 tablespoons basil and serve.

maple oatmeal scones

I got scooped! I was just about to write an entry on these scones a few days ago and decided to go with the apple muffins instead. The next day Michelle posted about them. What are the chances?

Actually, considering that these first appeared on Barefoot Contessa Saturday morning, and by the time I baked them the next day there were already a handful of reviews on the Food Network’s site, the chances might not be so bad. Apparently I wasn’t the only one tempted by maple oatmeal scones.

Maple seems like an underused ingredient, considering how delicious it is. Perhaps the problem is that it’s an easily overpowered flavor once it’s mixed into dough and baked. These scones overcome this problem by adding additional maple in the form of a glaze.

I often think that glazes on scones make them too sweet, but since the scones themselves are only lightly sweetened, these have just the right level of sweetness. They’re also light and tender inside and crisp on top, and really just the perfect way to start out a weekend morning. I can see why Michelle was so eager to post about them!

One year ago: Twice-Baked Potatoes with Broccoli, Cheddar, and Scallions
Two years ago: Lasagne Bolognese

Printer Friendly Recipe
Maple Oatmeal Scones (adapted just slightly from Barefoot Contessa)

I used traditional rolled oats, which worked just fine.

As always with scones, you can freeze the dough after shaping it, then bake the scones straight from the freezer.

Scones:
1¾ cups (8.4 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup quick-cooking oats, plus additional for sprinkling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup cold buttermilk
¼ cup pure maple syrup
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Glaze:
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup pure maple syrup
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Blend the cold butter in at the lowest speed and mix until the butter is in pea-size pieces. Combine the buttermilk, maple syrup and eggs and add quickly to the flour-and-butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough may be sticky.

2. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and be sure it is combined. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough ¾ to 1 inch thick. You should see lumps of butter in the dough. Cut into 3-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly knead the scraps together and cut more scones.

3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are crisp.

4. To make the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar, maple syrup and vanilla. When the scones are done, cool for 5 minutes, then drizzle each scone with 1 tablespoon of the glaze. For garnish, sprinkle a few uncooked oats on the tops of the scones.

lamb stew

Whenever I eat lamb, my first whiff of it always seems a little…off. Is lamb like feety cheese – stinky, but in a good way? Or am I just attuned to beef, and I’m surprised when the lamb smells different? Whatever, I’ve decided that I officially like lamb. Stinky or not.

This stew is not any sort of authentic ethnic lamb stew – not Morrocon or Irish or whatever. It’s just lamb stew. It’s what I was in the mood for at the time – chunks of lamb, onions, root vegetables, thyme, and dark rich beer.

My only uncertainty was which type of lamb meat to use. I usually use beef chuck roast for stew, but what is that equivalent to for lamb? Certainly not sirloin, which was one of my few options. I also didn’t want to use expensive rib chops. Leg? Too big. Shanks? Dur…I don’t know. I went with a combination of sirloin meat and loin chops. I think blade chops would be a great option, but my store didn’t have them.

Whatever I did must have worked though, because the stew was just great. So rich and hearty and comforting. And distinctively…lamby. Which is a good thing.

One year ago: German Apple Pancake

Printer Friendly Recipe
Lamb Stew

The type of lamb to use is ill-defined, because a variety of lamb cuts might not be available and a number of different cuts will work. If you can find them, go for blade chops. I used a combination of loin chops and a sirloin steak, and it worked out very well. If the cut you use contains bones, use the higher amount of meat (around 3 pounds); otherwise, use around 2 pounds of meat.

I served this over mashed potatoes, which I really enjoyed. You can also replace the parsnips with potatoes if you want something a little more like traditional stew.

Serves 6

3 tablespoon vegetable oil
2-3 pounds lamb meat, fat trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks, bones reserved (see note)
salt
3 onions, chopped course
1 (12-ounce) bottle of stout
2 cups water
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 sprigs fresh)
12 ounces carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced on a slight bias about ½ inch thick
12 ounces parsnips, halved lengthwise and sliced on a slight bias about ½ inch thick
¼ cup minced parsley

1. Adjust a rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add half of the meat, with pieces spaced about one inch apart. Cook without stirring for 2-3 minutes, until the first side is dark brown. Turn each piece to another flat side and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the second side is dark brown. Continue cooking and turning the pieces until all sides are dark brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the lamb from the pot and place it on a plate. Repeat with another tablespoon oil and the remaining lamb. (If you use a 7-quart Dutch oven instead of a 5-quart, you might be able to fit them all in one batch.)

2. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the last tablespoon of oil to the empty, unrinsed pot, then add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté the onions, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until the onions are softened and browned around the edges.

3. Add the browned meat, lamb bones, beer, water, 1½ teaspoons salt, pepper, and thyme to the pot with the onions. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for one hour, uncovered.

4. Add the carrots and parsnips to the stew and cook for another hour, or until the meat is tender and the vegetables are softened. Remove the lamb bones, stir in the parsley, adjust the salt and pepper if necessary, and serve.

twice-baked potatoes

Copy of IMG_1022

Trust me, you don’t need a recipe for twice-baked potatoes. You know what makes twice-baked potatoes so good? Fat. The more butter and sour cream you add, the better your potatoes will be. The less you add, the better you’ll feel about eating those potatoes.

Copy of IMG_0990

Decide what your goals are – if you want indulgence, you can add all sorts of sour cream, butter, cheese if you want it! If you want to keep it very light, replace the sour cream with buttermilk and reduce the butter to just enough to moisten the potato filling.

Copy of IMG_0999

Because I often serve twice-baked potatoes as part of nice meals, my goal tends to be flavor and not nutrition. In this case, I was making them just for myself and Dave, so I tried not to get carried away with the butter and sour cream. If I was serving them for a bigger occasion, I might add a bit more of each.

Copy of IMG_1005

Hey, don’t look at me like I’m some sort of fat-adding heathen. My mom pushes a small cube of butter into each potato before its second bake, which melts into an inviting pool of decadence; at least I resisted that!

Copy of IMG_1037

One year ago: Candied Orange Peels
Two years ago: Yule Log (Daring Bakers)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Twice-Baked Potatoes

Serves 4

You can certainly add cheese to these if you like that sort of thing; a couple of ounces (½ cup) of something like cheddar would compliment the other flavors nicely. If you want to make the potatoes lighter, replace all or a portion of the sour cream with buttermilk. If you want to make them even more delicious, increase the sour cream by a couple of tablespoons. The flavor of the filling won’t change significantly after its second bake, so feel free to taste and adjust as you go.

24 ounces (approximately) russet potatoes (4 small or 2 large)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, room temperature
¼ cup sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
2 scallions, finely chopped

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400ºF. Scrub the potatoes and stab each one several times with a fork. Place the potatoes right on the oven rack and bake them until a fork inserted into one meets no resistance, 60-75 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let them cool slightly. Heat the broiler.

2. In a large bowl, mix the butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Cut the potatoes in half and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving behind a thin layer of potato on the skin. Add the potato flesh to the bowl with the sour cream mixture. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes into the sour cream mixture until it’s combined and there are no large chunks of potato. Fold in the scallions (reserving a few for a garnish, if you’d like).

3. Spoon the filling into the potato shells. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet and broil until the tops are crisp and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Copy of IMG_1023

Suggested menu: Steak au Poivre, Brussels Sprouts Braised in Cream, Twice-Baked Potatoes

sablés

Copy of IMG_1733
I was all excited about these cookies after I mixed up the dough, which tasted amazing. I was looking forward to how pretty they’d look once they were baked, tall and flat with glittery sugar around their edges.

Copy of IMG_1679

Then I saw that there was some flavor variations that I could have played with. Because what’s better than regular sablés? Lemon sablés! Ooh, or orange. Or I could have used vanilla sugar instead of regular sugar! Now I was disappointed in my cookies. Stupid boring plain sablés.

Copy of IMG_1684

Except, not really. Because without any other flavors getting in the way, these cookies mostly taste like butter. And sugar. And salt. In other words, like everything good.

Copy of IMG_1687

Barbara chose these for Tuesdays with Dorie and has the recipe posted. I didn’t follow the directions quite as precisely as I should have, which is why my cookies don’t have straight edges and and a perfectly even texture.

One year ago: Grandma’s All-Occasion Sugar Cookies

Copy of IMG_1735

brioche raisin snails

Copy of IMG_6438

I’m very comfortable cutting recipes in half. Some people say that they don’t like to deal with the math, but I come from a family of three engineers and a math teacher, so I can handle math. Plus, I’m cooking for just two people now, and I lived alone for six years before that, so my options are either to make half-recipes, throw a lot of food away, or eat the same thing for weeks. Given those choices, I take fractions all the way.

Copy of IMG_6424

Even if a recipe specifically recommends making the full recipe because smaller amounts are harder to work with – eh. Whatever. I usually cut it in half anyway. Cakes, caramel, bread dough, whatever. You’d be surprised what you can get away with, although you might, as in this case, have to split the occasional egg in half.

Copy of IMG_6425

Dorie’s brioche raisin snails are a rich yeast dough with pastry cream and flambéed raisins rolled into it. It probably sounds like quite a bit of work, and frankly, it is, but it’s a nice change from cinnamon rolls if you find yourself making those often.

Copy of IMG_6426

If you follow the recipe exactly, you’ll end up with twice as much brioche as you need for the snails, so you can always make some of Dorie’s fantastic sticky buns too. Or, just cut the brioche recipe in half like I did. Does anyone really need two different kinds of buttery tender breakfast breads tempting them at once?

Copy of IMG_6429

One year ago: Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

Printer Friendly Recipe
Brioche Raisin Snails
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Makes about 12 snails

You’ll only need half of the brioche dough, and while Dorie recommends making the full recipe and saving half for later (the dough takes well to freezing), I found that I could successfully make half the recipe if I used a faster mixing speed than the recipe recommends. If you find that there isn’t enough dough for the dough hook to work effectively, knead with the paddle attachment, switching to the dough hook for just the last few minutes of kneading. The full recipe is presented below.

You can shape the rolls into a log and then wrap the log well and freeze it. When you’re ready to bake, let the log defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then cut the rolls and let them rise at room temperature.

Brioche:
2 packets (4½ teaspoons) instant yeast
1/3 tablespoons warm water
1/3 tablespoons warm milk
3¾ cups (27.6 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm

Pastry cream:
1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2½ tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into bits

Assembly:
1 cup moist, plump raisins
3 tablespoons dark rum
1½ teaspoons sugar
Scant ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Glaze:
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
about 1 teaspoon water
drop of pure vanilla extract

For the brioche: Put the yeast, water, and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can – this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off in a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you’re doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point you’ll have a fairly dry, shaggy mass.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You’ll have a dough that is very soft, almost like a batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough b lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the covered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Divide the dough in half, reserving half for another use.

For the pastry cream: Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.

Meanwhile, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well blended. Still whisking, drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of the hot milk – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Put the pan over medium heat and, whisking vigorously, constantly and thoroughly (making sure to get into the edges of the pot), bring the mixture to a boil. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk in the vanilla extract. Let sit for 5 minutes, then whisk in the bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky. Scrape the cream into a bowl. You can press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream to create an airtight seal and refrigerate the pastry cream until cold or, if you want to cool is quickly, put the bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water, and stir the pastry cream occasionally until it is thoroughly chilled, about 20 minutes.

To assemble: Line one large or two smaller baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Put the raisins in a small saucepan, cover them with hot water and let them steep for about 4 minutes, until they are plumped. Drain the raisins, return them to the saucepan and, stirring constantly, warm them over low heat. When the raisins are very hot, pull the pan from the heat and pour over the rum. Standing back, ignite the liquor. Stir until the flames go out, then cover and set aside. (The raisins and liquor can be kept in a covered jar for up to 1 day.)

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

On a flour dusted surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 16 inches long, with a short end toward you. Spread the pastry cream across the dough, leaving 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Scatter the raisins over the pastry cream and sprinkle the raisins and cream with the cinnamon sugar. Starting wit the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can. (At this point, you can wrap the dough airtight and freeze it up to 2 months; see Storing for further instructions. Or, if you do not want to make the full recipe, use as much of the dough as you’d like and freeze the remainder.)

With a bread knife or unflavored floss, trim just a tiny bit from the ends if they’re ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into rounds a scant 1 inch thick. Put the snails on the lined baking sheet(s), leaving some puff space between them.

Lightly cover the snails with wax paper and set the baking sheet(s) in a warm place until the snails have doubles in volume – they’ll be puffy and soft – about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

When the snails have almost fully risen, preheat the oven: depending on the number of baking sheets you have, either center a rack in the oven or position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Remove the wax paper, and bake the snails for about 25 minutes (rotate the sheets, if you’re using two, from top to bottom and front to back after 15 minutes), or until they are puffed and richly browned. Using a metal spatula, transfer the snails to a cooling rack.

Copy of IMG_6434