Sunday, July 29, 2012

Apricot Bluberry Dutch Baby

Dutch baby or puff pancake. Is there a difference? If I was a full-time blogger, or if I made any money off this blog from advertising (have you noticed that my blog is ad-free? those cutesy baking blogs with all the annoying advertising are a bit of a pet-peeve of mine) to offset my time, it might be worth investing in research between what makes a dutch baby a dutch baby and what makes a puff pancake a puff pancake. I use the terms completely interchangeably, and I bet a lot of others do too. It could very well be that they are completely interchangeable, but it might be a while - if ever - before I have the answer because I would much rather spend my time baking and eating these guys than finding out what to call them. And for today, this "baby" is going to be dutch, because not long ago I wrote a post about a puff pancake and I don't want to bore you with a lack of creativity.

I tried a different recipe this time, which had more eggs and greater ratio of flour and milk. The batter also included sugar. I changed too many variables to make for any sort of useful comparison of the batters. The main difference was that this time I folded fresh fruit directly into the batter before baking, whereas previously I cooked the batter and then served it with cooked fruit on top. As you might expect, the version cooked with the fruit was not as crispy and was more custardy. You might also attribute that to larger amounts of eggs and milk. 

I think the only way to get to the bottom of such a comparison as this is to make it over and over. And over. And then to eat it over and over. And over.

I used apricots which were local from Washington and felt perfectly ripe - I'd left them in a brown paper bag with a banana for two days and then in the fridge for a day. When I sliced them up - ooo so sour! And really not very juicy. But baked in a buttery sweetened batter in a hot oven made these sparkling citrine jewels gleam and burst with fruity, aromatic tenderness.

Dutch Baby with Apricots and Blueberries
serves 2 farm animals or 8 supermodels
3 eggs
2/3 cup milk (I used skim)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (I used Spenda for baking - try it! besides sweetening iced tea, I consider this its perfect application)
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 apricots, pitted; one diced and one sliced
1/4 cup blueberries
powdered sugar

Place 10" cast iron skillet in oven, and preheat oven to 425.
Whisk together eggs, milk, flour, and sugar. Stir in diced apricot and a handful of blueberries.
Melt butter in hot skillet. Pour batter on top of butter, and working quickly so batter doesn't cook too much, layer sliced apricot in an attractive design atop batter. Return to center of the oven. Bake 20-25 minutes, until puffed and golden.
Cut into quarters and serve topped with a few more fresh blueberries and sifted powdered sugar.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Green Apple, Zucchini, and Sunflower Seeds

It hasn't really been a "heat-wave" in Seattle - especially not compared to the 100+ degrees that many states have been experiencing for weeks now. Nevertheless, the weather has been just right for main dish salads that can be served at just about any temperature, and especially are easy to serve up fuss-free and take outside to eat on the patio.

I've rolled through multiple versions of pasta and grain salads the past couple weeks, tossing whatever fantastic farmer's market produce managed to last through day-time snacking long enough to still be hanging around to be chopped up for dinner with a well-balanced dressing.

Truly, the dressing is the hardest part, and while I rarely refer to a recipe anymore, I'm far from mastering the prime ratios. Jamie Oliver recommends a 2:5 acid-to-oil and I've found I prefer closer to 2:4... in other words, twice as much oil as acid. I also generally prefer a lighter acid like lemon juice, lime juice, or rice vinegar, but there are definitely times when nothing compares to a delicious balsamic. Soy sauce and wine (red or white) vinegars can be other good choices, or a blend of more than one.  Once you've figured out what basic proportions you prefer in your dressings, it's easy to flavor with any of the following: salt, pepper, hot sauce, mustard, fresh herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, dill, anise, cilantro, parsley, mint, tarragon, etc) garlic/garlic powder, shallot, curry powder, cumin, lemon/lime/orange zest, sugar, honey, maple, sesame oil, walnut oil.

Quinoa and Green Foods Salad
serves 4 as main dish

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 large onion (about 1 cup)
1 granny smith apple
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2-3 tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons crumbled feta or ricotta salata cheese

Cook quinoa according to package directions.

Saute onion in 1-2 teaspoons butter + 1-2 teaspoons olive oil over medium low heat until carmelized, 20-30 minutes.

Cut zucchini lengthwise into quarters, then crosswise into 1/2" thick slices to make wedges.

Cut apple into bite-sized pieces, approximately the same size as zucchini pieces.

Toss quinoa, onion, zucchini, apple, herbs, and sunflower seeds with a dressing of lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, mustard, olive oil, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle with cheese and serve atop a bed of spinach or mixed greens.

Southwestern Salmon Salad
serves 6 as main dish

8-10 ounces wild salmon filet
1 cup (8 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 ears corn
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, lightly packed
1 red or orange bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, diced or sliced in rounds
1 large zucchini or cucumber, sliced crosswise into 1/2" rounds then quartered into wedges
6 ounces pasta in interesting shape such as campanelle, farfalle, radiatori
crumbled cojita cheese

Grill corn (husked or unhusked, I husked this time so that the kernals would get slightly charred) about 20 minutes, turning every 5-6 minutes. Place salmon on sheet of foil and grill approximately 8-10 minutes depending on thickness, until cooked through but still moist.

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Whisk together a dressing of lime juice, olive oil, cumin, garlic powder, salt, hot sauce. Toss with warm pasta. Cut corn kernals from cobs and toss with pasta, adding beans, bell pepper, zucchini, and cilantro leaves. Add more dressing if necessary. Sprinkle with cojita and serve cold or at room temperature.

Asian Noodle Salad
serves 2 as main dish

2 ounces soba (buckwheat) noodles or whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 small carrot, grated or sliced
2 ounces fresh spinach, chopped
2 ounces firm tofu, drained and diced (I like tiny pieces, approximately 1/4" square)

Toss above with a dressing of soy sauce, vegetable oil, fresh grated ginger, brown sugar, rice vinegar, chile-garlic sauce, and a drop of sesame oil. Garnish with cilantro and toasted sesame seeds or toasted sliced almonds and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peach Cake

My family has unquestionably been the largest beneficiaries of my baking in terms of quantity and variety. But there is one girlfriend in particular - let's call her "Dr. V" - who has received more cakes in her honor over a 3 year period than any single person in my family or my life. She is a very dear friend, and my baking for her is a reflection of how I feel about our friendship. I do have a list - albeit short - of other friends just as precious to me for whom I would be honored to have embarked on this baking. Yet for reasons mostly of geography but also of less condensed life events, Dr. V has enjoyed cakes for: a bridal shower, a wedding, a birthday, a baby shower, another baby shower (same baby!), and now a 35th birthday.

Being July in Washington, I looked to peaches for inspiration, as they are fresh, local, and truly delicious right now. To my dismay of a classic birthday cake eater, the only recipes I could find for peach cakes were coffee cake-style with crumb toppings, or upside-down cake-style with cooked fruit on top, or maybe the rare 'throw-some-diced-fruit-in-the-filling' variety. I wanted peaches right in the cake, and no soggy chunks that would weigh down the batter or make the slices fall apart. A good 8-10 pages into to Google searching, including spot-checks of some of my preferred baking blogs, I realized my love for Dr. V was heading deeper than just baking... I was going to have to design my own recipe. 

I looked away from the laptop for just a moment before a golden yellow sphere (with just a hint of rosy blush) went off in my head. Back in January I easily incorporated 2 pounds of fresh fruit right into the cake batter by means of sauce. My grandmother had requested an applesauce cake for her birthday and I made apple butter to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavors of the fresh fruit. Couldn't that technique work just as well with peaches instead of apples?

Ask yourself that question, or just keep reading. I (and Dr. V!) found the answer to be "yes!"

I cooked up a sauce using the basic recipe for the apple butter, and then swapped it into Warren Brown's cake recipe, tweaking the spices a bit to be more summer and less fall. The result was dense and moist, but not at all gummy, and delightfully peachy. I used my favorite white-chocolate buttercream frosting, and strawberry cream-cheese frosting lightened with whipped cream to fill the layers. But it would also be excellent with whipped cream sweetened with peach schnappes or perhaps even a meringue buttercream if you like it, but doesn't need anything too sweet. A few fresh peach slices for decoration, or layered in between would be wonderful.

Peach "Butter"*

makes 2 cups

4 large peaches, about 2 pounds, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar (more if peaches are not very ripe)
1 hunk (~ 1") candied ginger
4 allspice berries

Peel peaches and cut into eigths. It is easiest to peel if you blanch the fruit first by dipping for 10 seconds into boiling water and then dunking into ice water. Mix with remaining ingredients in heavy saucepan, cover and simmer until fruit is very soft, 20-25 minutes. Remove spice berries and whole ginger and puree fruit with an immersion blender until very smooth. Continue to heat uncovered at a simmer, stirring regularly to prevent burning, until consistency is thick.

Sauce keeps refridgerated for at least two weeks.

* From what I can tell through various websites, there isn't much difference between a "sauce" and a "butter" or even a "puree." I assume it is generally accepted that a sauce will have somewhat more liquid and a butter will have been cooked down to slightly thicker consistency. But the ingredients are pretty much the same, so the difference is basically how long they have been cooked.

Peach butter

Peach Cake
based on Applesauce Cake from Warren Brown's United Cakes of America
5 ounces unsalted butter, softened
15 ounces sugar
3 eggs
12 ounces all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup peach butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour two 8-inch round cake pans, preferably with removable bottoms (or line pans with parchment).

Combine butter and sugar in stand mixer and beat until well creamed. Beat in eggs one at a time.

Mix together milk, vanilla, and apple butter in one small bowl, and dry ingredients separately in another bowl. Add to butter mixture alternately in 3 additions. Divide evenly between prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, until tops are golden and start to pull away from sides of pan. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert to racks and cool completely.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Buttercream
from Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible

9 ounces white chocolate (any kind you like the taste of - I prefer Lindt; Ghiradelli and Guittard are also good)
12 ounces softened cream cheese (while I really don't understand why, I've read multiple times that Philadelphia brand is really the only one that will incorporate best in frostings and cheese cakes)
6 ounces softened butter
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeeze lemon juice

Melt the chocolate and allow to cool. Beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Beat in cooled chocolate, then butter and lemon juice until desired consistency.

Strawberry Filling
I had some of this strawberry cream cheese frosting in the freezer which was good, but very sweet. So I whipped up about 1/2 cup of plain whipping cream and blended it with about 1/4 cup of the strawberry frosting to make a light and fruity but not overly sweet filling that went very well with the peaches.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summer Salmon Dinner Party

This is really a post about building a menu from the farmer's market. I try to have some ideas in advance before I go, so I don't end up buying just what "looks the best" and end up with all stone fruits or all green vegetables. It's easiest to just make sure that my bag is filled with lots of different colors, which is what I did in preparation for this dinner party, though there was some crossover on red with both bing cherries and ripe strawberries. I also rounded up apriums (75% apricot + 25% plum = apricot flavor and color with smooth plum skin and firm flesh texture), heritage lettuce with a blush of purple striation and red tipping, bright kiwi-colored fava beans, and deep forest kale.

Last Spring, in preparation for our trip to Italy, I read Frances Mayes's Bella Tuscany. Part of her book takes place during fresh fava bean season, so they come up frequently in her descriptions of the amazing Tuscan dishes. I had never given them any thought as an ingredient before reading her enticing descriptions, and while we were there in the summer after the peak of bean season, I now consider favas to be quintessentially Italian (ie: delicious, romantic, and to be experienced at all costs.)

In Seattle, fresh favas can only be had at the farmer's market, and their season comes quite a bit later. When I spied them for the first time this year, I picked up a couple handfuls - nearly a pound. I didn't know quite what I wanted to do with them, other than make sure they were part of my dinner party. After about 30 minutes of shucking, a big mound of downy-lined bean pods, and but yeilding less than a quarter cup of shelled peas, I realized that whatever I did with these little gems would have to be spread pretty thin.

I only came accross this great Kitchen Window article on NPR as I was writing this blog, but I was definitely on a similar psychic plane as the author because I made a crostini gilded with a thin spread of fava bean puree. I took my precious bean bounty shimmering like emeralds in a custard cup and pureed them with a swirl of olive oil, a clove of garlic and a squeeze of lemon. My intention was to shave a curl of bright white ricotta salata cheese on top of the crostini but it was a bit too crumbly, so instead I just blended the cheese into the bean mixture. It was probably better that way to lend a more even saltiness, with color contrast from garnishing with a chiffonaded spiral of fresh basil. Slices of my favorite bread made for the perfect crostini.
Served alongside a bowl of olives, these fava bean-basil crostini made the perfect Italian appetizer.
I love making salmon as a main dish at parties, partly because I can count on it as a local, sustainable option, but also because it can be prepared in so many different ways that can often be prepared in advance and cooked quickly. In purusing my produce bounty, my first thought for the stunning Copper River filets I brought home was a strawberry balsamic glaze. But after plotting through the rest of the meal, I knew I had to save the strawberries for dessert as topping to a walnut-crusted chocolate ganache tart. So instead I turned to the cherries and considered a balsamic-rosemary glaze before stumbling across a local chef's sauce of browned-butter and cherries.
Copper River salmon - in spite of my resistance to buy-in to all the hype - really still is a special treat that is not only expensive and rare, but truly delicious. I didn't want to cover up the excellent flavors and richness of the fish with a fussy sauce of fat, salt, and sweetness. Nevertheless, I liked the idea of a golden buttery nuttiness against the tart and juicy Washington ruby: the bing cherry. So, I scaled back Braiden's version by omitting the smoked almonds, and substituted the concentrated sweetness of soaked dried cherries with fresh. She uses 1 stick of butter for four servings of salmon which I thought was excessive, so I used 4 tablespoons and still thought it was WAY too much. But as it was just a matter of how much I drizzled on top of the salmon prior to serving, it just meant I had a bunch of sauce leftover.
Bing-Browned Butter Broiled Salmon
serves 4
2 pounds wild salmon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup pitted, halved bing cherries
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Melt butter in small heavy saucepan, partially covered to prevent spatters. Cook over medium/medium-high heat until butter solids sink and brown and most water has evaporated (spattering will die down). Stir in rosemary and lemon zest, then cherries. Cook until cherries are softened. Sauce can be made two days ahead and refridgerated - reheat before serving.
Salmon can be grilled or broiled, depending on whether you are entertaining outdoors in the sun or inside out of the drizzly grey. Salt and pepper the salmon and squeeze with fresh lemon juice. Broil or grill to desired doneness, then serve topped with cherries and drizzled with browned butter.

I wanted a side that doubled as the vegetable, and which I could make in advance and reheat without too much deterioration in quality. Sturdy, dark green kale filled an empty nutrition niche. Sauteed with shallot and tossed with pasta, I prepared it in the early afternoon, shoved the whole pan into the fridge, and reheated on the stove just before serving. The orrechiete gave me some sticking trouble, so I welcome any suggestions on how to prepare it - I thought the shape was a great size and structural echo to the cherry halves in the salmon sauce, but the little bells nested in each other whilst cooking and even handling them individually, I couldn't pry them apart. I ended up cooking a second potful with some olive oil drizzled into the boiling water before adding the pasta, hoping that would coat the pieces and keep them from sticking, but that failed as well. Ideas?

Orrechiete with Kale and Capers
8 ounces pasta - I'll use farfalle or penne next time
1 bunch tuscan (black) kale
1 medium shallot, minced
couple shakes of crushed dried red pepper
chicken stock
fresh lemon juice
3-4 teaspoons capers, drained
2-3 cloves roasted garlic (You can wrap an entire head of garlic in foil and bake in the oven at 350-425 for about 40 minutes. This will last a couple weeks if stored tightly wrapped in the fridge. I usually just do the number of cloves I want - unpeeled - and wrapped in a couple of layers of foil. If I don't already have the oven on, I use the convection setting on my toaster oven about bake about 25 minutes.

Wash and dry kale, then remove center rib/stem. You can cut it out with a knife, or make an O shape with the index finger and thumb of one hand, and pull the stem of each leaf through the O with your other hand. This is a good 40-second video showing how to do it. Chop the kale into large, forkable size pieces.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in large (12") saute pan until shimmering. Stir in shallot and red pepper flakes until coated. Add the kale and toss to coat, stirring a couple of minutes to soften. Turn up heat to medium high and pour 1/4 cup chicken stock around edge of pan allowing it to burn off quickly. Add slightly more broth if needed to very lightly steam the kale, and stir continuously until well-wilted. Stir in a couple of cloves of roasted garlic to thicken and flavor sauce. Squeeze a wedge or two of fresh lemon oven, then toss with capers and cooked pasta. Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese. Can be refrigerate up to two days and reheated before serving - add more broth to keep from burning. 
I should really work on my photography. The lettuce I bought was the most beautiful lettuce I'd ever seen, with a charming blush of red tickling the tips of mild green frills. It's not at all visible in the photo, but even if it was, I probably couldn't capture the veritable artistry that the farmer exhibited in this head of lettuce. The best way I can reflect it's beauty is by sharing a way to honor other heritage heads by dressing them as glorious salads.

The ingredients in the salad were selected to carry the vaguely Italian theme that was running through my head (ie: balsamic vinaigrette and pine nuts) as well as contrast juicy, satiny apriums with bittery buttery leafy greens, and earthy, spongey mushrooms with crunchy glazed pignoli (or pinoli).

Green Salad with Apriums, Mushrooms, and Candied Pignoles
Red leaf lettuce, about two leaves per person, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
Apriums, sliced into 1/2" thick wedges - about 1/2 half fruit per person
Mushrooms, sliced, about one small per person
Pine Nuts, candied - about 1 teaspoon per person
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

To candy nuts, in small omlette pan, combine 1/4 cup pine nuts and 1/4 cup granulated white sugar. Stir continuously over medium low heat, until nuts are toasting and sugar is melting. Add 1 teaspoon water to make a thinner glaze if desired. While nuts are still warm, spread on foil or parchment to cool. When fully cool, break apart any pieces. Keep tightly sealed and will last for months.

Shake together vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper in jar to emulsify. Toss lettuce with some dressing. Mix in apriums and mushrooms, adding additional dressing if necessary but avoid over-coating. Sprinkle with nuts before serving.
Chocolate Strawberry Tart
Use the walnut crust from this link.
Fill baked tart shell with chocolate ganache made from 4 ounces milk chocolate, 3.5 ounces dark chocolate, and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Top with halved, hulled strawberries and brush with a glaze of a teaspoon of balsamic glaze melted into strawberry jam.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peach Cobbler with Brandy and Ginger Biscuits

Seattle had a surprising stretch of summer this week: for 7 days in a row, we ate dinner outside on our patio, enjoying either grilled bratwurst, grilled tofu (yes, just sliced thickly and brushed with oil!) and vegetables, or chilled pasta salad with salmon, not to mention bowlsful of ripe local cherries and lots of pit-spitting contests into our bushes.

These back-to-back days of sunny weather, along with our long, long evenings of daylight (it's still dusky at 10 p.m.!) meant that instead of writing and posting blog entries, I've been gardening and entertaining. A few nights ago though, as we were lingering after dinner listening to the trickle of our backyard fountain and scoping for a glimpse of the resident hummingbirds, Will announced "You should make peach cobbler."

Oh. Okay. Good idea.

Lest I sound like a wife of my grandmother's era with the duty in life to serve my husband's desires, let's just say that I agreed Will was on to something with this plan. He wouldn't be the only beneficiary if indulged his request. Moments later, when checking my email, a friend had sent-out an invitation for a short-notice barbeque gathering. I texted back inquiring: "Permission to bring potluck-sized pan of peach cobbler?" "YES Please!" was her reply, which is how five pounds of giant, ripe, fragrant, blushing fuzzy fruits ended up in my kitchen.

I have made peach cobbler before using the biscuit recipe from Joy of Cooking. I had some ideas for how to glam it up a bit, in particular, I love the peach-and-ginger combination. But as is my habit, I searched online for how others have made such incorporations before just launching into my own variation. I'm glad I did, because I came accross this version using prosecco in the fruit filling! That seemed like a terrific idea, though her recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups (!!) of liquid, which seems like a soupy mess and way tooooo liquidy for scooping onto a paper plate at a picnic table.  So I made my own modifications to her recipe, but I love that post's step-by-step photos, and I also really love the way she made the cobbler crust in diamond-shaped biscuits that bake together into a craggy sculptural surface.


Peach Cobbler with Ginger Biscuits
For Crust:
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces frozen unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 egg
1/2 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
additional cream, milk, or egg to glaze finished crust
additional 4-6 tablespoons flour for kneading/shaping

Stir together dry ingredients. With paddle attachment to stand mixer, beat in butter pieces into clumps form.
Mix together egg and cream. Add ginger (I used 1 T and thought more would have been delicious) and blend wet ingredients into dry, just until incorporated. Turn dough onto large floured piece of parchement or wax paper and form into 6" x 8" x 1" rectangle. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon flour, and fold dough in half, repeating 4 times, reshaping after each fold into a 6x8x1 piece. Fold tightly in parchment and freeze for 30 minutes.

For Filling:
3 pounds peaches
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3 tablespoons brandy
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

Blanch peaches if desired to make skins easy to remove (dip whole peach into boiling water for 10 seconds, then transfer to a bowl of ice water for 10 seconds.)
Peel peaches and slice into 8-12 wedges each. Toss with remaining ingredients.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter 9x13 pan. Spread peach filling evenly in pan.
Cut chilled dough into diamond shapes, approximately 1.5" across. Dough should be about 1" thick. Lay cut diamonds on top of peach filling. Brush with egg wash or cream, and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake about 32 minutes until filling is bubbling and biscuits are golden brown. Serve warm or room temperature.