Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Coconut Macaroons

Well, my guys really spoiled me for Christmas, and I am now the proud owner of almost every cookbook on my wish list, plus a plethora of new cooking utensils, so, I am officially one happy cook.  To celebrate my new kitchen additions,I figured I would bake something from “Once Upon a Tart”, which I have read so many good things about, both the bakery and the cookbook.  If I ever end up in New York city, this cafe will be tops on my list of places to visit.  The cookbook is divine.  I want to cook everything in it.  I figured I would settle for the “Classic Coconut Macaroons”, being as they are a favourite.   I have made macaroons in the past, with acceptable results, but have never achieved macaroon nirvana.  This recipe just may be the one. Alot of macaroons are either too dry, or too sweet.  This one seems to be the best of both worlds, not sweet, moist inside, and oh so yummy.   I dipped 1/2 of the batch in chocolate, and cannot decide whether they are better with or without.  You will just have to make them, and decide for yourself!

Classic Coconut Macaroons, original recipe from “Once Upon a Tart”, by Frank Mentesana, and Jerome Audureau.

4 Large egg whites, at room temperature (they separate and whip better than cold eggs)
½ cup white sugar
4 cups Unsweetened shredded coconut (I used medium)
½ cup all purpose flour (always unbleached!!)
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp honey
½ cup chocolate chips (optional, for dipping when cooked and cooled)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with one rack in the middle of the oven.  Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl, using the whisk attachment of your electric mixer.   Whisk until peaks form, 2-3 minutes approximately.  

 Slowly add the sugar, and mix for a couple more minutes. The result should be nice and thick and shiny!

In a separate bowl, mix together the coconut and the flour.  Add this to the egg whites, and mix with a wooden spoon. 

Add the vanilla, almond extract, and honey, and mix till combined. (note my shiny new measuring cups, thanks to my wonderful Mother in law Sheila...they are great! I love them!!)

Using a teaspoon dipped in water, or your 1 tbsp measure if it is an appropriate shape,

scoop dough and place on parchment paper, leaving 1 ½ inches between cookies. 
Dipping the scoop into hot water between each cookie helps to release it from the scoop.  (I left mine rounded, they suggest pinching the tops of each cookie into a kiss shape, with moistened fingers)

Bake in the center of the oven for 8-12 minutes.  My tablespoon sized cookies took just over 11 minutes to start to brown on the bottom edges.

Place baking sheet on wire racks to cool a bit, then slide the parchment and cookies off onto the wire racks, and cool completely. 

My tablespoon sized scoop yielded 46 macaroons.

Optional step: Melt chocolate chips in a bowl over simmering water, and dip the tops of the cooked and cooled macaroons. Let cool completely, or chill in fridge to set chocolate quickly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

No Knead Bread

Let me start this post by apologizing for its length at the start. There is just so much information to pass along; I didn’t know when to stop!  I have been asked for this recipe numerous times, and to give the recipe without all of the information that goes with would not be nice. I have learned a lot since making my first loaf, and hopefully my efforts will make your bread experience an easier one.  The recipe is very simple, once you get the hang of it, but you need to know some things first.  So, brave reader, be prepared for a long read, grab a cup of tea, pull up a chair, and get ready to make the best bread ever.
I have been making bread for years, and up until recently, almost all of it has involved my bread machine.  At first, I used the machine cycle from start to finish, and made some pretty awesome bread, but I just never learned to love the shape of the bread, or the paddle hole that it left in the bottom of the loaf.  So, I started using it primarily to knead the dough, with much happier results, and moved on to shape buns, pizza dough etc.  This kept me happy for years.  I still use it fairly regularly, for my “knotty” buns, Kaisers, pizza etc.  My good ole’ Panasonic is close to 15 years old, and still churning out beautiful batches of dough.  
 But, then my foodie friend Ken gave me some sourdough starter, and some basic instructions, which I somehow never seemed to follow correctly, as the bread never worked, and the starter always died.  I am not sure how many times he has asked how it was possible to kill it, but kill it I did.  (sorry Ken, I did try!) Alas, Sourdough bread was just not meant to be in my kitchen.  This whole experience left me wanting more from my bread experience though.  I knew there had to be an easier way, and I really wanted to make a different style of bread.  A lot of internet research later, I stumbled upon no knead bread.  It sounded too good to be true.  I made my first loaf in my cast iron Dutch oven, and, wow, it was pretty fantastic, with no kneading involved, as promised. I remember there being a pretty long rising time, and the baking process was a wee bit daunting, dumping a sticky wet ball of dough into a 500 degree cast iron pot was not something  I wanted to repeat on a  regular basis, no matter how good the bread was.   Back to the drawing board I went, and I found the website for Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  Five minutes.  Could it really be so easy?  I devoured that website from the first page to the last, and ordered the book the very next day.  I almost felt silly,waiting for the mail to arrive so that I could try this new bread recipe.  When was finally delivered, I promptly made my first batch of Boule, which consists of mixing some yeast, water and salt together, stirring in the flour, and  letting it sit.  I waited the two hours resting time, and made my first batch of bread.  Now, the 5 minutes may sound misleading, but it relates to the actual hands on time of making a loaf of bread, once the Boule has rested.  After the resting step, you can store the dough in your fridge for up to 14 days (trust me, you will probably never leave it that long once you taste it, I think I made a loaf or two every day for the first month!) when you want to make a loaf of bread, you pull out your dough, shape your loaf, let it rest, preheat your oven with your pizza stone, and bake your bread with the aid of steam. (I use a broiler pan on the bottom rack of my oven, and pour very hot water in right after putting the loaf onto the pizza stone.)  The bread that comes out is, without a doubt, amazing. The crust is thick, crunchy and chewy all at the same time, with a moist custardy artisanal middle that will make you swoon.  I kid you not.( I would NEVER kid about bread!!)  Add some salted butter and nirvana comes to mind.  It really doesn’t get any easier, or better,  than this bread.   A wee bit of planning, and a few basic kitchen tools are all you need to make this wonderful bread for yourself.  Oh, and the book,(they have a new one out now too, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, it is on my Christmas list, I hope Santa brings it for me!) which is filled with tons of hints and recipes.  The website is fantastic as well, lots of new ideas posted on a regular basis, and they always seem to answer any questions people leave in the comment spots, which is helpful, to say the least.  I found it very helpful to watch the videos on YouTube as well, sometimes seeing something with your own eyes makes more sense than what you read.  The authors, Zoe Francois, and Jeff Hertzberg, are bread geniuses.  I tip my hat to them every time I make one of their awesome loaves of bread. And, you won’t even break a sweat, I promise!

So, if you are still with me, and you want to make some of this yummy bread yourself, you will need a couple of basic tools.
  •    First and foremost is a pizza stone.  I use my pampered chef bar pan, and rectangular pizza stone, often together in my oven when I am making multiple loaves. 
  •    You will also need some kind of pan to put in the bottom of your oven to pour hot water into. I use the base of the broiler pan that came with my oven. This step is necessary to create the steam that makes the amazing crust.
  •   A pizza peel is very helpful, although you can use a cookie sheet with no sides, or the back of a cookie sheet.  The dough needs to be able to slide off and onto the hot pizza stone; sides will get in the way.
  •   I have found parchment paper to be my best friend.  The book recommends using a good quantity of flour or cornmeal to use under the bread so it doesn’t stick to the peel, but I find parchment is way easier, and neater. You can place the formed dough right on the parchment to rest, and slide it, parchment and all, onto the hot stone, easy peasy. When I was using the cornmeal my smoke alarm was going off regularly because some cornmeal always seemed to hit the hot oven element and burn, causing smoke, noise, and kitchen chaos!
  •   A large bucket/container with a lid, it needs to hold at least 12 cups.
  • I highly recommend buying the book.  The recipe I am going to give you is just the basic recipe.  The book goes into much more detail, and has many many recipes and variations that are well worth the price of the book.
  • Yeast and coarse salt.  I buy my instant dry yeast in a brick at a baking supply store, but any instant bread yeast will do.  I use coarse sea salt, I think they recommend kosher salt.  If you use a finer salt, you will need to decrease the measurement by ¼. (i.e.: use ¾ as much of the original measurement)
  • Watch the video on you tube. I wish I had found that before I started!!
  • a dough or bench scraper comes in handy, for cleaning off your surface, unsticking dough, etc. 
Now, after all that, if you have your tools assembled, and you are ready to make bread, let’s go!

Basic Boule (Original Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois)

3 cups lukewarm water (hot water will kill the yeast; cold water will delay your rising time a lot!)
1 ½ tbsp granulated yeast
1 ½ tbsp coarse salt
6 ½ cups all purpose flour (I use unbleached, the book recommends this too)
Extra flour for shaping the dough

Mix the water, salt and yeast together in a large container.

(I find a lower round container is easier to get the dough out of later) Don't worry about the yeast and salt being dissolved completely.  Mix in the flour with a wooden spoon.  Do not knead, just mix until it all comes together in a globby kind of dough.

Allow it to rise covered until it rises and collapses, with the lid on but NOT sealed, at room temperature for about 2 hours. The dough should be flattened on the top when it has is ready. 

I have had this take anywhere from 2-4 hours in my kitchen, I think the cooler it is in the kitchen the longer it takes to rise.

The dough is ready to use at this point, or you can store it in the fridge in a lidded but not airtight container for up to 14 days. (If you do use it right away, your initial resting time can be a lot less.  Cold dough needs a longer initial rest time.

To bake:

Dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit sized piece (in my round container I divide it into 4 wedges, ¼ of the dough is a perfect size to work with).   A serrated knife works well.

With the extra flour in a low dish of some sort (I use a pasta plate) plop your ball of dough in and coat the surface of the dough with a bit of flour. I think they call this “cloaking the dough.”

Quickly shape into a ball, kind of stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom all around the ball, rotating quickly and trying not to work it over much.  For this step I found the YouTube video  essential, it made a lot more sense when I watched it actually being done.  It was also hard for me to take pictures with dough and flour covered hands,  I should have had a kitchen assistant for this part!!

Place your smooth ball of dough to rest on a corn meal covered pizza peel or parchment paper. 
If the dough is cold, you are going to let it rest for at least 40 minutes.  I have left mine for longer than this, up to an hour for some loaves, just note that some of the shaped specialty breads take less resting time.

20 minutes before it is ready to bake, you are going to get your oven ready.  Place your broiler pan in the bottom of your oven, near the front so that when you are pouring the hot water in you don't pour it on your element by accident! 

Place your pizza stone in the lower middle portion of your oven.  Pre heat to 450 degrees F. With my oven it takes about 16 minutes to preheat.

Dust the top of your loaf with flour, and cut a few deep slashes in the top of your loaf using a serrated knife. You will want enough flour that the knife doesn’t stick and drag the dough.  A regular knife doesn’t work well for this, trust me!

Fill a measuring cup with very hot water, and prepare to put your bread in the oven.

If you are resting on parchment, slide the whole thing onto your pizza peel or overturned cookie sheet, open your oven and slide the loaf onto the hot pizza stone.  If you are resting on cornmeal, it could take a couple of quick shakes to get it to slide off the pizza peel.  Quickly pour the hot water into the broiler pan, and shut the oven.  You will want to complete this step as fast as possible, so very little heat escapes your oven.
Bake for about 30 minutes.  If your loaf is bigger or smaller, adjust your baking time accordingly.

The whole batch of dough was used to make these 4 loaves.

When it is done, the crust should be a golden brown colour. (And your house should smell amazing!!)  Let the loaf cool almost completely before slicing it, it makes it way easier to cut, and doesn’t smush the custardy interior together.

Now that we have the basic recipe out of the way, I will share one of my favourite ways to use the dough, which really was the whole point of this long winded blog! 

Hot Pepper Olive Baguette

¼ of batch of no knead Boule (recipe above)
1/3 – ½ cup of sliced or roughly chopped green olives, drained well
1/3-1/2 cup hot pepper rings, drained very well, I give them a squeeze to release any extra liquid
1/3 - ½ cup of some kind of hard cheese, grated (parmesan, asiago, romano, etc.  They all work well)
Olive oil

Dust your counter with flour, dip your ball of dough into the flour as well, just to nicely coat the surface and make it easier to work with.   Working quickly, stretch, coax, and coerce your dough into an 8” by 10” ish rectangle.  If it is really sticky, dust with a bit more flour to make it workable, if it is stiff, let it sit for a minute or two then try again to coax it out into the rectangle shape. Again, you don't want to knead it or over work it, but you need to get it into a nice flattened piece.

Once your dough is shaped, scatter the olives, peppers, and cheese evenly over the surface, and roll up into a log along the longest edge.

It may stick, don't give up, just ease the dough off of your surface, (a dough scraper or bench scraper may help here) stick it in place and carry on.  The good thing about this is it is supposed to look rustic!

Fold the ends under, and place on parchment or well corn-mealed pizza peel to rest.  

After about 20 -30 minutes, prepare your oven for baking.  Place pizza stone in center, and broiling pan in bottom.  Preheat to 450 Degrees F.
When oven is preheated, take a serrated knife and cut slashes down the length of the loaf. 

Spray or brush with a bit of olive oil, and slide on to hot stone in oven.  Pour hot water in to the broiler pan and shut the door quickly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the crust is a beautiful golden brown and the cheese that peeks through the slashes is browned.

Allow to cool before slicing.

This is a Red Pepper Fogasse, from the website. It is very good as well.  Click HERE for the recipe!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Baked Potato Soup

Oh, what a bad blogger I have been.    My last blog was over 2 weeks ago!! My only excuse is the Christmas rush, both at work and at home.  Both seem to be under control at the moment though, and I feel like I can breathe again, if only for a day or two.  My Christmas cards(the other thing that I enjoy almost as much as cooking, making handmade greeting cards, 50 in all this season, all different...what was I thinking????) are all made and sent, my house is pretty much ready for Christmas, the shopping is about 80% done, and I actually have a day off from work tomorrow.  Halleluiah! My goal for my day off is to not leave my house for anything. What are the odds that I will actually achieve my goal??
 The good thing about loving to cook is that during these crazy busy times, I always make time to cook.  Take out food seems like a cop out to me, when there are so many yummy things that can be made in just as much time as it takes to dial the phone and wait for the delivery guy.  Call me crazy, but I would rather spend that 45 minutes cooking, than timing the pizza guy to see if my order is free!  I am such a food nerd that I always compare what is delivered to what I could have made, and how much better it would have been. (now you really can call me crazy!!) Now my camera is full of pictures just waiting to be blogged about.  All I need now are a few spare hours to just sit and type.  Cross your fingers for me, will you?
So, here I sit, at my laptop, drinking a very enjoyable glass of red wine, trying to decide what to blog about tonight.  After seeing the boys devour the baked potato soup that I made for supper, I figured it was a recipe worth sharing.  Apparently a lot of restaurants have a soup like this on their menu, but I have never ordered it.  After having this though, I just might!  I baked a bunch of extra  red potatoes the other night when I was making dinner, figuring I would slice them up and pan fry them in a bit of butter, kind of like really thick potato chips.  But, somewhere in the back of my wee food addled little brain, I remember reading this recipe and wanting to make it one day.  So, here it is!  I didn’t really plan on blogging it, so the picture part is a wee bit sparse,please forgive me! The soup makes up for it, I promise.  It goes together quickly, and easily. Next time you have extra space in your oven, bake some extra potatoes, this soup is worth it...your stomach will thank you!  
The original recipe uses regular bacon, but being as we don't eat pork, I substituted some fantastic turkey bacon that Shawn, my veggie guy brought me from the market.  I also lightened up the recipe a lot, cutting out the sour cream, some of the butter, and a lot of the cheese. Not having ever had this in a restaurant, I wasn’t sure how much of a difference it would make, but the flavour was very good. It is very thick, creamy and satisfying, great for a cold winter day

Baked Potato Soup (Original recipe here)

8 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon)
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups milk (feel free to increase stock and decrease milk if you like)
1 cup chicken stock
4 large baked potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cook bacon and chopped green onions in a large, deep skillet, over medium heat until browned. Drain, crumble, and set aside.

In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Whisk in flour until smooth. Gradually stir in milk and stock, whisking constantly until it thickens up. Stir in diced potatoes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes.  Use an immersion blender to break up some of the chunks if desired.  (You can blend till smooth if you prefer your soup to have no chunks at all)

Top each bowl with the crumbled bacon, onions and cheese.  A dollop of sour cream would probably be good on top as well!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dad's 70th Birthday Cake, or Chocolate Stout Cake

For my Dads 70th dinner this year, I was put in charge of the cake.  His only request was chocolate, (unlike last year, when he asked me to make my brothers black forest cake....) so the search began for a chocolate cake.  It had to be unique, and it had to be good, like, REALLY GOOD.  The first runner up was a Chocolate Whiskey Bundt Cake(I do love a Bundt cake!) from Orangette, which sounded divine, but after reading that she was a wee bit woozy from one piece, and the boys were going to be eating it, I figured something with a little less alcohol may be called for.  When I found the recipe for Chocolate Stout Cake on Smitten Kitchen, and got to the Ganache topping, I knew it was the one.  It did not fail to please.  What a fine chocolate cake.  The chocolate flavour is enhanced by the beer, but don't let that intimidate you if you are not a stout fan (I am not!)  You can't taste the beer itself; it just brings a new dimension to the batter.  The flavours meld in perfect harmony, giving a cake with a beautiful moist crumb, and a big bold chocolate taste, without being overly sweet.  The Ganache is literally, the icing on the cake.  Sublime, divine-- a chocolate lovers dream.  Happy Birthday Dad!  I hope you enjoy the cake!

The cake originally called for Guinness Stout, but after reading the comments underneath the recipe on her site, I decided to try a different beer.   My beer connisure/ foodie friend  Ken picked me up two bottles of Sinha stout,  which is brewed in Sri Lanka, and has chocolate, coffee and toffee flavours, perfect for this cake.  He brought two bottles, which gave me enough to make another cake.  But, if I make another one, I don’t think I will share....
Chocolate Stout Cake, originally posted on Smitten Kitchen

1 Cup Stout (I used Sinha, SK used Guinness, feel free to substitute the stout of your choice)
1 cup Unsalted butter (2 sticks)
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (SK recommends Dutch process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 ½ tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
2 large eggs
10 tbsp sour cream
6 oz good semisweet chocolate chips (I  use PC Decadent semi sweet chocolate chips, they are awesome!)
6 Tbsp heavy cream
¾ tsp instant coffee granules (i used the new Starbucks instant packets, about 1/2 of the packet will do)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Thoroughly grease your Bundt pan.  I melted butter and used my baster to get every nook and cranny.  Don't scrimp on this step, if you miss even the smallest bit, your cake may stick.  You can also use a spray, or butter on a bit of paper towel or waxed paper, just make sure to cover the ENTIRE PAN!!

Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to a simmer in a large pot with a heavy bottom over medium heat. 

Sift in cocoa powder and whisk until smooth.  (I am not sure the sifting is necessary, but I usually sift my cocoa to eliminate any chance of lumps)

Cool Slightly (I set it outside on my railing, it was easier than clearing a spot in my fridge, and it was about 2degrees C outside.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and ¾ tsp salt in a large bowl to blend.   Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in large bowl, till blended. 

Add the slightly cooled chocolate mixture, and again, beat until just blended. 

Add flour mixture, and mix briefly on low, just to bring ingredients together, (to get mine to this stage took about 30 seconds)

Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined, being careful not to over-mix.

Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven until tester inserted comes out clean, 35-45 minutes.  ( I think mine took closer to 50, but start checking around 35 minutes, you don't want to over or under bake)

Transfer cake to a cooling rack, STILL IN THE PAN, and let it cool completely.  Leaving it in the pan helps it to release perfectly. As you see in the picture, I cooled it on my railing as well, I should have taken a picture of my dog, on the inside of the door, drooling at the cake, just out of reach...) When the cake is completely cool, turn out of pan and plate it. 


Melt the chocolate, cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler. 

If, like me you don't have a double boiler, place a glass bowl above simmering water (be sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl) and proceed.

Stir occasionally until warm and smooth. 

Drizzle over the cooled cake, and enjoy!

I had to include a picture of the salmon that my brother made for Dad's birthday dinner, it was awesome!  Sorry, no recipe, for that you will have to contact my brother!