Thursday, May 28, 2015

Grilled Thai Cabbage Salad with Almond Chile Sauce

I do my best to make good choices about the food I buy. I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I don’t eat any red meat. But, I can always try to do better. The new book Living the Farm Sanctuary Life is full of inspiration for eating better, taking better care of the planet, and paying more attention to how animals are raised. I received a review copy. It’s doesn’t beat you up about how you choose to eat. It just tells the story of Farm Sanctuary and how they’ve rescued animals and inspired a lot of people to stop eating animal products. There are charming anecdotes about the animals that have been saved, nursed back to health, and gone on to delight everyone who gets to know them. There are reminders about the horrible conditions at factory farms and suggestions for making small changes that will add up. I started thinking about how my consumption of espresso drinks with milk has increased over recent years. In the past, I drank tea more often. I decided it’s time to switch back to more tea and less dairy and to make sure I’m visiting coffee bars that use milk from good sources when I do need a cappuccino fix. I’m also thinking that fewer turkey sandwiches and more sandwiches filled with vegetables would be a good change. Following the stories about the animals and the farm and tips for healthy eating, there are recipes for Breakfast, Salad, Handheld Meals, Soups, Appetizers and Sides, Entrees, and Desserts. And, they’re all free of animal products. Some dishes I want to try include: the Tacos with Salted Grilled Plantains, Salsa Verde, and Pepitas on homemade tortillas; the Spring Vegetable Cioppino; and the Savory Wild Mushroom Crepes with Roasted Fingerling Breakfast Potatoes made with chickpea flour in the crepes. I jumped right into the Grilled Thai Cabbage Salad before our local cabbage disappears for the summer. 

The salad itself is an easy mix of a few vegetables and lots of herbs, and the grilled cabbage adds a lot of flavor. But, the real star here is the sauce. I want to keep a bowl of it handy for dipping all kinds of vegetables or grilled tofu. It’s made in a blender by combining almond butter, lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, chopped fresh ginger and garlic, a chopped serrano chile, some tamari, and a little water and pureeing until smooth. You can add more water as it purees to get the consistency you’d like. Meanwhile, the cabbage was cut into big wedges and drizzled with oil. I grilled the wedges inside on a grill pan, but the flavor of grill smoke would have been even better for it. The wedges were only grilled for a few minutes per side to get some marks and to allow the cabbage to just begin to take on some tenderness. After removing the cabbage from the grill pan and letting it cool, it was chopped into chunks. The cabbage was tossed with chopped mint, basil, cilantro, and bean sprouts and green onions. It was served with the sauce drizzled over top. 

I always love a peanut sauce, so I suspected I was going to enjoy this almond sauce on the salad. In fact, I might have liked it more than any variation on peanut sauce I’ve made before. The lemon juice was the magic ingredient, and the serrano gave it just enough heat. The salad was fresh and full of flavor from the herbs, and the charred cabbage added an earthy note. With dishes like this, eating all plant-based food is easy. 

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Honey Cashew Morning Buns

I like the idea of cutting back on sugar. I’ve been doing just that for a while now. I’ve been baking fewer sweet treats and looking for ways to incorporate natural sweeteners other than refined sugar. So, I was delighted to find out that Joanne Chang’s newest book is all about Baking With Less Sugar, and I received a review copy. She set out to recreate some of her favorites using much less or in some case no refined white sugar. There are no manufactured sugar substitutes here, just reductions in total sugar used or appearances of honey, maple syrup, molasses, or fruit for sweetness. And, something I love about Joanne Chang is that she always gives you the facts about how and why recipes work. There are a few pages at the front of the book with explanations about what sugar does in baked goods and how it affects browning, texture, coagulation of proteins, etc. It makes it clear that you can’t just eliminate sugar and expect to get the same results as when it’s used, and there are reminders about these facts throughout the recipes. I marked a lot of pages of things to try while reading this book. Almost every page of the Just Chocolate chapter has a flag on it, and I’m not even a serious chocoholic. These recipes highlight the sweetness already found in chocolate and have no additional sugar. Double-Chocolate Whoopie Pies, Chocolate-Fudge Bourbon Ice Cream, Mint Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches, and Mocha Shaved Ice with Vanilla Cream all got my attention. I already baked the Peanut Butter Honey Cookies with oats and chopped peanuts. They’re made with natural peanut butter, butter, and honey with no sugar added. The cookies were nutty and perfectly sweet enough and very tender. As warned in the recipe headnote, without the sugar these cookies are soft and cake-like rather than crispy or chewy. They might not hold up well for packing and sending, but they were great for snacking right at home. Next, I had to try the Honey Cashew Morning Buns. 

Again, this recipe had no refined sugar. The yeasted dough for the buns contained no sugar or honey, and the sweetness all came from the “honey goo” in which the buns were baked. This is a lightened-up version of the famous Flour Bakery sticky bun. The dough was made in a stand mixer with water, yeast, flour, salt, and olive oil. It was covered and left to rise for a few hours. Meanwhile, cashews were toasted and chopped for the filling. The filling was a mix of softened butter, cinnamon, and the chopped cashews. The risen dough was rolled into a square, and the filling was spread across the surface before the dough was rolled into a jelly roll. I cut the individual buns and chilled them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, I made the honey goo which included melted butter, honey, heavy cream, water, and salt. Once cooled to room temperature, the goo was poured into a baking pan and the rolls were set into it. They were left for a second rise for about an hour or so before baking. The finished rolls need to be served warm so the sticky glaze can be scooped up with each one. 

The rolls were decadently gooey in the best way. There was plenty of sweetness from the honey and lots of great flavor from the cinnamon and nuts. I can’t wait to try all those chocolate recipes, but the Pineapple-Coconut-Banana Sorbet sweetened only by the fruits in the recipe is a top contender to try next too. Looks like we might start having dessert more often than we have been lately around here. 

Honey Cashew Morning Buns 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Baking With Less Sugar.

Our famous sticky bun at Flour is unapologetically sweet. It’s drenched in a brown sugar-honey “goo” and chock-full of cinnamon sugar and pecans. Not only did it beat Bobby Flay in a Throwdown episode on the Food Network, he also graciously picked it as his choice for The Best Thing I Ever Ate in another TV show. It has become a signature item, and it has put us on the map. I confess that I can only eat a few bites and then I’m done. It’s incredibly rich, which is what makes it so good, but I longed for something just as decadent but in a lighter, less sugary way. These morning buns are the answer. Made with a light, yeasted, unsweetened dough, they get filled with chopped cashews (my favorite nut) and then baked in a honey goo that is rich with cream and butter, and sweet with a little honey, but not so much that they hide the flavor of the bun or cashew. I especially love the caramelized pieces on the edge of the pan. 

BUN DOUGH 
240 g/1 cup water, at body temperature (when you put your finger in it, it should feel neither cold nor hot) 
1/2 tsp active dry yeast or 3 g/0.1 oz fresh cake yeast 
350 g/2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus up to about 35 g/1/4 cup more, if needed 
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt 
50 g/1/4 cup olive oil or other mild vegetable oil 

HONEY GOO 
115 g/1/2 cup unsalted butter 
170 g/1/2 cup honey 
120 g/1/2 cup heavy cream 
120 g/1/2 cup water 
1/4 tsp kosher salt 

BUN FILLING 
240 g/2 cups raw unsalted cashews, chopped 
115 g/1/2 cup unsalted butter, very soft 
2 tsp ground cinnamon 

1. To make the dough: Lightly oil a large bowl. 
2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the water and yeast and let sit for 20 to 30 seconds to allow the yeast to dissolve and activate. Dump the flour and salt onto the yeast mixture, and carefully turn on the mixer on low speed. Let the dough mix for about 10 seconds. (To prevent the flour from flying out of the bowl, turn the mixer on and off several times until the flour is mixed into the liquid, and then keep it on low speed.) When the dough is still shaggy looking, drizzle in the olive oil, aiming it along the side of the work bowl to keep it from splashing and making a mess. 
3. With the mixer still on low speed, knead the dough for 4 to 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and supple. The dough should be somewhat sticky but still smooth, and have an elastic, stretchy consistency. If it is much stiffer than this, mix in 2 to 3 Tbsp water; if it is much looser than this, mix in 2 to 3 Tbsp flour. 
4. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a piece of plastic wrap or a damp lint-free cloth. Place the bowl in a draft-free, warm place (78 to 82°F [25 to 28°C] is ideal; an area near the stove or in the oven with only the pilot light on is good) for 2 to 3 hours. The dough should rise until it is about double in bulk. (This is called proofing the dough.) 
5. Meanwhile, make the honey goo: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and whisk in the honey, cream, water, and salt. Remove the pan from the heat and let the goo cool for about 30 minutes before using, or until room temperature. The goo can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 
6. To make the filling: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F [175°C]. Put the cashews on a baking sheet and toast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Turn off the oven and set the cashews aside to cool. 
7. Punch down the dough to deflate it—literally give it a punch in the center of the puffy dough, which will allow you to roll it out more easily. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-in [30-cm] square about 1/4 in [6 mm] thick. It will be a bit stretchy and it may spring back, but keep rolling gently until it roughly holds its shape. 
8. In a small bowl, with a wooden spoon, mix together the butter, cinnamon, and cashews. Spread this mixture evenly over the entire surface of the dough square. 
9. Using your hands and starting from the top of the square, and working your way down, roll the dough loosely like a jelly roll until the entire sheet is rolled up. Using a sharp knife, trim both edges of the dough roll about 1/4 in [6 mm] to even out the ends. Using a bench scraper or a chef’s knife, cut the roll into 12 equal pieces, each about 1 in [3 cm] thick. (At this point, the unbaked buns can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap—either individually or stack them all and wrap as a tower—and frozen for up to 1 week. When ready to bake, remove the buns from the freezer. Leave them wrapped and thaw in the refrigerator over¬night, or at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours; proceed as directed.) 
10. Pour the goo into a 9-by-13 in [23-by-33 cm] baking pan. Place the buns in the pan, evenly spaced. If some of the buns have become oblong or oddly shaped from the cutting and moving around, feel free to arrange them once they are in the pan into round spirals. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let the buns proof at warm room temperature (78 to 82°F [25 to 28°C] is ideal; an area near the stove or in the oven with only the pilot light on is good) for 1 to 2 hours, or until the dough is puffy, pillowy, and soft and the buns are touching. 
11. About 15 minutes before the buns are ready to bake, place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F [205°C]. 
12. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the buns are pale and light golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 20 minutes. 
13. Using a spatula, invert the buns, one at a time, onto a serving platter. Serve warm. (These are best served warm or within 4 hours of baking. You could make them one day and serve them the next after warming them in a 300°F [150°C] oven for 6 to 8 minutes.)

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Monday, May 11, 2015

White Bean Walnut Spread with Roasted Tomato Tea Toast

I was immediately intrigued by the new book Steeped. I love tea. I drink tea often and have cooked and baked with tea as well, and now here was a book full of “Recipes Infused with Tea.” I received a review copy. What I quickly realized as I started reading the book is that not only is it full of clever uses of tea in all kinds of different dishes, it’s also full of just really delicious-sounding food. The Green Tea Noodles in Asparagus Sauce with Goat Cheese Pearls has a couple of genius things happening in the same recipe. The fresh pasta is made with matcha green tea powder mixed with the spelt and all-purpose flours. And, the dish is served with goat cheese pearls made by rolling little pieces of goat cheese between your palms. They make the prettiest garnish. The Iced Tea Sugar Cookies are made with five options for glazes, and each glaze is made with a different type of tea. For instance, the Mojito Glaze calls for Moroccan mint green tea and lime zest, and the Rooibos Carrot Glaze has rooibos tisane and finely grated carrot. I first learned about tea leaf salads when I read the book Burma, and this book includes a fabulous, big, composed, California-version of a tea leaf salad with chopped avocado, jalapeno, and sunflower seeds. There are also really lovely pairings like the Jasmine Tea Whipped Cream with Shortcakes topped with Canteloupe. I can already imagine how good sweet, ripe cantaloupe will be with the flavor of jasmine tea. This is definitely so much more than a darling, little book about tea. First, I had to try the Roasted Tomato Tea Toasts and experiment with the smoky flavor from lapsang souchong tea. 

You begin by grinding lapsang souchong tea with coarse salt in a spice grinder. It results in a smoky-flavored salt accented with the floral qualities of the tea. This salt was sprinkled on tomato slices before they were roasted. I had just received some tomatoes from our CSA, and I bought some extras at the farmers’ market. This happened two weeks ago, and at that point, our local tomatoes were of the greenhouse variety. They were good candidates for roasting to concentrate their flavors. While the tomato slices roasted, white beans, toasted walnuts, minced garlic, more ground lapsang souchong tea, and some of the tea salt were pureed together in the food processor. Olive oil was drizzled in until the puree was smooth. Last, olive bread was sliced and toasted. I cut the bread to about the size of each slice of tomato. The bread was topped with the white bean puree, then a slice of tomato, and chopped chives. 

These tea toasts were so simple to prepare, and the result was a delightful and unique flavor experience. The lapsang souchong salt is just smoky enough without being overbearing as some smoked salts can be. It combined perfectly with the white bean and walnut spread, and the roasted tomatoes on top. I love now having the idea of this tea and this salt for adding a hint of smokiness in my bag of tricks, and I look forward to using tea in even more new and different ways. 

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Penelope Cocktail

I was delighted to learn about the newest book from Maria Del Mar Sacasa. Her last one was Winter Cocktails, and I’ve had so much fun trying different, boozy versions of hot chocolate and other warming cocktails for cold weather. This new book is the opposite. It’s Summer Cocktails, and I received a review copy. It’s full of refreshing, iced, chilled, and frozen cocktails to enjoy in the summer sun. I’m fascinated with the Shrub Cocktails made with homemade fruit vinegars combined with gin, sparkling wine, or vermouth. I can’t wait to try the recipes for the shrubs like blackberry-basil, rhubarb-plum, and strawberry-rosemary. There are also recipes for infused liquors like Black Pepper Gin or Vodka and Chiquila which is morita chile- or chipotle-steeped tequila. The Black Pepper Gin is used in a Moroccan Mint Iced Tea cocktail among others, and the Chiquila appears in several drinks including the Pulparindo with tamarind concentrate and grapefruit juice. There are Punches and Pitchers for parties and Frosty Drinks where I could easily focus my attention until fall. The Luxe is a vanilla milkshake made with fresh cherries and Luxardo maraschino liqueur, and the Watermelon Refresher is poured over frozen watermelon cubes. There are even boozy popsicles. Yes, I believe this book will stay close at hand throughout this summer. With Cinco de Mayo just a couple of days away, a tequila cocktail seemed appropriate. So, first from the book, I tried The Penelope. 

If you start with a fresh pineapple, you need to plan ahead since frozen chunks of pineapple are what are needed here. This is a smooth, frosty cocktail pureed in the blender. Frozen pineapple is combined with tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and simple syrup to taste. The pineapple itself was sweet enough for me, and I didn’t add any extra sweetening. Once pureed, the mixture was served with a garnish of lime. I had just received a couple of samples from NatureZway which came in very handy. I always spill and dribble liquor all over the counter when I’m measuring for cocktails, and it’s great to have extra bar towels. I received two bamboo cloth towels and a roll of heavy-duty bamboo paper towels. The paper towels are sturdy enough for serious cleaning, and the eco-friendly bamboo cloth towels can be washed and reused for years to come. 

I’m actually looking forward to a scorcher of a summer this year. The hotter it gets, the more reason I’ll have to keep making different icy cocktails. From Iced Coffees with Kahlua in the morning to Pimm’s with Strawberry Vodka in the afternoon, it might not be a productive summer but it will be delicious. 

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Beer-Battered Shrimp with Spicy Ketchup

I’m really good at being a picky eater. That’s been true my whole life. There are certain foods that I never eat and ingredients I always avoid. But, I’m not good at counting calories. I have no idea at all how many calories I consume in a day. I’m completely in favor of eating on the light side, choosing whole grains over refined flour when possible, and minimizing my sugar intake. So, it’s handy to have a good cookbook for lightened up dishes with lists of how many calories, and specifically what types of calories, are in recipes. Virginia Willis’s latest book, Lighten Up, Y'all, does just that, and I received a review copy. This book takes several classic Southern dishes and reworks them into lighter versions. Every recipe has information about total calories per serving and how many grams of fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and protein there are. Saturated fats have been reduced and at least partially replaced by unsaturated, sodium has been cut, and sugar quantities have been slashed. The tip for keeping the calorie count in check that I’d rather not follow is the one about reduced fat cheeses. Going back to that thing about me being a picky eater, I try to only buy cheeses that are certified organic or that are definitely made with milk from animals never given antibiotics or hormones. In several recipes in the book, either reduced fat cheese or a mix of regular and reduced fat is called for. When I’ve tasted those kinds of cheese, the flavor just isn’t there, and they tend to be made by large companies that don’t guarantee anything about the quality of milks used. For me, I’d rather cut calories elsewhere. What I can’t complain about at all are the Buttermilk Biscuits I baked one Sunday morning for breakfast. They’re made with some whole wheat pastry flour mixed with the all purpose and some unsaturated canola oil mixed with the butter. They were tender and delicious. The Multigrain Pecan Waffles with no sugar in the batter are on my list to try next. There’s a Red Snapper Provencal with Stone-Ground Grits dish and Creamed Corn-Stuffed Tomatoes that doesn’t actually have any cream that I want to make. From Starters through Sweet Indulgences, there are great-looking recipes for every course. 

Beer-Battered Shrimp was an easy choice for the first recipe to make from the book. I always love shrimp, especially when it’s crispy. I have to admit though, the real reason I wanted to make this was because of the homemade spicy ketchup. In my effort to rein in my sugar consumption, I sometimes skip regular ketchup. Here, the homemade version is made with just one tablespoon of honey and no refined sugar. To make it, some olive oil was heated in a saucepan. Grated onion was added and cooked until softened, and minced garlic was added. Next, canned whole tomatoes that had been pureed were added along with tomato paste, sherry vinegar, honey, smoked paprika, and a little salt. The mixture was cooked until thickened, about 45 to 60 minutes. The shrimp were cleaned and deveined. Then, a batter was made with beer, rice flour, all purpose flour, and baking soda. The shrimp were dipped in the batter and then coated with panko breadcrumbs mixed with chopped cilantro. The shrimp were shallow fried in just enough canola oil to coat a skillet, and lemon slices were seared in the hot pan when the shrimp were removed. 

The beer batter and panko crumbs made the shrimp extra crispy. And, the smoky, tangy homemade ketchup was delicious for dunking the shrimp. I put some extra ketchup in the freezer so I can pull it out some time later for oven fries or veggie burgers. I still won’t be any good at counting calories, but this book has given me several new ideas for eating light without sacrificing flavor. 

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Semolina Cavatelli with Rabbit Ragu

I have to warn you, I’m going to gush a bit here. A new book has come along that’s not only about one of my most favorite food topics but is also full of interesting information I’d never read before on the subject. The book is Pasta by Hand by Jenn Louis, and I received a review copy. Even Mario Batali, who wrote the foreword, hadn’t tasted or heard of several of the recipes in this book. Now to explain, the “pasta” in the title refers to traditional handmade dumplings or variations on gnocchi from different regions in Italy. Jenn Louis researched the topic at her home in Portland and then traveled from region to region in Italy to learn everything she could about dumpling making. In Italy, these handmade morsels of dough are always called gnocchi with some regionally specific names for certain shapes. For Italians, the word dumpling is thought of only in terms of Chinese-style stuffed dough shapes. However, gnocchi translated to English is dumplings. Whether it’s pasta, gnocchi, dumplings, or any other name, they all look delicious and fun to make. I didn’t actually flag any pages in this book as I usually do to quickly flip back to recipes I want to make. That’s because I will eventually make every type of pasta or dumpling described. I truly love working with pasta doughs of all kinds and figuring out how to form the desired shapes. A yeasted dough is used to make Cecamariti which comes from Lazio, and the dumplings are shaped like little green beans with pointy tips. Orecchiette, from Puglia, is a shape I’ve never tried making but have wanted to for the longest time. It’s traditionally made with semolina or regular wheat flour, buckwheat flour, or burned wheat from fields that were burned after harvesting. There are potato gnocchi versions as well as ricotta ones; two versions with beets; some have chestnut flour; one has winter squash puree in the dough; and the Gnocchi Alla Bismark dough includes finely chopped prosciutto, cinnamon, and nutmeg. For each type of dumpling, there are suggestions for best sauces to pair with it. And, there’s a chapter for sauces at the back of the book. I decided to make Semolina Cavatelli for Easter, and since I have a curious habit of eating rabbit at Easter-time, I paired the cavatelli with the Rabbit Ragu. 

It all started a few years ago when I was out for dinner with my family on the night before Easter. I ordered the rabbit. I ate the Easter bunny on the night before Easter. Two years ago, my birthday fell on the day before Easter. When we went out for dinner that night, I did it again. What can I say? I can’t resist a theme. So, rabbit was on the menu for our Easter dinner this year. The only problem was that the recipe calls for ground rabbit, and after too many phone calls to count to butcher shops and meat counters around town, I learned that I can’t get ground rabbit in Austin. I bought a whole rabbit from Countryside Farms at the farmers’ market, removed the bones, and chopped the meat myself. But first, I started by making the cavatelli a couple of days in advance. It was easier than I expected and really, really fun. Boiling water was mixed into semolina flour with salt and olive oil in a stand mixer. The dough was then kneaded by hand briefly and then left to rest for 30 minutes. With small pieces of dough at a time, long ropes were rolled by hand and cut into half-inch lengths. Those half-inch bits of dough were rolled off the thumb on a ridged gnocchi board. The dough is just stiff enough to curl up around your thumb and form a little curved shape. It was like the dough just knew what to do all by itself. I stored some of the cavatelli in the refrigerator that was going to be used that weekend, and the rest was placed on a sheet pan and set in the freezer. Once firmly frozen, the cavatelli can be transferred to a bag to store in the freezer. Making the rabbit ragu was simple once I had the rabbit meat prepped and ready. I did skip the pancetta in the recipe and started by cooking the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Pureed, canned tomatoes were added and left to simmer before red wine and chicken stock were added and simmered until reduced. The chopped rabbit cooks quickly and was added at the end and only cooked for 10 minutes. To serve, enough ragu for each serving was heated in a saute pan with some added butter. Cooked cavatelli were added to the sauce to finish cooking and become coated. Parmiggiano-Reggiano was sprinkled on each serving. 

The semolina cavatelli are sturdy but tender at the same time. They hold their shape well but take on a nice texture after being cooked. The only thing better than making the pasta, was eating it. The ridges and curled shapes held the ragu well, and I was delighted with the rabbit in the sauce. I still have more cavatelli in the freezer that might get paired with a simpler tomato sauce next time. And then, I’ll be coming back to the book to try all the other dumpling shapes. 

Semolina Cavatelli 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Pasta by Hand.

Serves 10 

This recipe, featuring semolina, makes a sturdy dumpling. The texture is firmer and more toothsome than ricotta cavatelli, similar to malloreddus, which are also made from semolina, though the cavatelli are a little denser and made without any saffron. Semolina cavatelli pair well with sauces rooted in southern Italian staples, such as tomato, lamb, beef, and seafood. 

400 G/1 3/4 CUPS WATER 
865 G/5 CUPS SEMOLINA FLOUR, PLUS MORE FOR DUSTING 
2 TSP KOSHER SALT 
1 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL 

Bring the water to a boil over high heat. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, combine the semolina flour, boiling water, salt, and olive oil. Knead with your hands or on medium speed for 10 minutes, until fully combined and the dough is mostly smooth. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and dust with semolina. Cut off a chunk of dough about the width of two fingers and leave the rest covered with plastic wrap. On a work surface very lightly dusted with semolina, use your hands to roll the chunk into a log about ½ in (12 mm) in diameter. Do not incorporate too much more semolina into the dough, adding just enough so the dough does not stick to the surface. Cut the log into ½- to 1-in (12-mm to 2.5-cm) pieces. With the side of your thumb, gently push each piece against a gnocchi board or the back of the tines of a fork, rolling and flicking the dough to make a curled shape with an indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Put the cavatelli on the prepared baking sheets and shape the remaining dough. Make sure that the cavatelli don’t touch or they will stick together. 

(To store, refrigerate on the baking sheets, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 2 days, or freeze on the baking sheets and transfer to an airtight container. Use within 1 month. Do not thaw before cooking.) 

Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the cavatelli and simmer until they float to the surface, 1 to 3 minutes. Simmer for 1 to 2 minutes more, until al dente. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and finish with your choice of sauce. Serve right away. 

SAUCE PAIRINGS: Traditionally, semolina cavatelli are paired with Tomato Sauce, Rabbit Ragu, Lamb Ragu, or Beef Ragu. 

Rabbit Ragu 

Makes 3 cups (720 ml) 

Rabbit is as common in Italy as chicken is in the United States. At Lincoln, this ragu is a staple. We buy whole rabbits and use every part: the bones are made into stock, the fore- and hindquarters are used for an entree, and the loins and bellies are ground for ragu. Often we also use the livers, heart, and kidneys when making rag├╣; they add great richness and flavor. If finding ground rabbit meat is challenging, check with a local farm, Italian market, or specialty butcher, and ask specifically for medium-large grind (if the rabbit is finely ground, it will cook too quickly and toughen). This sauce is well worth the effort. 

3 TBSP EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL 
2 OZ (60 G) PANCETTA, PROSCIUTTO, OR BACON, FINELY CHOPPED 
1/4 CUP (40 G) FINELY DICED YELLOW ONION 
1/4 CUP (45 G) FINELY DICED FENNEL BULB 
1 SPRIG FRESH ROSEMARY 
3 FRESH SAGE LEAVES 
2 SPRIGS FRESH THYME 
2 BAY LEAVES 
1 TSP RED PEPPER FLAKES 
1/4 CUP (50 G) CANNED WHOLE PEELED TOMATOES, PUREED AND STRAINED 
1/2 CUP (120 ML) RED WINE 
4 CUPS (960 ML) CHICKEN STOCK 
1 LB (455 G) GROUND RABBIT LOIN AND BELLY, MEDIUM-LARGE GRIND 
KOSHER SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER 
UNSALTED BUTTER FOR SERVING 
DUMPLINGS OF YOUR CHOICE, JUST COOKED 
GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE FOR SERVING 

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until the fat renders and the pancetta barely begins to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the onion, fennel, rosemary, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes and cook until the onion and pancetta are soft and slightly caramelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. 

Turn the heat to low and cook until the tomato thickens and begins to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the red wine, raise the heat to medium-low, and cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated, 2 to 4 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and simmer very gently until the sauce is reduced to about one-third, about 20 minutes. 

Add the rabbit to the sauce, stirring to break up any lumps, and simmer just until the meat is soft, tender, and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Rabbit is lean, so it does not require much cooking time.

Season the sauce with salt and pepper and discard the herb sprigs and bay leaves. 

(To store, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month. To thaw, place in the refrigerator overnight or until fully thawed.) 

To finish dumplings with the ragu, for each serving, warm 1/2 cup (120 ml) of ragu in a saute pan over medium heat and add 1½ tsp to 1 Tbsp butter per serving, depending on how naughty you feel. Gently simmer about 4 minutes, until the bubbles get large and the sauce is not watery along the edges of the pan. Add the cooked dumplings and simmer for 1 minute to let the dumplings absorb the flavor of the sauce. Spoon into serving bowls and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Serve right away. 

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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Starry Starry Nights Cookies

These days it’s becoming more and more likely that when you bring baked goods to a party or other event, you’ll encounter several guests who need to know what ingredients were used and if they need to avoid the item in question. I’ve been trying to bring optional offerings to events when possible like gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc. The latest book from Gesine Bullock-Prado will make this much easier. Let Them Eat Cake is another treat-filled, fun book just like all her others, but this time, every single recipe also has three additional variations to make it vegan, gluten free, or healthier. I received a review copy. Vegan versions, obviously, replace all animal products with plant-based ingredients. So, eggs are replaced with flaxseed meal or a vegan egg replacer product, honey is replaced with agave syrup, and butter is replaced with a vegan butter substitute. Gluten free versions swap out wheat flour for other varieties, and the liquid quantities may change. For the healthier options, the primary changes include using some whole wheat pastry flour in place of all purpose, using organic coconut palm sugar instead of granulated, and in some cases, using some pureed fruit in place of some of the fat. It’s so convenient to have all these options in one place for each recipe. The recipes themselves are classics like we’ve come to expect from Gesine. There’s a checkerboard Battenberg cake covered in marzipan; a Key Lime Double Rainbow Cake with six shades of yellow and orange among the layers; and a Lemon Chiffon Strawberry Cake with mint and almond pastry cream, strawberry coulis, and cake layers. There are also cookies, quickbreads, pies, ice creams, and candies. The little pop tarts on sticks are too cute to resist, and I need to make the Killer Coffee Cake soon. But first, I had to make some cookies. The Starry Starry Nights are described as a chocolate truffle in cookie-form, and they’re already gluten free in the original recipe. 

This is a simple-enough cookie to make, but the process does require planning for chilling at two different stages. It’s made with almond flour and no other flour, so there’s no change for an option with no gluten. To start, eggs, coconut palm sugar, and honey were combined in a stand mixer. Chopped 70% cacao chocolate was melted with some butter in a double boiler and left to cool. Almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt were combined in a separate bowl. The melted chocolate was added to the almond flour mixture and stirred to combine. The whipped egg mixture was added in parts to the chocolate mixture. The first quarter of the egg mixture lightened the chocolate mixture, and the remaining egg mixture was gently folded in. Once mixed, this was covered and refrigerated for at least two hours. The mixture needs to be firm enough to scoop just like making truffles. When the batter was chilled and firm, small balls were scooped and then rolled in sugar before being placed on a parchment lined baking sheet. The scooped cookies can be placed close together here since they’ll be chilled in the freezer before baking. When all the cookies were formed, the sheet pan was covered with plastic and placed in the freezer for a couple of hours. They went almost straight from the freezer to the oven with a short stop for a second coating of sugar before being spaced farther apart on a baking sheet. They baked for about 10-12 minutes. 

For the second coating of sugar on the cookies, I used demerara sugar for the big, crunchy crystals. That also made my Starry Starry Nights have more of an amber-hued twinkle, but they were still glittery. Calling these baked truffles is exactly right. This is the perfect cookie for chocolate lovers, and each one packs a lot of flavor into its small size. Now, when I need to offer multiple options for baked goods or if I ever need to make a vegan caramel sauce, I know where to look. 

Starry Starry Nights 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Let Them Eat Cake

You know what I love about these cookies? They are the most delicious and chocolaty treats you’ll ever eat. And they’re gluten free from the get-go. When I first created them in 2004, it wasn’t my intention to make a gluten-free cookie; I just wanted to get as close to a “baked truffle” as I could muster. I wanted a cookie that you could keep around for your chocolate fix but that wouldn’t melt like a chocolate truffle. You can freeze them for up to a month after baking and just pop one in your mouth when you need a fix! 

{ MAKES 50 SMALL COOKIES } 

2 large eggs 
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar 
1 tablespoon honey 
10 ounces (280 g) bittersweet chocolate (like Lindt 70%), finely chopped 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 cup (100 g) almond flour or very finely ground blanched slivered almonds 
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder (like Cacao Barry Extra Brute) 
1/2 teaspoon salt 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the eggs, 1/4 cup (50 g) of the sugar, and the honey. Mix on high speed until the mixture ribbons thickly. 

Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water (to make a double boiler) until melted. Let cool slightly. 

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the melted chocolate and stir well. Add one quarter of the egg mixture to the chocolate to lighten it, stirring with a wooden spoon until no egg streaks are visible. Add the remaining egg mixture and gently fold with a large rubber spatula until completely incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, 2 hours to overnight. It is imperative that the mixture is incredibly firm. 

Put the remaining 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar in a small bowl. Fill a heatproof mug with very hot water. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. 

Using a teaspoon cookie scoop or a melon baller, first dip the scoop in the hot water and then scoop out a round of batter. Roll the ball in the sugar, then place it on the prepared pan (you can space them very close together to freeze; you will use another sheet pan to bake off). Continue to scoop and coat the balls. Cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 to 2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). 

Line another sheet pan with parchment, remove the cookie-filled sheet pan from the freezer, re-dip each cookie in sugar, and place the cookies 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the new sheet pan, placing any cookies that didn’t fit onto the sheet pan back in the freezer until their turn in the oven comes. Immediately bake for 10 minutes, turning the sheet pan after 5 minutes. The cookies will look slightly cracked but the sugar will not be browned when they are done baking. 

Healthier
Replace the sugar with 3/4 cup (130 g) organic granulated palm sugar or 3/4 cup (110 g) Sucanat. 

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