Saturday, November 27, 2010

Daring to do it: Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

This was a fun challenge. It was the kind of thing that allowed for a lot of freedom, which meant that I could do whatever I wanted! (Which is actually a double edged sword - I love the freedom, but it also leave open a lot of "what about this?" questioning...!) I knew I would do a sweet crostata. I mean, really, I love sweets, so why wouldn't I? I was trying to figure out, though, what I could do for a savory one. There were a bunch of ideas floating around, but I just wasn't sure if any of them would actually work...

For my sweet crostata, though, my ideas were coming fast and furious. Jam! Fresh fruits! Chocolate under a vanilla pastry cream! Really, there was too much, and I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't make any of them since I wouldn't be able to decide. Then I looked at the week's supermarket circulars and saw that fresh raspberries were on sale. Mmm... Raspberries are my absolute favorite. Then I remembered one other thing - I had two beautiful lemons sitting in my kitchen which had been grown on the tree in my mother's backyard. Lemon and raspberry... Perfect!

Simona gave us two recipe options for the pasta frolla, or crostata crust, dough. I chose the first option, as the second contained a variety of flours and such that I don't keep on hand. As I usually do, I used vegetable shortening instead of butter to keep my dough dairy free. This recipe was very much like the pie crust I usually make, except this on uses eggs rather than water. I was a little concerned, it did not look like there would be enough moisture to hold the dough together. But it really did come out beautifully! I was really impressed by the tender dough that held together so nicely.

For my lemon layer I made the same lemon curd that my family has always made for our lemon meringue pies. It was strange, though, because we usually only make that pie on passover. So my recipe calls for potato starch. Which I don't have in the house. It took me a moment to remember that potato starch is really the passover substitute for corn starch, and that it really was ok to use the corn version! The fresh lemons were so good in the curd! The whole kitchen smelled lemony, it was heavenly!

Because I was using a cold, precooked filling, my pasta frolla crust would need to be prebaked, or blind baked. This was process which seemed to be new to a number of my fellow Daring Bakers. But I have done it a number of times, when making my home made pie crusts. This challenge gave me another opportunity to pull out my trusty, fancy pie weights! Dried beans and rice to the rescue! This challenge also gave me the chance to buy myself a present of a tart pan. I was very excited about it! Because I was prebaking my crust, I knew I was not going to be making the lattice top for my crostata. I was a little happy about that, since I am a little intimidated by making the lattice... Instead I used the extra pasta frolla to make heart shaped cookies, which turned out to be really tasty!

Crust cooked and cooled, curd chilled and ready, it was time to put everything together. My finished crostata looked so good! I couldn't wait to cut into it!! My parents-in-law came for lunch, so this was set to be the perfect dessert. Finally it was time to cut...

It seems my lemon curd did not set up as well as I thought it had. It was a little bit leaky... But the taste was AMAZING! All of us had a hard time keeping our forks out of the dish to take more tastes! And the fresh raspberries complimented the lemon to well. The crust was like a big, subtle sugar cookie. This was a fabulous treat!

With the success of the sweet crostata, I decided to just do it and go for a savory one. I used the same pasta frolla recipe, but cut the sugar from a cup to about a tablespoon. This time I knew I would be baking the filling, so I left the extra dough to make my lattice. That was hard! I knew there was a reason I kept avoiding it! The dough was very fragile, and I had a hard time getting my strips up from the counter onto the pie... But I eventually got there...! For my filling I used spinach, onions, eggs and cheeses. It was quiche-esque, but crossed with a savory cheesecake texture. Yet again, this crostata was a success! It was a satisfying, filling, delicious dinner that was enjoyed by all!

Thank you so much, Simona, for such a wonderful challenge! This is such a fun, versatile dish, I know I will be making it again and again! If you want to see the amazing creations my fellow Daring Bakers came up with, take a look here! I guarantee it, you will not be disappointed!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Turkey Day!

Another November, another Thanksgiving here in the States. This being our first year in our new home, we really wanted to host the meal. And, our family being as great as they are, they agreed to let us! This might not seem like a big sacrifice on anyone's part, having someone else do the bulk of the cooking, baking and cleaning, but you have to remember that we have a Kosher, vegetarian household and my in-laws are neither of those things. So Thanksgiving here means a break from the traditional traditions.

We do what we affectionately call the "All Dessert Thanksgiving" in my family. There is a real meal before the dessert part, but the Thanksgiving-y stuff is all at dessert. The centerpiece of our table, though, is still the turkey. It just isn't the same turkey most think of. Our turkey is made of cake, frosting, and any decorations we choose. My nieces were here to help me, Little Girl and my best friend make this one of the best turkeys ever!!

I hope that your Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it!) was filled with great food, wonderful people and tons of joy! Enjoy your own family traditions, no matter how strange they are!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Daring to do it: Souffle

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose SoufflĂ©s as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflĂ© recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

This was an amazing challenge. Souffle is one of those dishes that everyone is intimidated by, but, in reality, isn't as hard as it seems. I had made souffle once before (I don't even remember what kind...!) and was really excited to do it again. Especially with the tips and guidance of some amazing fellow Daring Cooks! I only had one regret with this challenge. I only made one souffle during the course of the month. I had planned on making a sweet souffle at some point, but it never happened. Sad... But, luckily, I am not limited by the month of the challenge! So hopefully sometime soon you will check back here and see a delicious sweet souffle!!
Now to the one I did make....
One of the challenge recipes provided was for a Watercress Souffle. Sounded good, and was a nice, vegetarian recipe to use. But I have never used watercress. Nor do I care to. Not that I have anything against it, I just am not jumping up and down to try it. Not when I could easily substitute one of my favorite leafy veggies - spinach. So I adapted the recipe a little to make my own spinach and cheese souffle.
Souffle is basically composed of two basic parts - the beaten egg whites and the base. The egg whites give the souffle its trademark lift and fragility, while the base provides the flavor and the "structure." The base recipe Dave and Linda gave us was really like making a white sauce - make a roux, add the liquid, add the flavoring/cheese. Their method, though, added the liquid in small batches rather than all at once. It worked so well! I have to try to remember that the next time I want to make home-made mac and cheese! Once the sauce is made, it is time to add the egg yolks. Dave and Linda recommended tempering the yolks before adding them by, essentially, cooking them over a double boiler. This was a method I had never heard of before, but it worked well. It brought the yolks safely up in temperature for health reasons and for ease of adding to the base. Yet another great trick learned courtesy of the Daring Kitchen!!

The egg white part of the souffle is the one which most people get nervous about. Whipping egg whites can be intimidating. Whip them too much and they separate into dry and wet elements. Too little and they don't have enough air to do much of anything. I must say, though, I love my KitchenAid mixer...! It made whipping the egg whites easy - just a matter of watching them! Nice and firm peaks, not too stiff, but plenty of hold.
Egg whites whipped, base ready, only a few more steps. Prepare the baking dish - butter the dish well, then coat the dish with something - in this case grated cheese - to help the souffle climb, and also to provide a bit of texture. Then the base and the whites have to be combined carefully - mixed enough to combine, but not so much that the egg whites deflate. Finally the mixture is poured into the prepared dish, then the whole thing goes into the oven. One of the hardest parts of souffle making is keeping the oven door closed during the baking process. Letting heat out of the oven makes it so that the souffle won't rise as much. Thankfully I have a window in my oven door, and I was able to watch the progress safely!!

Yeah, it rose a little crooked, and no, it didn't get as high and fluffy as I would have liked. But oh well. The important part (as with so many things...!) was what was on the inside. I had a nice crispy crust, and then the inside:

It held its form, but was still a little gooey... Yum! This was an delicious dinner! We all agreed - even Little Girl!
As I said at the start, this was an amazing challenge! It brought out such creativity among the Daring Cooks, you have to check out their work! Dave and Linda, thank you so much! I am so glad to have this in my arsenal now, and I really am looking forward to making this dessert souffle soon!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Budding Artist

As you have probably guessed, I enjoy being crafty. I don't exactly see myself as a talented artist, but I am a crafter who has a lot of fun creating things. Little Girl, subsequently, sees a lot of me puttering around with food, fabric, yarn, crayons and more. I have always hoped that she would enjoy some of these activities, too... She seems to have fun in the kitchen, playing with her kitchen tools and helping me cook and bake. And with our book club, I have seen her enjoy coloring and crafting, which is a ton of fun.
The other day we went to one of my favorite places to explore - the craft store. I love looking for new ideas and seeing what is out there, even if I don't buy much. One thing I couldn't pass on, though, was a foil poster featuring Little Girl's favorite fairy friends. With the hefty price tag of one whole dollar, I knew this was a splurge that would be worth it. And it really was! Little Girl LOVED coloring the fairies and seeing the shimmery foil background. She did really well with the markers, too, opening them and even getting the caps back on fairly securely! It is so rewarding to see her enjoy herself, and at an activity that I enjoy, too! I really am the luckiest mommy in the world with my amazing, crafty girl!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sharing the love

Sometimes it is hard to imagine that there is actually anyone out there who is looking at your blog. It is a big world, and there are blogs out the wazzoo!! And while I mainly keep this up for myself, it is really nice hearing every once in a while that what I say (or cook, or bake, or make) made someone smile. I love sharing my fun with my friends and family, and this blog has been a great way to do that.
Recently, though, I was touchd in a whole new way. One of the bloggers whom I love to follow recognized me as an inspiration! I was shocked, flattered, and a little overwhelmed. How does one respond when a role model says s/he appreciates what you do? It really just makes me see how lucky I am.
So I would like to share Anula's award with some of the people who have inspired me, and kept me going when I felt like blogging was just sending my words into a void.
Anula chose seven people and their blogs. She then asked us to share this award with seven people of our own - people who inspire us to do what we do. It is actually a lot harder that you would think!! She requests, and I do too, that this award keeps going - that you choose seven people you admire, whose blogs are a part of your web-surfing rituals, and let them know that you appreciate them welcoming you into their lives the way I appreciate you folks doing with me!

In no particular order:
  • Beth from Someone's in the Kitchen with Brina - I love your style, your creativity, and having Jewish holiday foods to drool over!
  • Shelley from CMomCook - hey, if it were't for you, I probably wouldn't have started this thing...!
  • Audax from Audax Artifex - you are an inspiration month in and month out in the Daring Kitchen, and your love for what you do comes through in all of your creations!
  • tease-spoonof sugar - your recipes are always so yummy looking, and your kids are just beautiful!
  • myrecessionkitchen - budget friendly, crafty, and presonable, all rolled into one!
  • Aparna from My Diverse Kitchen - beautiful photography, creative recipes, and all around lovely to read!

And, of course, I can not make this list without mentioning:

  • Anna from Anula's Kitchen - Your blog is one I love to look at, your cfreativity amazes me, and your love for life is truly inspirational!!