Friday, April 27, 2012

Daring to do it: Armenian Desserts

I love desserts.  Really.  I grew up in a house where Thanksgiving was not about turkey.  We did the all-dessert Thanksgiving.  So this month's Daring Baker's challenge was one which sounded really cool.

The Daring Bakers’ April 2012 challenge, hosted by Jason at Daily Candor, were two Armenian standards: nazook and nutmeg cake. Nazook is a layered yeasted dough pastry with a sweet filling, and nutmeg cake is a fragrant, nutty coffee-style cake.

Before this challenge I knew nothing about Armenian food.  Now, while I don't know much, I know that I might have a new favorite kind of dessert!  I was concerned at first, because Passover fell right during this challenge.  Neither of these amazing recipes were ones which would adapt well...  I was confident that I would get one made in time, but not sure about both.
I started with the nutmeg cake.  I had a playdate scheduled for the day before we flew to Florida for Passover.  With extra mouths around, I figured it was the perfect opportunity.  The recipe, as the name gives away, calls for a good deal of nutmeg.  While I like nutmeg, I wasn't sure I liked it a full cake's worth.  So I used some nutmeg and some cinnamon.  I also topped the cake with cinnamon sugar (from my awesomely fun grinder...!) instead of the walnuts called for.  I didn't have walnuts at home, and wasn't about to go get some right before leaving!
The cake smelled amazing as it baked.  Like, so super good that we were all a bit disappointed that we would have to wait for the following day to taste it.  But man was it worth the wait!!  I absolutely loved the bottom "cookie" layer, and the nutmeg and cinnamon made the flavor just so warm.  This is absolutely a cake I will be making again.  And even if you don't consider yourself to be a Daring Baker, please try this.  It is pretty easy, and definitely delicious!

As for the nazook.  I really wanted to make it.  So I did.  The dough came together beautifully.  I used Greek yogurt instead of the sour cream called for in the recipe, but I don't think that made a difference.  It was silky, smooth and easy to work with.  So easy that Little Girl had fun rolling it out.  I made the traditional vanilla filling according to the recipe, but added cinnamon after the first two rolls were done.  I think my filling was a bit too wet, but that might be because I used margarine instead of butter.  Or just because that's the way things go sometimes...!  Either way, the rolls looked nice before going into the oven, so I was pleased.  Coming out of the oven?  Well, they smelled amazing, and the taste was fabulous.  But my rolls kind of exploded during baking.  It was a yeast dough, so rising accounts for some of it.  But wow...!

No matter the explosions, I loved these treats.  This is another keeper recipe.
Jason, thank you so much for introducing me, and all of us, to these Armenian delicacies!  I can honestly say that you opened my eyes to something special, and I am truly grateful!  Please do yourself a favor and check out the amazing creations of my fellow Daring Bakers!

Can't wait to see next month's challenge...  I'll give you a hint - the host is someone you might have heard of before...!  :)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Surprise! Pretzels

It is Sourdough Surprises time again! I continue to love Eve, so I am so excited to be involved with this new group. Kinda proud, too, since I am a part of it...! This month we made sourdough pretzels. Yum. I love pretzels. Especially soft pretzels. I am a Philly (area) girl. We know soft pretzels. And I have a tradition with some of my college friends involving the mall pretzels. So this was a special one to me.
We used this recipe as our basis for the challenge. And I stuck to it pretty faithfully. It was good. A keeper, for sure!
The dough, stretched and ready to cut:
The first couple of pretzels. And expert roller I am not, but they sort of looked pretzel-like...!Ready to rest in the sunshine:The first step in properly cooking soft pretzels is a bath in boiling water with baking soda. Which bubbles up. A lot. Like this:
After their bath the pretzels are almost ready to be baked. First they need to be coated. The recipe called for egg wash and salt. I did two different toppings. The first, melted margarine and kosher salt. The second, melted cinnamon sugar spread and coarse cinnamon sugar. With a helper on the coating:
And the finished pretzels:

Yum. These are so good. They are better fresh, but they do reheat well. And they will be made again. I need to be careful, though, they are addictive! I couldn't keep from snacking on them! If you have a sourdough starter, please treat yourself to these pretzels. They are nowhere near as labor intensive as I feared they would be, and they are so worth it! I want to play with them, try filled, bite sized and any other type of pretzel I think of!
I hope you'll surprise even yourself and sourdough with us next month!!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Daring to do it: Create your own recipe

One of my favorite things about being a part of the Daring Kitchen is the opportunity to play with my food. Clearly I love to cook and bake, and this group makes sure that, every month, I am doing something which I might otherwise never try. This month's challenge was more like play time than challenge...

Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!

This looked like it had the possibility to be either a total "phone it in" type challenge, or a whole heck of a lot of fun. There were three lists of ingredients provided, and we were to choose one (or more) item from each list to create a main meal dish. The lists were:
List 1: Parsnips, Eggplant (aubergine), Cauliflower
List 2: Balsamic Vinegar, Goat Cheese, Chipotle peppers
List 3: Maple Syrup, Instant Coffee, Bananas
Dave and Karen dubbed the lists as vegetables (list 1), strong flavors (list 2) and weird (list 3). There are so many possibilities. But using one from each list, together in one dish? Seemed like there was a big possibility for failure. Luckily, Dave and Karen though of this... They specifically stated in their instructions that, if your dish failed, you were you to order pizza for dinner...!
I had really hoped to make a variety of dishes for this challenge. With so many combinations, there had to be a lot, right? But time and opportunity were not on my side. So I only got one dish prepared. I chose to use the following items:
Parsnips, balsamic vinegar and plantains. Parsnips and balsamic vinegar are nothing new in our house. Neither are bananas, but I am not too big a fan of them. I know, that makes no sense, but hey, I don't make sense. But I had never used plantains before, and I thought this would be a good opportunity. And plantains are in the right family, so...
I marinated tofu in a combination of balsamic vinegar, honey and spices.
I then cut up the parsnips and plantains.
Yummy, but a little bland looking. Very white meal so far. So I added color in the form of veggies. Lots of veggies.
That looks better...! I then roasted everything and served it over quinoa.
Yum. I loved the tofu. And the roasted veggies? Great. The parsnip gets nice and sweet, which worked so well with the tofu. As for the plantains. I liked them. But I think they weren't ripe enough, or I didn't cook them long enough or something. So they weren't as good as I thought they would be. But. I want to try working with them again...!
This was a fun approach to the challenge this month. I am glad that Dave and Karen gave me, and all of us, the chance to play with ingredients and flavors, and the safety net of pizza, too!
You should definitely check out the creativity this challenge brought out in my fellow Daring Cooks!!