Sunday, March 1, 2015

“Macaroni” & Cheese…with Butternut Squash & Mushrooms



A couple of years ago I wrote a post describing my favorite summer pizza.  I thought about this post recently as I was preparing what had obviously become my favorite winter pizza…obvious because I have lost count of the number of times it has appeared on my table this winter.  It features Winter Squash, Mushrooms & Cheese.  



It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of cheese I use—I vary it according to whatever I have in the house—it is the combination of the squash and mushrooms that brings me back to it again and again. 


But pizza is not the only place that this sweet and earthy combination shines.  It is wonderful baked into a vegetable gratin….and it is delicious in combination with pasta.  So yesterday—when I was hungry for something warming, rich and filling on our first snowy Saturday of the season (unlike most of the country, winter seems to have missed us this year)—I decided to tuck this complimentary duo into a pan of  “macaroni” & cheese.  (I don’t think I ever use macaroni in my macaroni & cheese…typically I like penne…or rigatoni…or fusilli.  But if you’re a purist, I’m pretty sure macaroni would be good too.)



As with the pizza, I just used cheeses that I had on hand (a combination of Dubliner and goat cheese)…but they worked very well—highlighting both the squash and the mushrooms—and I will seek these two cheeses out the next time I make this dish.   If you would like to use something else, choose cheeses that have a nutty and/or tangy character.  A combination of two cheeses offers more depth of flavor.  Other good options include White Cheddar and Gruyère.  It goes without saying that anything you choose should have good melting qualities.  The addition of a final scattering of grated Parmesan or Pecorino would add nice flavor too. 

All in all, the baked pasta turned out to be just the thing for our snow day.  But I won’t necessarily wait around for the next snowstorm before I decide to make it again.  Any day… when I happen to be hungry for macaroni and cheese….or butternut squash with mushrooms…will do just fine.




 Baked Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, 
Mushrooms & Two Cheeses

2 1/2 c. diced (about 1/2-inch) butternut squash (from a 14 to 16 oz. squash)
1 T. olive oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste

6 oz. crimini or white mushrooms, cut into wedges
1 T. butter, divided
1/2 T. olive oil
1/2 bunch of scallions, rinsed with the roots and half of the green trimmed away, and thinly sliced to make about 2/3 to 3/4 cup

2 2/3 c. whole milk
2 T. butter
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
Pinch of nutmeg

1/2 lb. rigatoni

4 1/2 to 5 oz. Dubliner cheese, coarsely grated
2 oz. Goat cheese

3/4 c. coarse bread crumbs (from slightly stale bread—see note)
1 T. butter
1 1/2 to 2 t. chopped Italian Parsley—optional

Toss the squash with olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper.  Spread on a small baking sheet and roast in a 400° oven until tender, sizzling and golden—about 30 minutes.  Set aside and reduce the oven temperature to 375°

Warm a half tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium high heat.  When the butter has melted and the foam subsides, add the mushrooms and sauté, tossing occasionally until the mushrooms are golden and any liquid they have released has evaporated.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining half tablespoon of butter and the scallions.  Season with salt and toss to coat everything in the butter.  Continue to cook until the scallions are wilted and tender.  Set aside.

Generously butter a shallow 1 3/4- to 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

Prepare the béchamel: In a large saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer; keep hot.  In another large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour.  Cook stirring constantly for a minute or two—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow.  Remove from the heat and pour in half of the hot milk, whisking constantly until very smooth—it will thicken immediately.  Add the remaining milk.  Return to the heat and stir constantly until the sauce returns to a simmer.  Taste and season as desired with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Cook the rigatoni in a large pot of rapidly boiling, well-salted water.  Stir occasionally and cook until the pasta is still very al dente—even more so than you would normally cook it, since it will continue to absorb liquid and soften while it is in the oven.  Drain.



In a large bowl, combine the pasta with the mushrooms and squash.  Add the béchamel and fold to distribute.  Add the Dubliner and fold in just until evenly distributed—the cheese does not have to melt.  Transfer to the prepared baking dish and scatter the goat cheese over the top. 



Combine the breadcrumbs with the butter and parsley, if using, and spread evenly over all. 



Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until hot through and bubbling just around the edges—about 20 to 25 minutes.  If necessary, place under the broiler (about 4 inches from the heat) until the top is golden.  Serve immediately.  Generously serves 3 to 4.



Notes:
  • Prepare breadcrumbs by taking slightly stale, “day old” bread and grinding in the food processor to form coarse crumbs. I use a local artisanal bread called “rosemary and olive oil” bread to make my breadcrumbs. So I will always have some on hand, I purchase a whole loaf, let it sit for a day or two and then cut the crusts off and grind it up. I then freeze the crumbs in a large ziplock freezer bag (pressing out as much of the air as possible to prevent the formation of a lot of ice crystals). 
  • You will need 6 1/2 to 7 oz. of cheese for this dish. If not using the goat cheese, but still using two kinds of cheese, grate both cheeses and toss them together. Fold all but a large handful of the cheese into the pasta, scattering the reserved handful over the top just before covering with the breadcrumbs. 
Printable Version


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Yeasted Apple Streusel Coffee Cake (Apfel-Streuselkuchen)



For the past month or so I have been gathering and testing recipes for a new breakfast breads class.  Two of the recipes have already appeared here—Everyday Blueberry Muffins and Fresh Fruit Scones (in class I made these with frozen raspberries and chocolate chips).  But the other recipes were pretty much all new to me.  As much as I love the muffins and the scones, my favorite thing in this class turned out to be a German-inspired, yeasted coffee cake topped with apples and a simple streusel.  It is a very different cake from the typical butter cake base that Americans associate with streusel coffee cakes.  Whereas a butter cake is rich, sweet and fine-grained, this kuchen is light and slightly porous with a complexity of flavor that can only be found in yeast-leavened baked goods.   And while it is definitely a sweet cake, it is much less sweet than its American counterparts.  I find it to be addictively delicious. 



The inclusion of this particular cake in my class came about as I was thinking about a coffee cake my mother made a few times for our Christmas breakfast when I was a kid.  I remembered it as being much less sweet than the kinds of things that kids (at least the kids in our house) like to eat for Christmas breakfast.  And this may be why she eventually replaced it with a sour cherry coffee cake.  As I prepared for my class, I wanted to revisit this cake….firstly because, being yeast-raised, it was a bit different, and secondly, I wanted to re-experience it with my adult taste buds. 

Once the recipe was located, I was struck by its extreme simplicity. It really seemed a bit too simple to teach.  Not that there is anything wrong with simplicity—there just isn’t much to “show” during a demonstration.  The dough is mixed entirely in the machine in what is pretty much one step and the fully risen cake is simply drizzled with a mixture of cream, cinnamon and brown sugar right before baking.  Delicious?…yes.  Material appropriate for a cooking demonstration?…not really.



But looking at this cake got me to thinking about this interesting class of yeast-raised coffee cakes from Germany.  The cake portion is almost always the same….it is the topping that varies from cake to cake and cook to cook.  Kuchens are often topped with raw fruit (halved, ripe prune plums…thinly sliced apples…) or with a cooked fruit compote.   Both of these can be topped with a simple streusel…and the raw fruit versions are frequently just given a swab of melted butter and a generous sprinkling of sugar.  Sometimes the cake topping doesn’t include any fruit at all…  just a streusel (streuselkuchen)… or butter and sugar (zuckerkuchen...my mother's cake is most likely a version of this one).  There are probably as many permutations of toppings as there are German grandmothers.  After examining several, I decided that this really was the cake I wanted to teach.  By adding an apple compote and a streusel, the cake suddenly acquired some cooking demonstration-worthy possibilities. 

With the wide variation in toppings, it was surprising how little variation I found in the base cake recipes.  The ingredients….even the quantities of ingredients…were remarkably similar from recipe to recipe.  Most were simple straight doughs (everything is mixed together, kneaded until smooth and elastic and then set to rise).  Some recipes added a cold overnight rise in the fridge.  

Two cake recipes stood out to me.  My mother’s, and another that I found on line.  The one on line was based on a prized, old family recipe.  Both of the recipes use the identical...and unusual...mixing method.  I was intrigued enough by the method that I decided to give this version of the cake a try.  I liked the result so much that I stayed with the method…even though I didn’t really understand it at first.

The mixing method shared by these two versions of the kuchen is as follows:  Half of the flour is set aside.  The remaining half is combined with all of the other ingredients (milk, yeast, butter, eggs, sugar, and salt) in the bowl of an electric mixer.  



The ingredients are mixed on low speed until everything is moistened.  Then, the dough (more of a batter, really) is beat at high speed for three minutes.  



The reserved flour is added and stirred in by hand just until it has been absorbed—my mother’s recipe goes so far as to explicitly tell you not to knead.



I originally went with this method because I was curious about it.  And as I said, I was super impressed with the result, so I have stuck with it.  In making the cake over and over, the method has begun to make sense to me.  Most of the recipes treat the dough as if it were truly a bread…mixing and kneading to create good gluten development.  But of course, the goal isn’t bread…it is cake.  The method I chose to use treats the dough like a cake batter.  The dough/batter is aerated first (the initial batter lightens in color and becomes fluffy….somewhat like a traditional creaming-method butter cake batter).  The bubbles created by this aeration will be inflated by gases produced by the action of the yeast—just like the bubbles in the batter of a well-aerated butter cake are inflated by the reaction of a chemical leavener—causing the cake to rise.  And, just as with a traditional butter cake, the flour is folded in at the end—stirring only until it is absorbed—since over mixing at this point will produce too much gluten development….which would in turn toughen the cake.  As long as you remember you are making cakenot breadthe method makes perfect sense.



I should mention that I have included the overnight rise in the fridge in my version of this cake.  One reason for this is that during its stay in the fridge, the flour becomes fully hydrated, making the final dough very easy to manipulate.  More importantly, the long cool rise encourages wonderfully complex flavor development.  The incomparable flavor that results is totally worth any extra planning that you have to do to fit this cake into your schedule.  But to me, this overnight rise makes this cake more—rather than less—convenient to prepare since everything can be made in advance.   Simply make the compote and the streusel at the same time that you make the batter and then place everything in the refrigerator.  In the morning, all you have to do is assemble and bake the cake.  What more can you ask?…deliciousness and convenience…..the perfect addition to your next weekend brunch.     




German Apple Streusel Coffee Cake
(Apfel-streuselkuchen)

120 grams milk (1/2 c.), warmed to 105° to 115°
1 1/2 t. active dry yeast
55 grams unsalted butter (4 T.), room temperature
1 whole egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
250 grams all purpose flour (2 1/4 c.), divided
50 grams sugar (1/4 c.)
1/2 t. salt
1 recipe Apple Compote
1 recipe Simple Streusel

Place the warmed milk in the mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast over; stir in.  Add the butter, egg, yolk, half of the flour, sugar and salt.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until all the ingredients are moistened.  Increase the speed to medium-high (high if using a hand or old-fashioned double rotary electric mixer) and beat for 3 minutes.  The batter will become lighter in color and will look smooth and creamy and slightly fluffy.  Add the remaining flour and fold in just until the flour is absorbed.  It is not necessary to beat the dough until it is smooth—it will look coarse and lumpy.  Scrape the batter into a buttered bowl and use a spatula to turn to coat in the butter.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight (or up to 24 hours).

When ready to bake, butter a 9- by 9-inch baking pan.  Turn the chilled dough out onto a lightly floured counter 




and press into a square shape.  



Using a rolling pin, roll out until it is 1/2-inch thick and measures 9- by 9-inches.  Transfer to the prepared pan and pat out, making sure it is pressed evenly into the pan.  



Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until doubled—about 45 minutes to an hour.



When the dough has risen, dimple deeply.  



Spread the apple compote evenly over the cake, coaxing some of the compote down into the holes created by the dimpling.  



Scatter the streusel evenly over all.  



Bake in a preheated 400° oven until the streusel is tinged with golden brown and the cake is springy, but firm, to the touch—about 25 to 30 minutes.  An instant read thermometer plunged into the center of the cake will read at least 190°. 



Place the cake pan on a wire rack and let cool for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Turn the cake out of the pan and then invert so that it is streusel-side up.  Serve warm.  Makes 1 9-inch cake, serving 10 to 12.

Apple Compote

600 grams (about 3) Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut into a 1/3-inch dice (you will have about 450 grams of prepared apples)
40 grams unsalted butter (3 T.)
100 grams sugar (1/2 c.)
1/2 t. cinnamon
Zest of 1 lemon


Melt the butter in a 12-inch sauté pan set over moderate heat.  When the butter is melted, increase the heat to medium-high to high.  When the foam subsides and the butter just begins to brown, add the apples.  Sauté, tossing occasionally until the apples are golden, tender and any liquid released by the apples has evaporated.  (While the apples cook, regulate the heat as necessary to keep them from burning.) 



Add the sugar, cinnamon and zest.  Toss and cook until the sugar melts and the apples are bubbling thickly—about a minute or two.  Remove from the heat and cool.  Cover and chill.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.




Simple Streusel

125 grams flour (1 c.)
100 grams sugar (1/2 c.)
85 grams butter (6 T.), melted

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and chill until cold.  The streusel will solidify when chilled.  Break it up a bit with a fork or your hands before using.

Notes & Variations
  • Remove the compote and the streusel from the fridge when you pull the dough out of the fridge so that they can both come to room temperature prior to being spread over the risen cake. 
  • This cake is best eaten warm, soon after it is baked. After that, cut the cake into portions, wrap individually and freeze. To reheat, remove a portion from the freezer and let thaw at room temperature (leave the wrapping on the cake)—this will only take an hour or so, but if I want a slice of this cake for breakfast, I set it on the counter before I go to bed. Unwrap the cake, place in the center of a square of lightly buttered foil and fold the foil around the cake, sealing tightly. Place in a warm (300° to 350°) oven for five minutes. Unwrap and serve warm. 
  • My mother’s version of the cake was called a “German Cinnamon Coffee Cake”. Her recipe was from the December 1973 issue of Better Homes & Gardens Magazine. To make this cake, omit the apple compote and streusel. When the cake is fully risen, dimple evenly and deeply and pour a mixture of 2/3 c. (135 g.) packed brown sugar, 1/3 c. (80 g.) heavy cream and 3/4 t. cinnamon over the top, making sure all of the dimples are filled and spreading evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes in the pan before turning out. Turn right side up and serve warm. 

  • My recipe for the “cake” portion of this kuchen is a combination of the one my mother made and one from the blog “That Skinny Chick Can Bake”
  • Substitute 1 1/2 cups of any favorite thick fruit compote over the risen cake in place of the apple compote.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Artichoke, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Tart



Whenever I include a demonstration of how to turn an artichoke in a class, I am inevitably asked if canned artichoke hearts may be used in the recipe instead of fresh.  This makes me kind of sad because, as with many things, the canned cannot hold a candle to the fresh.  But since turning artichokes is a skill that requires some practice, I always answer with a qualified yes….that in some cases—when the artichoke is supposed to be served cooked…when it isn’t the main event….etc.—you can indeed substitute canned.  The recipe I’m posting today is a good example.  While the tart would be utterly delicious with freshly turned and poached or roasted artichokes, it is still very good when made with the canned variety. 

I know this, because I made my tart with canned artichokes.  Normally I would not have canned artichokes on hand.  But I just happened to have half of a can left over after making some of David Lebovitz’s Artichoke Tapenade (from his new book My Paris Kitchen).  The tapenade is of course made up largely of artichokes….and the recipe specifies canned.  While I am sure it would be amazing made with fresh, I am a bit loth to go to the trouble of turning and cooking artichokes just so I can grind them to a fine mince in the food processor. 

Because I had half of a can of artichokes in my fridge, when a recipe from an old issue of Bon Appetit for an artichoke tart crossed my Facebook feed, I clicked through to examine it more closely, thinking that it might call for canned artichokes.  It did.  And as I looked it over I was reminded of a zucchini tart that I posted last summer.  The tarts are very similar in style—flat, rectangular and topped with a layer of soft cheese and some cooked vegetables—and both are beautiful to look at.  In the end I used the Bon Appetit recipe as a spring board, changing it up to suit my pantry and my preferences.  For the cheese base I used ricotta mixed with pecorino instead of Feta puréed with heavy cream.  And I replaced the Feta crumbles on top with goat cheese.  Finally, I added fresh herbs and sautéed mushrooms (I love mushrooms with artichokes) to the mix as well as a final scattering of pine nuts. 


Both the Bon Appetit tart and my zucchini tart were intended as appetizers, but I decided to make my artichoke tart to serve as a light Sunday night supper.  With a fluff of arugula—lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil—and an apple for dessert, it was just right.  (Chocolate cookies would have made a nice dessert too, but unfortunately, I was all out.)  Had I been hungrier, I could have beefed up the salad with some blanched green beans, toasted walnuts and olives….or served the tart and arugula as an accompaniment to some sautéed shrimp or scallops…or even a grilled or roasted chicken breast.   

Like the zucchini tart from last summer, the artichoke tart is super versatile.  To make little hors d’oeuvres, cut the square of dough into two rectangles and build, bake, cut and serve the tart as described for the zucchini tart.   I also think that this tart—cut into six portions and served with a small salad (as I served it for our dinner on Sunday)—would make an elegant first course for a dinner party.  Although, I admit, if I were to serve it at a dinner party, I would use fresh artichokes in place of the canned.  Either way, the tart makes excellent party food since all of the components (dough, ricotta smear, artichokes and mushrooms) can be made ahead.  You can even build the tart ahead, hold it in the fridge and bake it just before serving.  And, as I discovered when I enjoyed the leftovers for lunch today, the finished tart reheats beautifully, not suffering in the slightest from being made and baked ahead. 



Artichoke & Mushroom Tart

1 recipe pâte brisée (below)
125 g. (1/2 cup) whole milk ricotta
1/2 oz. (scant 3 T.) finely grated Pecorino Romano
Salt & Pepper, to taste
6 oz. white or crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 to 2 T. olive oil
1/4 c. sliced scallions—white and green (from about a half of a bunch)
1 t. minced fresh thyme
4 oz. well-drained artichoke hearts (half of a 14-oz. can), quartered—see notes
1 T. minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 t. minced fresh thyme
1/2 T. olive oil
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
1 1/2 T. pine nuts (untoasted)
2 oz. crumbled goat cheese



On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out into a thin (1/8- to 3/16-inch thick) square that measures at least 10- by 10-inches.  Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for at least 30 minutes.



In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Pecorino, thyme and garlic in a small bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside

In a small sauté pan set over moderately high heat, sauté the mushrooms in a tablespoon of so of olive oil until golden and any liquid that has been released has evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper, reduce the heat to medium and add a drizzle of olive oil if the pan seems dry.   Add the scallions and 1 t. thyme and continue to gently cook until the scallions have wilted.  Remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, combine the drained and quartered artichokes with the parsley, remaining thyme, hot pepper flakes and olive oil.  Taste and season with salt and pepper. 



Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and trim to a 9 1/2- by 9 1/2-inch square.  Prick all over with a fork.  Spread the ricotta mixture in a thin layer over the pastry, leaving a quarter inch wide border of dough visible.  



Scatter the mushrooms, artichokes, pine nuts and goat cheese crumbles over the ricotta.  (Tarts may be made a few hours ahead to this point.  Cover loosely and chill.)

Place the pan on the lowest rack in the preheated 375° oven.  Bake until the tarts are golden brown, well colored on the bottom and cooked through—about 30 to 35 minutes.  Transfer the finished tart to a wire rack so the crust will remain crisp.  Cut into portions and serve.



Notes

  • If you prefer to use fresh artichokes, you will need two medium artichokes that have been turned, halved and roasted and cut into 1-inch wedges (probably about 4 wedges per half).
  • To prepare small appetizer/passed hors d’oeuvres-sized tartlets, trim the rolled out square of pastry to a 10- by 9-inch rectangle.  Cut in half into two 5- by 9-inch rectangles.  Proceed with the building of the tarts as directed in the recipe, dividing all of the ingredients between the two tarts.  Bake the tarts and cut each into 8 (or more) small squares.  By building the tarts in this way (as 2 rectangles instead of 1 large square) each portion will be an “edge” piece and will be sturdier and thus easier to pick up and eat out of hand. 


Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry):

1 c. all-purpose flour (4 oz.)
1/4 t. salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick (3 oz.)
2 to 3 T. ice water


Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture has the look of cornmeal and peas. Drizzle 2 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound.  Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps.  Continue until all of the dough is flat.  Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do.  Form the finished dough into a thick rectangle.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Printable Version


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spinach Salad with Beets, Avocado, Freekeh & Slow Roasted Salmon

Over the past few years I have posted several salads that feature a grain (quinoa, barley, farro, wild rice, etc.) in the starring role.  Some of these salads include greens, but most do not.  For those that do include greens, the greens function mostly as a garnish.  I love grains…and I love hearty, substantial salads…so these grain-centric salads are frequently what I gravitate towards when I’m preparing a main course salad for dinner. 


But this past fall, one night I decided to change things up a bit and make a salad with grains that was more salad-like….heavy on the greens (baby spinach), with a small amount of a cooked grain (freekeh) tossed in to add textural interest (much like a handful of dried fruits or nuts would do).  I loved the result.  Yesterday I ran across my notes for that salad and decided to make it again.  It was just as delicious as I remembered it. 

I should warn you that if you decide to make this salad that you will find it is not much of a departure from my normal preference for substantial salads.  Spinach has the ability to stand up to any number of hearty additions, so besides the freekeh, I included slow roasted salmon, hard cooked eggs, roasted beets and avocado.   The salad is satisfying and filling…and brightened by the addition of some thin slices of red onion and a tangy Dijon vinaigrette.   

I am posting the “recipe” (more of a list of ingredients, actually) for the salad as I made it: for two.  But as always, you can multiply it to your heart’s content.  For some of the ingredients I have given a range of quantities because salads should always be about adding and subtracting ingredients to please your tastes and your appetite.  I assembled the salad on two individual plates, but I think in larger multiples that this salad would be beautiful built on a large, shallow platter and served family style…or on a buffet.

I am also not providing detailed instructions for preparing each of the ingredients in the salad.  Rather, I’m providing links to posts I have written that provide detailed instructions for the techniques involved.  Once you have all of the individual ingredients cooked (and they can all be cooked ahead) the salad can be assembled in a few minutes.  It should go without saying that this salad would be a perfect place to use up leftovers—a few chunks of leftover roasted or poached salmon, a small amount of a leftover cooked grain (bulgur would be good in place of the freekeh) as well as the beets, which are nice to roast in quantity and keep on hand for adding to any meal….as a side or part of an impromptu salad. 

I was so glad I stumbled across my notes for this salad.  It made an immensely enjoyable dinner.  Not only is it loaded with many of my favorite ingredients, but it was so nice to have something bright and fresh….  Exactly what my palate craves after the normal steady diet of the rich and hearty foods of the midwinter months.    



Spinach Salad with Freekeh, Beets, Avocado
 & Slow Roasted Salmon

For 2 salads you will need:
A scant 1/4 cup of freekeh, rinsed
A 6 to 8 oz. chunk of salmon—skin on or off, as you prefer (the skin peels away easily after roasting)
2 large handfuls of baby spinach (about 2 1/2 to 3 oz.), large stems pinched off and discarded
1/4 of a small (4 oz.) red onion, thinly sliced, rinsed under cold running water and blotted dry
3 to 4 T. Dijon vinaigrette (see below)
1 or 2 beets, (about 6 oz. total weight), roasted, peeled, halved lengthwise, sliced thickly cross-wise and tossed with red wine vinegar to taste (1/2 to 1 t.) and seasoned with salt & pepper
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and thickly sliced cross-wise
1 hard cooked egg (see note), cut into 6 wedges lengthwise

Place the freekeh in a small saucepan and cover with a cup of cold water.  Add a couple of pinches of salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until just tender—about 20 minutes.  Drain well, shaking gently to get rid of excess water, and spread on a plate to cool.  (Place in the refrigerator to speed up the cooling process, if you like.)

While the freekeh cooks roast the salmon, make the vinaigrette and gather the remaining ingredients.  The salmon may be used right away or allowed to cool briefly.  Break the salmon into large, random chunks.

When ready to serve the salad, place the spinach in a large bowl along with the onion and cooled freekeh.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle in a couple of tablespoons of the vinaigrette.  Toss until everything is lightly coated with the dressing, adding more if necessary. 

Build the salad by layering and nestling the dressed greens with all of the other elements in an attractive manner, dividing the ingredients equally between the two plates.  Drizzle more vinaigrette over all, concentrating on hitting the beets, avocado and egg.  Serve immediately. 

Dijon Viniagrette:  Place 2 T. of red wine vinegar in a small bowl and whisk in a two or three good pinches of salt.  Add 2 T. Dijon mustard and whisk until smooth.  Drizzle in 1/2 cup of olive oil, whisking constantly as you do.  The vinaigrette should thicken and emulsify as you whisk in the oil.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.  This recipe makes 3/4 cup of vinaigrette and you will probably not even need a third of it for two salads.  You can of course make a smaller amount, but this is a great basic vinaigrette to make and keep on hand in the refrigerator for dressing small dinner or lunch salads—it is versatile and tangy, and goes with a lot of different foods. 

Note: If you have never made a hard cooked egg before, here’s how I do it when I am only making a few.  Place the eggs in a pan just large enough to hold them in a single layer.  (It’s ok if the pan is a bit bigger than this, but if it is too large the eggs will tend to overcook in the amount of time it takes to bring the water to a boil.  For a small number of eggs, you will probably have to use a one quart saucepan.)  Add water to the pan so that the eggs are covered by a half inch to an inch of water.  Set the pan over high heat and bring just to the boil.  Turn the heat off, cover the pan and let the eggs sit undisturbed for 10 to 12 minutes.  I always cook an extra egg so that I can quickly peel and cut open an egg to see if it’s done to my liking.  I prefer them a bit underdone—with just a trace of creaminess in the center.  If the egg isn’t done, just continue to cook the remaining eggs for another minute or two…or however long you deem necessary to achieve the desired doneness.  (Eat the extra ‘tester’ egg for a snack….they’re delicious and good for you.)  Place the cooked eggs in cold water and peel as soon as they are cool enough to handle. 





Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Chocolate Truffle Cookies...a perfect little bite of chocolate...



Valentine’s Day is once again drawing near.  For many, this is an occasion for an extravagant chocolate dessert.  I admit that I’m not a fan of big, rich chocolate desserts….   Desserts with names that include modifiers like “death by”,  “outrageous”, “oblivion”, “insanity”, “wicked”, “indulgence”, etc.….   are totally unappealing to me.  If I’m going to eat a chocolate dessert, I want it to be deeply chocolate…not too sweet….and preferably served in small portions.   To me the perfect chocolate dessert is a creamy, perfect little pot de crème   a small sliver of a rich chocolate tart  an elegant soufflé cake  a miniature brownie square or one or two of the chocolate truffle cookies I’m posting today. 


These little cookies might not look very special, but you should not let their plain and demure appearance fool you into thinking that they are plain and demure when it comes to taste.  Just like the chocolate truffle after which they are named, these dark and rather unpromising looking lumps pack a wonderfully deep chocolate punch.  If you love chocolate, these cookies will probably become a favorite.    

I found the recipe for these cookies in a December issue of Gourmet magazine many years ago.  I have been teaching them in one of my Christmas cookie classes for almost as long.  They are so special that I have kept them in the class even though the forming of the cookies is a bit of a tedious process.  The original directions simply instruct you to chill the dough until it is firm and then to use dampened hands to roll heaping teaspoons of dough into balls.  

This is not as easy as it sounds.  The chilled dough is quite firm…and contains hard chocolate chips…so it is difficult to portion uniformly.  Rolling the portioned dough into balls requires that you regularly rinse your hands to clean off the dough that adheres amazingly well to your palms…despite the fact that they are damp.  Furthermore, if your hands are too damp, the dough slips and slides and resists forming a ball…if your hands aren’t wet enough, the dough sticks to your hands to the point of being unmanageable.

It was not until this year that I came up with a better way to portion and form these cookies.  I discovered the new method entirely by accident.  In the past I have always just followed the directions in the recipe to chill the dough—which, when freshly made, is really more like a cake batter than a cookie dough—right away.  For some reason when I made the dough this past Christmas, instead of immediately pouring it into a clean container and transferring it to the refrigerator, I left it in the mixing bowl on the counter for a few moments while I finished up a few other tasks.   When I returned to it, I discovered that at a cool room temperature (68°F) the dough had set up so that it was soft and mounding and held its shape when scooped.  


So, instead of chilling the dough, I grabbed my cookie scoop and scooped the batter into mounds on a parchment lined sheet.  I then chilled the sheet pan of scooped dough.  Once the scooped cookies were firm enough to handle, it was super easy to roll them into smooth little balls (using lightly dampened hands) and bake them. 

As I have thought about it, this method should have been obvious to me from the beginning.  The dough is made with melted butter and a large quantity of melted chocolate.  Since both of these substances are solid at room temperature, it makes sense that they would firm up rather quickly at room temperature….particularly when combined with other, cooler, ingredients. 


 Since Christmas I have been wondering if the dough could simply be scooped and baked right away (without the chilling step).  I had a little extra time this weekend….and my "cookie jar" was bare….so I decided to give it a try.  To my delight, I discovered that it works beautifully this way.  The exterior of the cookies that are scooped and baked immediately are a little rough in comparison with those that are chilled and rolled, but they have the same moist and dense interior.  How you choose to prepare them will depend on your time frame (do you need them for a dessert tonight?) and the setting in which they will be consumed.  When making this for a Christmas cookie platter…or as part of a dessert tray…and a neat, perfectly round cookie is the goal, it would be best to chill and roll them before baking them. 

I should mention that these cookies are especially delicious when consumed within a few hours of baking.  At this point, the chocolate chips are still pleasantly soft.  With this in mind, my next experiment with these cookies will be to scoop the dough, chill it, roll it into balls and then freeze the unbaked balls of dough.  This will then allow me to bake only a few at a time…making it possible to enjoy a small portion of truly delicious chocolate….any time the mood strikes.  



 Chocolate Truffle Cookies
 
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 T. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 c. (12 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1/2 c. (2 oz.) all-purpose flour
2 T. (10 g.) unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. sugar
3 eggs
1 1/2 t. vanilla


Melt the unsweetened chocolate, butter and half of the chocolate chips in a heavy saucepan over very low heat (or in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl), stirring occasionally.  Set aside to cool.

Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until pale and very fluffy (about 2 minutes at high speed).  


Mix in the melted chocolate mixture.  Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl and fold until just combined.  Stir in the remaining chips.  Let stand at room temperature until the mixture sets up enough to be scooped and hold a mounded shape.  If your kitchen is cool…and your eggs were refrigerator cold…this will only take a few minutes. 

Portion the dough using a small cookie scoop (see note).  Scrape the scoop against the bowl to make level, evenly sized scoops.  Arrange the scoops of dough on a parchment lined baking sheet, spacing 1 1/2 inches apart.  


Bake in a 350° oven until puffed and just set—do not over bake!  The cookies are done when the dough has lost its wet shine and the cookies have puffed slightly.  Start checking at about  7 minutes.


Immediately slide the parchment off of the baking sheet and onto wire racks to let the cookies cool completely.  


Makes 4 to 6 dozen—depending on the size of your scoop.

Notes: 
  • I make these cookies with Ghirardelli unsweetened (100 %)…it comes in convenient 4 oz. bars, Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips (the 60% are a bit too strong in this cookie), and Hershey’s Cocoa. But any good brand of chocolate will work. 
  • A cookie scoop with a capacity of 2 teaspoons will produce 6 dozen cookies and tablespoon-sized scoop will produce 4 dozen. I like to make smaller cookies at Christmas when they will be part of a large platter of many different cookies…and the larger size during the rest of the year when I’m only making one kind of cookie (for my own “cookie jar”, for example) 
  • The cookies may be scooped and baked right away, or scooped, chilled and then rolled into smooth balls once the dough is firm enough to handle. If chilling the dough, place all of the scooped dough onto a single parchment-lined cookie sheet. It’s OK for the cookies to be quite close together since they will not be baked on the sheet they are chilled on. Bake the chilled dough exactly as you would the freshly scooped dough. 

 (Recipe adapted from Gourmet, December 2000)