Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie-Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

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I can see myself sitting in a cafe in France or Italy, sipping an espresso or a strong cup of tea and having a small piece of this honey and fig cake as a mid-afternoon dessert. The dried Mission figs coated with crushed fresh thyme leaves was a pleasant surprise flavor and balanced the sweetness of the dessert, whereas the polenta gives the cake some texture. A whipped topping blend of sour cream and heavy cream counterbalances some of the sweetness of the honey and sugar.

It's nice to have some freedom with a recipe, but because this is my first post as a member of Tuesdays with Dorie, I decided not to fool with the recipe too much. As a member of Tuesdays with Dorie, I am required to have the book, Baking From My Home to Yours and to be able to post the chosen recipe at least twice a month and on a Tuesday. Caitlin of Engineer Baker chose Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake for this week's challenge.

I had no luck finding a 10 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, so bought an 11-inch quiche pan thinking the 1/2-inch difference wouldn't really matter. The cake went together very well and looked beautiful while it was baking. I loved the idea of the lemon zest, honey, polenta and dried figs;it had such a rustic sound to it. Instead of using 16 large dried Mission figs, I used twice the amount of dried figlets. The figlets were very moist and supple, so didn't need the plumping up that Dorie suggested may be needed for figs that are somewhat hard.

For those of you who haven't bought Dorie's book, Baking From My Home to Yours, here is the recipe.

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed or 32 figlets which wouldn'd need cutting in half.
1 cup medium-grain polenta or cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta
1/3 cup tepid water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey, a full-flavor honey such as chestnut, pine or buckwheat for real honey lovers.
1 stick(8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus 1 tablespoon, cut into bits and chilled
2 large eggs

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325° F. Butter a 10 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

Check that the figs are indeed moist and plump. If they are the least bit hard, toss them into a small pan of boiling water and steep for a minute, then drain and pat dry. If the figs are large (bigger than a bite), snip them in half. I followed Dorie's suggestion of tossing the figs with a pinch of crushed fresh thyme leaves to add a Mediterranean touch to the cake.

Whisk the polenta, flour, baking powder and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the ricotta and water together on low speed until very smooth. With the mixer at medium speed, add the sugar, honey and lemon zest and beat until light. Beat in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are fully incorporated. You will have a sleek, smooth, pourable batter.

Pour about one third of the batter into the pan and scatter over the figs. Pour in the rest of the batter, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if necessary, and dot the batter evenly with the chilled butter bits.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be honey brown and pulling away just a little from the sides of the pan, and the butter will have left light-colored circles in the top. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.

Serves 8. Cake can be wrapped in plastic and will keep for five days at room temperature or can be frozen up to 2 months.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Daring Bakers-Cheesecake Pops

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"Hello, my name is Lynne and I am a Daring Baker. It was just a casual thing to do, I could stop anytime I wanted,right? Well, I got in deeper and deeper and now I'm addicted" Sound familiar? I agonized over missing last month's challenge, the beautiful party cake. I even bought Dorie's book, Baking From My Home to Yours and vowed at the next special occasion in my family, I would bake the cake. This month's challenge is Cheesecake Pops, chosen by Deborah and Elle, both have beautiful blogs with great photos and tasty looking recipes. The Cheesecake Pops recipe comes from Jill O'Connor's book, Sticky Chewy, Messy, Gooey -Desserts For the Sweet Tooth, another book to put on my ever-growing lists of must haves.

A great make ahead dessert, the pops seem time-consuming, but can be accomplished over two days. The cheesecake is baked, then chilled for several hours before scooping out the 2 ounce balls. The balls are then frozen for several more hours before dipping them in the chocolate. Since Memorial Day and the Fourth of July are our next holidays in the USA, I chose a red, white and blue theme for decorating my cheesecake pops.

Cheesecake Pops

Makes 30 – 40 Pops

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature

2 cups sugar

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup heavy cream

Boiling water as needed

Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks

1 pound chocolate, finely chopped – you can use all one kind or half and half of dark, milk, or white (Alternately, you can use 1 pound of flavored coatings, also known as summer coating, confectionery coating or wafer chocolate – candy supply stores carry colors, as well as the three kinds of chocolate.)

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

(Note: White chocolate is harder to use this way, but not impossible)

Assorted decorations such as chopped nuts, colored jimmies, crushed peppermints, mini chocolate chips, sanding sugars, dragees) - Optional

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. Set some water to boil.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. If using a mixer, mix on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with the boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes.

Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and cool to room temperature. Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth. Do not heat the chocolate too much or your chocolate will lose it’s shine after it has dried. Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately, you can microwave the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate. If you like, you can now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations. You can also drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.) Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening (or confectionery chocolate pieces) as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blackberry Clafoutis

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Fabulous is the only way I can describe my clafoutis when I saw how beautiful it looked when they began to puff up in my oven! And so easy to prepare! I have baked grunts, slumps, cobblers, pan dowdies and the like, but I have never baked a clafoutis. I must be only person in the whole world who hasn't, judging from the plethora of clafoutis recipes on the Internet. All were beautifully prepared and photographed, so I was a little hesitant to post my blackberry clafoutis in Hay, Hay, It's Donna Day #19 hosted by two time winner of HHDD, Bron Marshall. If you aren't familiar with HHDD, it's a fabulous blog event created by Barbara of winosandfoodies and I am proud to be one of the event's winners with my blackberry lemon verbena sorbet. It was just a coincidence that I chose another blackberry dish for this event. The recipe I used was part of a Fall menu and used dried cranberries and toasted walnuts which would make it very much an American dish, but I loved the way the blackberries looked nestled in the egg milk mixture. I did a little research on clafoutis and found that the dish when made with fruits other than cherries becomes a flaugnarde.

While shopping in my favorite restaurant supply store, I found four Lodge pre-seasoned iron pans about 6 inches in diameter with au gratin handles on either side. I would have bought more, but that was all they had in stock at them moment. I love cooking in cast-iron and knew my clafoutis would look great in these little pans.

Recipe adapted from "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" by Susanne Goin.

Blackberry Clafoutis

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
3 extra large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 pint fresh blackberries, washed and drained

Heat milk and the 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until warm but not hot. In a large bowl, whisk eggs together. Whisk in 1/2 cup sugar, the flour, and the salt. Add the warm milk, whisking well to incorporate completely. Let the batter rest 1 hour at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 10-inch round baking dish or 4 6-6 1/2 inch cast-iron pans with the 1 teaspoon butter. Sprinkle the baking dish or individual pans with the 2 teaspoons sugar. Tip to coat bottoms and sides of dish. Pour batter in the pan. Arrange the fresh blackberries around the pan. Bake about 45 minutes for large pan and about 30-35 for smaller pans. Serve hot or cold.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ginger Ice Cream

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I had my first taste of ginger ice cream in a favorite sushi restaurant a few years ago and have sought to reproduce that intense ginger flavor in my own kitchen. After making gallons of ginger ice cream, I was finely successful.

Two forms of ginger, fresh and crystallized, makes this rich smooth ice cream a double treat. Chopped fresh ginger is pureed in a food processor,squeezed through a cheesecloth bag to extract ginger juice which is then added to the cooked custard. Near the end of the freezing process, minced candied ginger goes for added flavor and texture. If you love ginger and ice cream, this is the recipe for you. Ginger ice cream will be a perfect ending to a meal of sushi or any other Asian or grilled meat dish.

When shopping for fresh ginger, look for unwrinkled rhizomes with no mold spots. Fresh ginger can keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks wrapped in several layers of paper towel. Crystallized ginger should be firm with a good coating of sugar and not clumped together.

Ginger Ice Cream

1 cup chopped ginger with peel
1/2 cup water
2 cups half and half
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 cup minced crystallized ginger

In a food processor, combine chopped fresh ginger with the water and puree. Line a bowl with a piece of cheesecloth and pour the pureed mixture into it. Gather ends of cheesecloth together and squeeze out as much juice as possible.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl. In a medium saucepan over medium heat,combine the half and half with the whipping cream. Heat until small bubble appear around the edges. Do not boil. Whisk in some of the hot cream into the egg yolk sugar mixture to temper it, then add it to the cream mixture. Cook over medium low to low heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, cool slightly and add the ginger juice. Transfer mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until very cold.

Pour mixture into an electric ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's instructions. During the last few minutes of processing, add the crystallized ginger. Place in freezer container and freeze for several hours until firm.

Makes about a quart. Recipe adapted from "Asian Grilling" by Su-Mei Yu.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Boston-Lunch at Figs

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We arrived at Figs just when it opened so avoided the long line that accumulated while we ate our lunch.Surprisingly small, but the wait staff weaved in and out with panache serving large rectangular pizzas with thin crisped crust smeared with just enough sauce and generously topped with a variety of ingredients. We ordered the cod cakes, a special that day and weren't disappointed. They were lovely fish and mashed potato cakes perfectly fried and served with a lemon aioli. Our pizza was half and half fried calamari and shrimp. The calamari was tender and delicious, but the shrimp wasn't all that special. Next time I visit, I will order Todd English's signature pizza, Fig and Prosciutto, a crisp rosemary crust with fig and balsamic jam, prosciutto & gorgonzola cheese. Figs is a great casual bistro with excellent pizza if you don't mind being in close quarters with other diners.

Figs Menu

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Asparagus With Leeks and Pancetta

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Two posts in one day! I thought I was doing really well until I realized that I had not written any text to go with this delicious asparagus dish. It's such an easy dish, maybe that's why I failed to write about it.

Everything Michael Chiarello cooks is so casually elegant and has lovely table appeal and color. I have two of his books and constantly pour over them for not only recipes I know will work, but for his tips on how to beautifully display his food, pantry necessities, and basic kitchen equipment. In his book, "At Home with Michael Chiarello, he lists his top five cleaning agents and all are either already in your home or easily obtainable. Club soda is his number one favorite on the list as his basic stain fighter. When doused on spills, stains are less lightly to become permanent. Cream of tarter is great mixed with lemon juice which acts a bleach for white clothes stained with food.Denture cleaning tablets was a real surprise to me. These tablets when dissolved in a little cold water cleans stains off of linen tablecloths. Dishwasher liquid can be rubbed directly into the stain while meat tenderizer and cold water mixed together can remove meat juice stains, milk and other stains which contain protein.

But I digress! Try Michael's easy asparagus dish and it will become a favorite for family and friends.

From Michael Chiarello's "Casual Cooking, Wine Country Recipes for Family and Friends"

2 pounds medium asparagus, I used half purple and half green asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, unrolled and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 cup thinly sliced leek, white and pale green parts only
Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground black pepper

Holding an asparagus spear in both hands, bend the spear until it breaks naturally at the point where the spear becomes tough. Discard the tough end and repeat with the remaining asparagus. Cut the asparagus into 1-inch lengths.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

While the water heats, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and cook the pancetta until the pancetta is almost crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the leek and saute until softened but not colored.

Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and add to the skillet. Season mixture with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Blogging By Mail-Small Things

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I felt like a kid at Christmastime opening my box the postman left at my door! I couldn't wait to tear through the packaging to see what goodies I had been sent from from the Land Down Under. Lovely Asian sauce packets, dark chocolate, teas, chopsticks, just great stuff I've never seen where I live. Thanks Agnes! It's uncanny that you picked out so many of my favorite things. Thanks to Stephanie of Dispensing Happiness who organized Blogging By Mail-Small Things. Eighty five bloggers worldwide signed up to swap packages containing small things. It's quite an exciting way to meet someone from another part of the world and to receive treats from someone who loves food as much as I do.

Here is a list of what I received in my "small things mean a lot" box:
Green and white tea
A beautiful tea blossom
Snifter and Sparkles-candies
Egg Rolls and Hello Panda biscuits, little panda embossed biscuits filled with chocolate
Koko Black dark chocolate which was nearly gone before I took the photo, and Koko Black hot chocolate.
Two sets of chopsticks
Two packets of crisps;lime and black pepper, and sour cream and chive
A chilli and garlic grinder
Harissa-a Middle Eastern spice mix I have always wanted to try
Pink Salt which comes from the Murray River, the longest river in Australia
Furikake rice seasoning
Several packet mixes such as Pho, tofu and Hainanese chicken rice for quick meals of favorite Asian sauces which require ingredients not easily found.
A South Pacific lapel pin.
And-last, but not least!

I had never heard of Vegemite until this song by Men At Work, one of my very favorite songs ever! I'll have to have a Vegemite and cheese sandwich as Agnes suggested.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


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Thanks to Elizabeth of Mommy Cooks

Thanks to Heather B from Randomosity and the Girl

Thanks to Shari from Whisk, a Food Blog and Kim from Scrumptious Photography

Thanks to Mari of Mevrouw Cupcake

Thanks to the Del Sisters
Gadget by The Blog Doctor.