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Friday, January 29, 2010

Happiness Key

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Happiness Key***

I'm not quite sure in my perambulations on the Internet how I found Jain of Once in a Blue Moon, but her beautiful photos of luscious food, still life, elegant table decorations and lovely landscapes kept me glued to her blog. When I saw her Food for Thought logo, I was hooked. Cooking, photographing what I prepare and reading books are my passions, but reading books that chronicle food or have food related vignettes really thrill me.

Going through my stack of books that I haven't had time to read, plus some that my sister loaned me, I found Emilie Richard's book "Happiness Key". The cover grabbed my attention; surely with a setting in Florida, there would be food vignettes! I wasn't disappointed, but on with the review.


With her land developer husband in jail, newly divorced socialite Tracy Deloche finds herself left with only five ramshackle cottages on twenty five acres of the Florida Gulf Coast and no experience as a landlord. On a mission to collect rent, she finds that the only male resident of her newly acquired "resort property" has died in bed with a key clutched in his hand. As she goes about trying to find his relatives, she and the three very diverse women tenants reluctantly come together and begin to bond. Tracy meets Wanda Gray who marriage to a depressed policeman has dulled, but in the process of trying to save her marriage, could in fact destroy it. There's Janya, a beautiful Indian girl disgraced in her homeland and forced into an arranged marriage. And Alice who is mourning her daughter's death, but not quite sure if her son-in-law, Lee, has her best intentions in mind.

There are many food vignettes, but Wanda's skill in making pies was legend, especially the quintessential Key lime pie. "She'd grown up in the 'real' Keys, and she knew what a real pie tasted like. None of those grocery store crusts in tin foil pans. She made her own, like her mama had, crushing the best graham crackers she could buy, mixing the crumbs with melted butter, real butter, not some diet substitute. Then squeezing her own limes-Key limes, of course." Sorry Wanda, I bought the crumbs, but did use the Key limes.



Key Lime Pie
For Pie
4 teaspoons grated Key lime zest, plus 1/2 cup strained Key lime juice (12-15 Key limes)
4 large egg yolks
1-14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
11 whole graham crackers, crushed fine (1-1/2 cups)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Whipped Cream Topping
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 Key limes, thinly sliced and dipped in granulated sugar

Whisk zest and yolks in a medium bowl until well-blended, about 2 minutes. Beat in condensed milk, then juice. Set aside at room temperature until thickened.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Mix crumbs and sugar in a medium bowl. Add melted butter, stirring with a fork to blend. Scrape mixture into a 9-inch pie pan; press crumbs over bottom and sides evenly. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire rack to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Pour filling into crust. Bake until center is set, but still wiggly, 15-17 minutes. Return to wire rack; cool until room temperature. Refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 3 hours.

Just before serving, whip cream in medium bowl to soft peaks. Add confectioners' sugar a tablespoon at a time, continue whipping until just stiff peaks form. Either serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a slice of sugared lime or if entire pie will be consumed, spread the whipped cream over the entire pie, spreading with a spatula. Decorate with sugared Key lime slices. Serves 8.

And no novel on the Florida Gulf Coast would be complete without some mention of seafood. Tracy's impromptu meal with Lee, Alice's son features steamed shrimp. "She kissed him on the cheek and took the bag. Inside she saw steamed shrimp and a jar of cocktail sauce.---In a few minutes they were sitting at the funky old metal table that had come with the house. Tracy had covered it with a forest-green cloth, and filled the center with an assortment of flowers and candles from the grocery store."


Easy Steamed Shrimp

2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 pound fresh shrimp, in shells

In saucepan, combine first three ingredients. Bring to a boil. Add shrimp, stir gently. Cover; steam until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Drain, remove shells. Serve with seafood cocktail sauce. Serves 2.

"Happiness Key" is a quick read and a great book to tuck into your beach bag. The sequel, "Fortunate Harbor" will be available July, 2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce

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When my grandfather, a policeman during the week and a preacher on Sunday, was shot and killed by a person resisting arrest, my grandmother came to live with us. Mother worked, so Nanny, as we called her, cooked most all the meals for our family. She was a very thrifty cook, using every bit of food to its advantage, so nothing was wasted. Her bread pudding was like no other I have tasted and it was made from leftover biscuits-I don't think she ever used cornbread, but I wouldn't have been surprised.

This recipe is an attempt to recreate the bread pudding of my childhood. I'm not sure I succeeded as hers had a dense texture, whereas mine was more soufflé-like but nevertheless, this bread pudding is very tasty. My grandmother would have been horrified at the inclusion of rum in her pudding-remember her husband was a preacher! The rum imparts a heady essence to the otherwise bland pudding. Bread pudding adapted from this recipe and the rum sauce from here. Serves 6-8.
Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce

1 teaspoon unsalted butter
4 large eggs
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
1/4 cup dark run
2 cups half-and-half
8 slices day-old French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 cup raisins, optional


RUM SAUCE:
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons dark rum

For the Bread Pudding

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 6 cup loaf pan or baking dish with the 1 tablespoon butter. Whisk the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract and rum together in a large bowl until smooth. Add the half and half and mix well. Add bread cubes and raisins, if using. Let the mixture sit for two hours, stirring occasionally.

Pour mixture in prepared pan or dish and bake until pudding is set in the center, about 50-55 minutes. Meanwhile make rum sauce. When bread pudding is done, remove from oven. Let sit 5 minutes. Slice and serve topped with rum sauce and whipped cream.

To Make the Rum Sauce

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add whipping cream, brown sugar and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; add rum. Makes about 1 cup. Rum sauce will keep 2 days covered and refrigerated.

Other bread puddings from Cafe Lynnylu to try-Dried Blueberry and Candied Pineapple Bread Pudding and Caramelized Pear Bread Pudding.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Warm Delicata Squash Salad with Bacon and Toasted Pecans

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One thing I love about winter squash is that it keeps very well for weeks and because I am a very capricious cook, buying what looks fresh at the grocery store, then hoping I can get around to actually cooking with it before it loses its appeal or slowly falls into decrepitude. From the assortment of winter squash I used for my Thanksgiving centerpiece, I have made some simple purees that I have frozen for later use, plus a butternut squash yeast rustic loaf. I'm happy to say the squashes didn't end up in the garbage.

Winter squash, such as the delicata, are available from August through March, but only a few grocery stores in my area carry them after the holidays. A few weeks ago, I was in a local organic supermarket and found a large selection of winter squashes. I had to restrain from buying one of each, so only bought two delicata. With one I made soup and the second one, this extraordinary winter salad of golden roasted delicata squash slices, slightly crisp chunks of applewood smoked bacon in a sherry shallot vinaigrette drizzled on a bed of greens, then garnished with toasted Georgia pecans and paper thin shavings of Manchego cheese. This winter salad is meal in itself, but also would be a perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, pork or beef. Serves 6 as a side dish.


When buying delicata squash or other winter squashes, choose ones that are firm and heavy for their size with unblemished skin and no signs of decay. Store in a cool place (50-60°)away from direct light. Once cut, wrap the unused pieces with plastic wrap and refrigerate where they will keep for 1-2 days.

Warm Delicata Squash Salad with Bacon and Toasted Pecans
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table by Suzanne Goin.

1/2 cup pecan halves
6 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds delicata squash, 1 or 2 depending on size
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2/3 pound 3/8-inch thick sliced applewood smoked bacon
3 tablespoons quality sherry vinegar- Columela Vinagre de Jerez
8 ounces arugula, cleaned
1/4 cup sliced shallots
1/4 pound hunk Manchego cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375° F. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and toast 8-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned and smell nutty, but not burned. Toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil and a pinch of salt. Turn oven temperature up to 425°.

Cut squash in half and remove seeds and stringy bits. There's no need to peel. Cut the squash lengthwise into 3/4 inch slices.
Toss the squash slices with 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, some pepper and the fresh thyme. Place squash flat on a baking sheet and roast about 20 minutes, until tender.
While the squash is roasting, cut the bacon into 3/8-inch rectangles-set aside. In a bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 1 minutes. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes, until the bacon begins to brown. Lower the heat to medium, add shallots, and toss to combine. Remove the pan from the heat and add the vinaigrette to warm the mixture.
To serve as a tossed salad. Place arugula greens in a large bowl. Add the warm squash and contents of the pan to the greens. Arrange half on a large platter. Use a vegetable peeler to shave some of the Manchego cheese over the salad and sprinkle half the nuts over the mixture. Top with remaining salad, more cheese and the rest of the nuts. Alternatively, you can create a layered salad by first placing a layer of greens on a platter. Arrange squash over the greens, top with some of the bacon vinaigrette, shaved cheese and nuts. Repeat layers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

TWD-Chocolate Oatmeal Almost Candy Bars

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Oh, my! Are these little babies rich! Extremely decadent and luscious, so just a very small square would be plenty even for a hard core chocolate aficionado. Because I'm not one of those aforementioned, I would only make these again if I had a room full of 10 year old kids who at that age tend to demolish whatever dessert you have made. Until then, the bars will go into the freezer and one by one will be relished.

Thanks to Lillian of confectiona's realm who baked these for a huge family celebration; I'm sure her bars were devoured in no time. You can find the recipe on her site or from Dorie Greenspan's book, "Baking From My Home to Yours". Also, check out the TWD blogroll for other versions of this wicked little almost candy bar.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Delicata Squash, Israeli Couscous and Spinach Soup

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Delicata, a mild creamy winter squash which tastes much like sweet potatoes, Israeli couscous, a small round semolina pasta and fresh spinach leaves team up together in this rustic soup reminiscent of the Umbrian cuisine of Italy where grains, such as farro, spelt and barley and vegetables, are used extensively in the only region of Italy which does not have a coastline. This soup is my "la cucina povera", literally translated means "cooking of the poor" or peasant cooking, but also means using what you have on hand- a "waste not, want not" theory.

One this rainy, cold Saturday, I had no intention of going to the grocery store, so decided to use the onions and garlic I always have. A big bunch of fresh thyme was in the crisper. Two butternut squash have been sitting on my counter for a week or longer now. I have, or had big plans for one of them, but since I used the spinach for that recipe in the soup, those plans will have to wait; the other was free game! The Israeli couscous was shoved in my shopping cart by my daughter a few weeks ago, who said, "Mom, you have to try this since you love to cook and you do have a blog!". With all those tasty ingredients, I begin to make my soup. Buon Appetito!

Delicata Squash Soup with Israeli Couscous and Spinach

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
Several stems of fresh thyme, tied together with butchers' twine
1-1/2 cups Israeli couscous
1 large Delicata squash, halved, seeded and cut into 3/4" cubes. (There's no need to peel the squash-it's very thin-skinned)
10-11 cups chicken broth, canned or homemade
4 cups fresh spinach leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese

In a large pot over moderate heat, combine the onions and the olive oil. Saute until onion is translucent and light golden. Add garlic, saute another 2-3 minutes. Add the Delicata squash cubes, saute 8 minutes; stir in Israeli couscous and saute 2 minutes. Add fresh thyme bundle.

Add the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Simmer gently, uncovered until couscous and squash are cooked, about 40 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the thyme bundle. Stir in the spinach leaves and simmer another 5-10 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve with crusty Italian bread. Makes 6 servings.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blood Orange, Date, Parmesan and Almond Winter Salad

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Blood oranges never fail to excite me when I see them come into the grocery stores around January. This year, I was disappointed that the blood oranges, although lovely and dark-red fleshed inside, were light orange on the outside with none of the traditional blush red color on the skin. After some research, I find that the oranges are actually, Cara Cara navel oranges harvested from Venezuela during the months of October through January. My letdown didn't last long, for when I tasted the oranges, I found them to be tantalizingly sweet with few seeds.

My four oranges cost me $4, so the dish I made had to be special. Back home, I pulled a few of my favorite cookbooks off the shelf. Among them was Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table". Goin opened her Los Angeles restaurant, Lucques, in 1998 and since then has amassed many culinary awards. Sunday suppers at Lucques is Goin's successful effort in recreating the spirit and ambiance of the leisurely dinners she enjoyed as a child with her family; classic comfort foods based on seasonal produce. The recipes in the book are arranged in three-course menus and organized by season. If there was ever a book I would like to cook my way through-this one would definitely be the one!

To showcase the blood red oranges, I chose one of Goin's many layered salads which,unlike tossed salads, lets each fresh ingredient shine by artfully weaving each layer to create a tapestry of sorts.Fresh Medjool dates, toasted almonds, a medium aged Parmesan cheese and arugula impart color and texture to the salad which is drizzled with a pure almond oil and the juice from the ruby red oranges.


Blood Orange, Date, Parmesan and Almond Winter Salad

1/2 cup raw almonds
15 Medjool or Deglet Noor dates ( less sweet than the Medjool)
4 large blood oranges
1/4 pound chunk of Parmesano Vecchio, or Parmesano Reggiano
2 ounces arugula
3 tablespoons pure almond oil. Ms Goin recommends Huilerie Leblanc.
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven the 375°F. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet, and toast for 8-10 minutes, until slightly darkened and smell nutty. Take care not to burn.
Cut the dates in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Slice the ends off of the oranges. Stand the oranges upright and following the contour of the orange with a knife, remove the peel and white pith. Work from the top to the bottom, turning the fruit as you peel. Catch some of the juices as you go.
Slice each orange into 8-10 slices. Place the Parmesan cheese, flat side down on a cutting board. With a chef's knife, shave eighteen large thin slices of cheese from the chunk.
To assemble the salad, scatter one-third of the arugula on a large platter. Arrange one-third of the oranges, dates, cheese and nuts. Scatter another layer of arugula, and repeat layering, letting each ingredient intertwine, but not pile up on one another. Drizzle the almond oil over the salad and season lightly with sea salt, pepper and a squeeze of blood orange juice.
Serves 6.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Golden Raisin Lemon Buns with Saffron

Print Friendly and PDF UpDate-01/13/10:In retrospect, I would soften the saffron and the lemon zest in the hot milk for 30 minutes instead of just steeping the lemon zest for 15-20 minutes.
Also known as Cornish Saffron Buns, these dainty tea time rolls were traditionally baked on sycamore leaves and dusted with confectioners sugar. The buns, usually saved for celebrations, are colored a delicate yellow by the addition of saffron and scented with lemon zest steeped in milk to release its essential oils . Golden raisins dotted throughout the rolls enhance not only the color and the flavor, but gives the bread added structure and texture. Serve them for breakfast or tea, split and filled with lemon marmalade or lemon curd. Using the bread machine on the dough cycle makes mixing the dough easier but you can also make the dough by hand. Knead in the golden raisins after removing the finished dough from the machine to keep the fruit whole. Makes 10 buns. Adapted from "Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine" by Linda West Eckhardt and Diana Collingwood Butts.

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Golden Raisin Lemon Buns with Saffron

Sponge
1/3 cup whole milk
Zest of 1 lemon, minced
2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup bread flour

To Make the Sponge In the Bread Machine:Pour milk into a 1-cup glass measure. Add the lemon zest. Heat on high in the microwave for 30 seconds. Set aside for 15-20 minutes to infuse the lemon flavor into the milk. Meanwhile, add the yeast, sugar and flour to the bread machine pan. After the milk has steeped, add this mixture to the pan. Process on the dough setting until the sponge is well combined, about 5 minutes. Let sit in pan for about 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

To Make the Sponge by Hand: Pour milk into a small saucepan, heat on medium heat until bubbles form around the sides of the pan. Remove from heat, add lemon zest. Let stand 15 minutes to infuse the flavors. Meanwhile, whisk yeast, sugar and flour together in a large mixing bowl. Add milk/lemon zest mixture. Combine well. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

Dough

1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1- 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch saffron threads (optional, but gives the buns the yellow color)
3/4 cup golden raisins
1 egg white (for glaze)

To Make the Dough in the Bread Machine: To the sponge in the bread machine pan, add the sugar, eggs, butter, bread flour, salt, and saffron, if using. Process on the dough setting. When cycle has completed, turn dough out on lightly floured surface. Knead in the golden raisins. Let rest 5 minutes.

To Make the Dough By Hand:To the sponge in the mixing bowl using the paddle attachment, add sugar, eggs and butter; mix well. On low speed, add the flour, salt and saffron threads, if using. Combine well. Switch to the dough attachment and knead dough for about 5 minutes, until smooth, but still soft. Add small amounts of flour, if necessary. Turn out on floured surface and knead in golden raisins. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1-hour.

To Form and Bake the Buns:Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or lightly grease the baking pan. Set aside. Turn dough out on a slightly wet surface. With wet hands, divide dough into 10 equal balls and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled, about 1- hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400°F. and lightly whisk egg white. When rolls are puffy and nearly doubled in size, brush them with the egg white. Bake on the middle rack of the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from baking sheet to cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

The authors' suggest adding 1/3 cup candied lemon peel along with the golden raisins to make these buns a Christmas delight. Candied lemon peel is readily available during this time.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Tarte Tatin-Tuesdays with Dorie

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UPDATE: 01/06/10-Just found an article in Food and Wine magazine by Paula Wolfert which features a recipe and photo for Clay-Pot Tarte Tatin. Ms. Wolfert used Golden Delicious apples, butter, lemon juice and sugar which she caramelizes on moderate heat-time 1 hour and 15 minutes! Note the apples are halved and not quartered so time to caramelize could be shorter, but those of us who were expecting a beautiful caramelization in 15 minutes on moderate heat may be encouraged keep the mixture going for a longer time to achieve success. Although pricey, Emile Henry has a tarte tatin set which includes the baking pan plus the serving dish.

Many famous dishes have been created totally by accident and the Tarte Tatin, a French upside down apple tart is a classic and delicious example. In 1889, in the small rural town of Lamotte-Beuvron in the Loire Valley region of France, two sisters, Stephanie and Carolina ran the l'Hotel Tatin, an inheritance from their father, Jean Tatin. Stephanie was an excellent cook and manned the kitchen.The hotel was across the street from the railway station and a popular eating establishment for hunters who stayed there. Stephanie's apple pie was legend, perfectly caramelized apples encased in pastry. It seems that on a busy day in the restaurant, Stephanie was stressed and either put the pie together the wrong way round or left the apples on the stove a bit too long. She attempted to disguise the error by placing a top crust over the nearly burned apples, baking the pie, then turning it upside down to serve. Everyone loved the pie and culinary history was made. It is said that the owner of the Paris restaurant, Maxim's successfully sent a spy in disguise as a gardener to steal the recipe. The French call this dessert tarte des demoiselles Tatin(the tart of two unmarried women).

In celebration of Tuesdays with Dorie's second anniversary, members of the group were given a choice of either the Tarte Tatin or the Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday cake to make for the event. Not a cake fan, I chose the Tarte Tatin. It's relatively easy using purchased puff pastry, but as they say the "devil is in the details", meaning achieving a good caramelization of the sugar, butter and sliced apple mixture. Basically, you melt the butter, sprinkle on the sugar, place the sliced apples on the mixture and cook almost to the point of burning the sugar. Since this is the first Tarte Tatin I have made, I chickened out before the apples got to that point,but the tart still tasted great to me!
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I used both Golden Delicious apples and Fuji apples, but the Golden Delicious seemed to hold their texture better than the Fuji. Rather than baking one tart, I decided to take advantage of using my cast iron gratin pans that I've only used twice since buying them a few years ago. When removing the tart from the oven, take extra care as the caramelized juices are like molten lava.
Many thanks to Laurie founder of Tuesdays with Dorie for her diligence in keeping the group organized. Check out TWD and see what this talented group of bakers have done with either the Tarte Tatin or the Cocoa Buttermilk Birthday Cake. Happy New Year to all!
BTW-you can find the recipe here.
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