Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Root Vegetable Gratin


Another slightly horrific picture of a gratin, I apologize. There's just not other appropriate way for me to display the cheesy glory that is this recipe (similar to, I imagine, any gratin dish). Again, I have to cite the "Recipes for Health" section of The New York Times as my inspiration.

It's cold here in England. Very cold. January cold.

Which makes it the perfect time of year to celebrate the perhaps coldest section of the United Kingdom: Scotland.

Yes, that's right, once a year, the Brits pay homage to that most indecipherable of poets, Robbie Burns, Scotland's national hero. Perhaps because this is the time of year when most of Britain resembles Scotland: cold, dark, and slightly tipsy.
But, as only the Scots can, they make a merry night of it. Burns' Night, as it's called, involves a great feast and Scottish dancing (called a ceilidh, though just try to say that phonetically). 
And what better way to celebrate Scotland than to sample some of Scotland's most famous fare? That's right. Haggis. As Robin Williams says, I'm pretty sure that most Scottish cuisine was based on a dare. Innards and oats, you say? Sign me up!
But seriously, it's delicious. It's warming, it's filling, perfect for cold, dark, slightly tipsy nights such as these. And while haggis is traditionally served with "nips and tatties" (no, not that. I mean, roasted parsnips and cabbage. Get your mind out of the gutter!), I thought we could change the recipe slightly and throw some cheese and milk in with the mix. Hey, the Recipes for Health people recommended it. Who am I to disagree about its apparent "healthiness"?
Whether you're serving this with sheep innards or not, this is a great winter dish and amazingly easy to make. The timing can throw off things, but I cut corners and was able to get this dish out in less than hour (despite what the recipe may say).
G'un robh math agad! (or something to the effect)


Serves Four

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds combination of parsnips and swede, peeled and sliced thin (or a combination of turnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga, large parsnips) 

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or dried)

3/4 cup grated Gruyère cheese (3 ounces)

1 1/2 cups low-fat (1 percent or 2 percent) milk





Method

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 2-quart gratin or baking dish. Place the sliced vegetables in a large bowl, and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the thyme, and toss together.

2. Arrange the vegetables in the gratin dish. Add the milk, season with more salt and pepper if you wish, and place in the oven on the middle rack. Bake 45 minutes (I did this in 35 min); every 15 minutes, press the vegetables down into the milk with the back of your spoon. Add the cheese, and stir in carefully to incorporate. Return to the oven, and bake another 30 to 45 minutes (again, I cheated and did this for 25 minutes), stirring or pressing the vegetables down with the back of your spoon every 10 minutes until the gratin is nicely browned and most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and serve, or allow to settle and serve warm.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Heart-Stopping Cinnamon Rolls


And that's the picture of these babies without the frosting. I just couldn't bring myself to take a picture of the completed item. It hurt my arteries too much. I mean, look at the sugar on those rolls. Go ahead, look again. That's all sugar. Well, that and a little cinnamon. Imagine what these things will do to you with frosting.

Which is to say that they'll be the most delicious things you've had in your life. You won't be able to eat more than one. Your body won't let you. There's a point at which your body can't handle any more sugar. You hit that point when you eat half of one of these. And then you keep going. Why? Because they're wonderful. Because they're tasty. Because they're everything that's good and right about waking up too early in the morning to make fresh cinnamon rolls.

Not that I did that. No way. These cinnamon rolls were a late evening snack. Being a yeast product, they require at least 3 hours of rising. Now, whoever wants to get up early enough to enjoy these things right out of the oven as a breakfast item is welcome to it. I, however, will be sleeping late and enjoying my cinnamon roll in the more sensible hours of the afternoon.

Paula Dean, in her infinite wisdom, inspired the method here. And it shows. There are about 2 1/2 sticks of butter in this recipe. At least. Thank you, southern comfort.

Ingredients

Dough:
1/4-ounce package yeast (or 7 grams)
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

Filling:
1/2 cup melted butter, plus more for pan
3/4 cup sugar, plus more for pan
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
3/4 cup raisins, walnuts, or pecans, optional

Glaze:
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 to 6 tablespoons hot water







Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside. In a large bowl mix milk, sugar, melted butter, salt and egg. Add 2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. Add yeast mixture. Mix in remaining flour until dough is easy to handle. Knead dough on lightly floured surface for 5 to 10 minutes. Place in well-greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in size, usually 1 to 1 1/2 hours (mine took about 2).

When doubled in size, punch down dough. Roll out on a floured surface into a 15 by 9-inch rectangle. Spread melted butter all over dough. Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over buttered dough. Sprinkle with walnuts, pecans, or raisins if desired. Beginning at the 15-inch side, role up dough and pinch edge together to seal. Cut into 12 to 15 slices.

Coat the bottom of baking pan with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Place cinnamon roll slices close together in the pan and let rise until dough is doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned.

Meanwhile, mix butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Add hot water 1 tablespoon at a time until the glaze reaches desired consistency. Spread over slightly cooled rolls.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Braised Cabbage

 

In the winter, there's nothing like cabbage. And there's a sentence I never thought I'd write. It must have been the many years in England that have made me come around to the vegetable. Like most people probably, I still have a bit of an aversion to the food on principle. Too many times overcooked and bland, cabbage has had a bad rap for the past generation or so. Only recently have chefs taken the poor humble cabbage and given it a face lift. 

I've been a fan of braising vegetables since my experimentations with leeks, so this recipe was intriguing. Just enough Indian and Asian spice to make the whole thing interesting, but still, the braising brought out the inherent sweetness to the cabbage that made it a delightful side dish for the winter. 

Oh cabbage, where have you been all my life?

Makes three servings

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds savoy cabbage
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
2 whole cloves
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds (I used ground mustard, it worked just fine)
20 curry leaves (also relied on the powdered form here, no problems)
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons peeled, julienned fresh ginger
1/2 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper
1 cup chopped fresh or canned tomato
1 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
Kosher salt.

Method
Cut cabbage into 6 to 8 wedges, with the widest part no more than 2 inches, leaving the core intact so the wedges stay together while cooking. Place a heavy skillet, large enough to hold wedges fairly snugly, over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the cabbage, and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes a side. Transfer to a plate, and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium-low, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and heat until it shimmers. Add cloves, mustard seeds, curry leaves, bay leaf, shallot and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add ginger, turmeric, 1 tablespoon jalapeño, tomato and broth. Season with salt to taste. If desired, add more jalapeño to taste.

Increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Add cabbage, fitting it tightly together in the bottom of the pot. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and braise cabbage until tender, about 10 minutes, turning it once halfway through cooking. Remove and discard cloves, curry leaves and bay leaf. If desired, serve with rice.

Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi with Bacon and Sage


I have had a love/hate relationship with gnocchi since I first learned about it. I mean, first there's the name issue. How to pronounce it? I've heard enough variations from people who "swear" they're right, that if I can help it at all, I don't even say it anymore (and luckily, in blog format, I only have to write it.) Then there's the preparation. There also seems to be a bit of diverging opinions here about how gnocchi should be served: what kind of consistency and with what ingredients. It was all a bit too much to take in personally. But let's just say that the idea of how wonderful gnocchi can be has stayed with me througout this troubled time.

When I saw Bittman had developed not only a "no potato" version but also one that involved only ricotta cheese, I was intrigued. Perhaps here was finally a way for me to make it, avoiding all those long bitter debates. Who cares if you think the potatoes should be mashed for appropriate gnocchi preparation? This recipe doesn't even HAVE them!!

And so, I attempted this recipe, only realizing halfway through that, if gnocchi in and of itself was bad for you, this was a heart-stopping disaster. The "pasta" dough is made from an entire tub of ricotta cheese. Oh yes. Feel those arteries clogging. And if that wasn't enough, I felt the need to "spruce" the recipe up a bit by adding bacon on top. And it was delicious. Perhaps a once in a lifetime dish (hey, the arteries can only handle so much).

Ingredients

Salt
One 15-ounce container ricotta cheese, preferably whole milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 to 1 cup flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 or more sage leaves
Bacon (optional)

Method
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Combine the ricotta, eggs and Parmesan in a large bowl, along with some salt and pepper. Add about 1/2 cup flour and stir; add more flour until the mixture forms a very sticky dough. Scoop up a spoonful of dough and boil it to make sure it will hold its shape; if it does not, stir in a bit more flour.

If you're using the bacon, fry it in a large skillet until crispy. Remove it with a slotted spoon to some paper towels until later. Put the butter in the skillet over medium heat. When it melts and turns a nutty brown color, add the sage. While it fries, drop the ricotta mixture by the rounded tablespoon into the boiling water, working in batches of six or so at a time so as not to overload the pot.

When the gnocchi rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the skillet. When all the gnocchi are done, toss, taste and adjust the seasoning, return the bacon to the skillet, and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings.

Potato Chip Tortilla


I've always been rather apathetic about the Spanish tortilla. For a national dish, it's always seemed rather, well, mundane. Just eggs, cheese, potatoes, and onion. Maybe a hint of spice. But that's it.
But I have underestimated the tortilla. In its simplicity, it has the soul-nourishing goodness of comfort food. Well, comfort food for Spanish people. And now that I've made one, I realize that it is yet another "deceptively" simple dish. Yes, it may just be a few ingredients, but the method of cooking will separate the weak from the strong. Literally. Try carrying the necessary cast-iron skillet from the stove to a hot broiler without burning yourself.
That's what I call culinary endurance.

Now, oddly enough, this recipe is adapted from my latest favorite recipe book, Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. I have no idea how this clearly Spanish recipe snuck in to the lot, but perhaps the sheer fact that the two countries share a border is enough for it to gain entry into a French cookbook. Greenspan is also the one who devised a clever, and dare I say "American" way of simplifying even this "simple" dish. Instead of spending your time peeling, boiling, and frying the potatoes to go into the tortilla, she uses potato chips. Seriously. Lays standard potato chips. I was intrigued when I read the recipe, particularly when she insisted that no one would ever notice the difference when they tasted it, but sure enough, the tortilla comes out looking like, well, a tortilla. Not a potato chip monstrosity.  Now, I'm not sure how the Spaniards will react to this development but it was good enough for me! Did I mention that I hate peeling potatoes? Oh, and the smashing of the potato chips is cathartic enough for anyone. And, well, just plain fun.

Ingredients
5 ounces potato chips (I used Lays sea salt potato chips)
5 eggs
1 onion, finely chopped
3 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/4 cup minced cilantro
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. ancho chili powder
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tbsp. heavy cream
1/8 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/8 cup grated pepper jack cheese (optional)

Method
Put the potato chips in a bowl, reach in, and crush the chips (I did mine in a plastic bag to avoid mess).
Pre-Crushed Chips

Post-Crushed Chips










Put the eggs, onions, scallions, herbs, garlic, and spices into another bowl. Season with salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Pour the eggs over the chips and stir to blend well.

You'll need a skillet that can fit under your broiler. Mine was an old cast-iron skillet about 10 inches (and was big enough to fit the recipe). Tis a thing of glory, but really, use whatever skillet that can fit comfortably in your oven. A nonstick sillet will also work. If you're not sure about the handle, wrap it in foil.
Skillet of glory

Position a rack under the broiler so that when you slide the skillet onto it, it will be about 6 inches from the heat source. Turn on your broiler.

Place the skillet over medium heat and pour in the olive oil. When the oil is hot, give the eggs and chips a last stir and pour them into the pan. Use a fork to push the mixture to the edges of the pan if necessary, then let the mixture cook. Cook roughly 5 minutes, or until it is set around the edges and the top is almost done (this is more art than science. Just keep an eye on the eggs). Remove the pan from the heat and run a spatula around the edges and under the tortilla in case it has stuck to the pan.

Slide the pan under the broiler and cook until the top of the tortilla is set, about 3 minutes. If you want to present this old-school, let the skillet cool down a bit and place a plate inverted on top of it. Then flip the skillet so that the bottom of the tortilla is now the top on the plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mushroom and Shallot Quiche


Right, another quiche recipe. Hey, I was on a pastry roll if you know what I mean (no pun intended). Anyway, this presented a nice change for the cheese-y gorgonzola quiche. A little more savory and earthy, but just as delicious. I recommend using as many kinds of mushrooms as you can find (or want) for this one. I used a combination of white and shitake mushrooms, but I think you'll get even more flavor out of this deceptively simple dish.

Ingredients
1 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter

3 shallots, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 lb mushrooms (at least), trimmed, wiped clean, and cut into 1/4 inch slipes

2 tbsp. minced thyme (fresh or dry)

1 9- 9 1/2 inch tart shell made from Tart Dough, partially baked and cooled

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs

2 scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced

2 tbsp. finely grated Gruyere cheese

Method
(Tart Dough should already be made and partially baked)
Melt the butter in a large skilled, preferably one that's nonstick. Toss in the shallots, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season again with salt and pepper, turn the heat up to high, and cook, stirring, until they are softened and browned, 5 to 8 minutes. The mushrooms will first sop up all the liquid in the pan, then they'll exude it, then it will disappear. Sprinkle the mushrooms with 1 tbsp of thyme and cook for 30 seconds more, then turn the mushrooms into a bowl to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Center a rack in the over and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the crust on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.

Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of thyme over the bottom of the crust. Spoon over the mushrooms, avoiding any liquid that has accumulated in the bowl. Lightly beat the cream and eggs just until well blended, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the mushrooms. Top the custard evenly with the sliced scallions and grated cheese.

Carefully slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the custard is uniformly puffed (wait for center to puff), lightly golden, and set (mine took over 40 minutes). Transfer the quiche to a rack, remove the sides of the pan, and cool the quiche until it's only just warm or until it reaches room temperature before serving.

Gorgonzola Apple Quiche + Tart Dough


Quiche. Strikingy elegant (nothing says class like pastry dough) and yet amazingly humble. Quiches are ubiquitous now on lunch menus both in the States and in England. They can be served warm or cold, alone or with a salad, and, really, (in my opinion) are appropriate at any part of the day. Tea time? Quiche! Breakfast? Quiche!

Anyway, so you now understand my abiding love of this French dish, but it was only recently that I tried making one (or rather two) for myself. Despite my ongoing love of French pastry, I have a healthy ongoing fear of it. It seems so delicate. Any one of a thousand things can go wrong with it. It also takes patience. Almost every pastry dough will require at least a few hours of fridge time. And, honestly, most of the time, I don't have the patience for it. Not when there's quiche on every corner now.

But, on a whim, and thanks to the inspiration of the Around My French Table cookbook, I decided it was time to try my hand at it. The quiche dough was, as predicted, tricky to figure out. I made two batches. The first came out beautifully. The second was a crumby mess. Even after some time in the fridge, it didn't resemble the moist yet delicate dough that I was hoping for. In a moment of panic, I decided to use cold tap water to get the crust to hold together. This was sacrilege, I know. But, to be fair, after I baked it, you couldn't tell the difference. And, to me, that's all that matters.

Getting off the subject of dough, I will also say that, while this recipe is delicious, go crazy with the blue cheese/gorgonzola. Greenspan calls for 2 ounces of the stuff. Bah! That's barely a hint of the stuff. I put in twice the amount and still thought it needed more blue cheese flavor. But, of course, use your own judgment on this one. 

Note: I've included the basic "Tart Dough" that Greenspan uses for her quiches below. It should work on most savory pastry dishes and the recipe makes enough dough for 1 9 - 9 1/2 inch tart shell. 

Gorgonzola-Apple Quiche

Ingredients
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 9 - 9 1/2 inch tart shell made from Tart Dough recipe (see below), partially baked and cooled
1 apple (tart-sweet works best, such as Empire or Gala), peeled, cored, and cut into small dice
2 ounces Gorgonzola dolce (I used 4 ounces or more. Go crazy with the cheese!)
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs

Method
Center a rach in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat and toss in with the onion. Season the onion lightly with salt and white pepper and cook until it is very soft but not at all colored, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Put the tart shell on the lined baking sheet. Spread the onion, wiht whatever buttern remains in the pan, evenly over the bottom of the crust. Scatter the apple over the onion. Cut the Gorgonzola into small cubes and scatter it over the onion and apple. Beat the cream and eggs together until well blended, season with salt and white pepper, and pour into the tart shell.

Gently slide the baking sheet into the over and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the filling is uniformly puffed (wait for the center to puff), browned, and set (mine took at least 45 minutes). Transfer the quiche to a cooling crack and allow it to cool and gather itself for 5 minutes or so.

Carefully remove the sides of the pan and slide the quiche onto a platter if you want to serve it hot, or onto a rack if you want to cool it. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Serving: You can keep the quiche lightly covered on the counter for a few hours if you're going to serve it at room temperature. If you want to keep it overnight, wrap it well and store it in the refrigerator. It's best to bring it to room temperature or t warm it briefly in a moderate oven before serving.

Tart Dough
Makes 1 9- 9 1/2-inch tart shell

Ingredients
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. (3/4 US stick) very cold (or frozen, see note) unsalted butter, cut into bits
1  large egg
1 tsp. ice water

Note on butter: A friend of mine gave me great advice when it comes to incorporating butter into dough. Instead of spending time cutting it into bits, put the butter in the freezer for a few hours and then use the grater on it. The butter will shave into nice small, manageable pieces that serve the exact same purpose as cutting it up by hand.

Method
To make the dough in a food processor: Put the flour, sugar, and salt in the processor and whir a few times to blend. Scatter the bits of butter over the flour and pulse several times, until the butter is coarsely mixed into the flour. Beat the egg with ice water and pout it into the bowl in 3 additions, whirring after each one (Don't overdo it- the dough shouldn't form a ball or ride on the blade). You'll have a moist malleable dough that will hold together when pinched. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, father it into a ball and flatten it into a disk.

To make the dough by hand: Put the flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Drop in the bits of butter and, using your hands or a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour until it's evenly distributed. You'll have large and small butter bits, and that's fine; uniformity isn't a virtue here. Beat the egg and water together, drizzle over the dough and, using a fork, toss the dough until it is evenly moistened. Reach into the bowl and, using your fingertips, mix and knead the dough until it comes together. Turn it out onto a work surface, gather it into a ball and flatten into a disk.

Chill the dough for at least 3 hours (but it can be refrigerated up to 5 days).
When you're ready to make the tart shell, butter a 9 - 9 1/2 inch tart pan with a removeable bottom (butter it even if it is nonstick).

To roll out the dough:
Either between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap, or on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 12 inches in diameter and about 1/4 inches thick.

Transfer dough to tart pan, easing it into the pan without stretching it. Press the dough against the bottom and up the sides of the pan. If you'd like to reinforce the sies of the crust, you can fold some of the excess dough over, so that you have a doubl thickness around the sides. Using the back of a table knife, trim the dough even with the top of the pan. Prick the base of the crust in several places with a fork.

Chill, or freeze, the dough for at least 1 hour before baking.

To partially bake the crust: Preheat an oven to 400 degrees F. Press a piece of buttered foil (or use nonstick foil) against the crust's surface. If you'd like, you can fill the covered crust with rice or dried beans (or special baking beads if you have them) to keep the dough flat, but this isn't really necessary if the crust is well chilled. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the tart pan on the sheet.

Bake the crust for 20 minutes in the center of the oven, then carefully remove the foil (with rice or beans). Return the crust to the oven and bake for another 3-5 minutes, or until it is lightly golden. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and allow the crust to cool before you fill it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Key Lime Bars

My family has been on a quest since before I was born. Simply put: it is the search for the perfect key lime pie. Now, I have no idea how this started. It certainly isn't scientific; there's no spreadsheet anywhere of the various types we've tried or a grading scale of the pies. No, no. It exists more as a philosophical exercise. Think of it like the Platonic Form of the Key Lime Pie. We have a concept of what makes the perfect pie. But it will never exist in reality.

Right, now moving on from that digression into philosophy, I present the nearest approximation we have found to the perfect key lime pie. Well, take away the absolute necessity of the meringue (there are definite views on this in my household), but these have the exact right taste and texture that comprises absolute perfection in terms of key lime-iness. Add the toasted coconut on top. And, well, these don't last long.

They also get points in my book for having not a graham cracker crust (which is typical) but an animal cracker crust. Which my inner child finds vastly amusing. Now, I've never seen animal crackers (read: cookies) in Britain, so this may be yet another typically American food, but it is worth going on the hunt for them. Of course, any sugar cookies (sigh, sorry Britain, biscuits) will do. Hmmm, on second thought, perhaps ginger biscuits or digestives will also do nicely here. Anyway, the point is really in the key limes. And getting fresh ones. The magazine which featured this recipe (Eating Well, Fall 2003) had a whole subsection devoted to how necessary these were to the recipe. Not regular limes. Not even lime juice. But key limes. Well, honestly. If you can't find key limes (and this will inevitably happen), just use regular old limes. Key limes are notoriously difficult to juice and can be difficult to locate. Regular (as they call them, Persian) limes will work and give the bars a bit more of a tart flavor, but will still be delicious. Trust me.

Makes 16 2-inch bars

Ingredients

Crust
5 ounces animal crackers
3 tbsp. packed light or dark brown sugar (I used light)
Pinch table salt
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Filling
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp. grated key lime zest (or more, I used at least 3 tbsp)
Pinch table salt
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup key lime or regular lime juice

Garnish (optional)
3/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut, toasted until golden and crisp (I use the oven for this. Takes about 5 minutes at 375 degrees).




Method
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Cut about 12-inch length extra-wide heavy foil; fold cut edges back to form 7 1/2 inch width. With folded sides facing down, fit foil securely into bottom and up sides of 8-inch square baking pan, allowing excess to overhang pan sides. Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.

To make the crust: In bowl of food processor, pulse animal crackers until broken down, about ten 1-second pulses; process crumbs until evenly fine, about 10 seconds (you should have about 1 1/4 cups crumbs). Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine, ten to twelve 1-second pulses (if large sugar lumps remain, break them apart with fingers). Drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses.

Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until deep golden brown, about 18-20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling. Do not turn off oven.

To make the filling: While crust cools, in medium bowl, stir cream cheese, zest, and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy, and thoroughly combined. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain; whisk in egg yolk. Add lime juice and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).

To assemble and bake: Pour filling into crust; spread to corners and smooth surface with rubber spatular. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15-20 minutes (mine took much longer, about 25-30 minutes). Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1- 1 1/2 hours. Cover wil foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.

Loosen edges with paring knife and lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions; cut bars into 16 squares. Sprinkle with toasted coconut, if using and serve.

Sweet Potato Hash with Corned Beef and Bacon with Melted Onions


How to describe the oddity that is hash? It's not really a dish, per se, more of a conglomeration of various products. Most hash resembles something that you'd find on a standard American breakfast plate: potatoes, meat, and usually an egg or two. Onions are usually added to give the whole thing some flavor, but honestly, it's among the more basic items on any menu. My father even swears that at one point (and I have no proof of this except his word) they sold it out of a can. Now I'm not sure how that would be possible (although science usually has a way of finding ways round these kind of obstacles), but there you go. So basic, you can find it in a can.

Like the humble pie, hash apparently is experiencing a resurgence in popularity in restaurants across the US. Instead of your basic potatoes, bacon, and eggs, you can now find all sorts of upscale variations of this dish, depending on your taste. In the Mission District in San Francisco, I was able to try some tongue and potato hash which, I have to confess, was absolutely delicious. Thank you, Hog and Rocks. And yes, their specialties were pig and oysters. Anyone surprised?

Regardless, hash is easy enough for anyone to cook but allows for endless variations. Some recommend bacon, but in my mind, corned beef should never be turned down as a possible meat alternative. And, thanks to the wonders of science yet again, they now have corned beef available pre-cooked. Just heat and serve! This was clearly a win. The sweet potatoes were also a great substitution. I used white sweet potatoes to add just a bit more starchiness rather than yam-iness (?) to the dish. And it was a good decision.

No matter how you eat your hash or serve this recipe, do NOT neglect the onions. Yes, they take a bit of time. But mostly they're sitting in a pot, soaking in their own juices. And with a stick of butter melting into them, they are deliciously bad for you. Try to say no to them. Just try.

Now the bizarre white thing in the photo above is a poached egg. I know. It doesn't look right. I used one of those new-fangled "egg poaching cups" that swears it will make egg poaching the easiest thing ever. Well, it IS easier, but it doesn't make it any prettier. Your eggs come out looking rather like baked polenta. Well, at least according to my mother. But still soft and runny and delicious, so I still have to advocate the poacher if the old-school method is a bit daunting (as it is for me).

Makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients

8 cups sliced onions (3 large ones)

Kosher salt

1 bay leaf

4 sprigs thyme

10 black peppercorns

1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled

1 stick unsalted butter, in 8 pieces

12 ounces corned beef

3 ounces best-quality bacon, sliced about 1/2-inch thick

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked (boiled, roasted or microwaved) and diced

1 tablespoon minced chives

Poached or sunny-side-up eggs, for serving (optional).










Method

Put onions in a large skillet, place over medium-low heat, and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook,
uncovered, reducing the heat to maintain a low simmer, about 20 minutes, until onions are soft and swimming in liquid.

Tie the bay leaf, 3 sprigs thyme, peppercorns and garlic in a piece of cheesecloth (I just added them to the pot. Forget the cheesecloth). Add to onions along with butter, stir and cover (not too tightly, some steam should be allowed to escape). Cook slowly 30 to 35 minutes, until onions are meltingly tender and coated in butter. The mixture should look creamy at all times: if butter separates or if pan looks dry, stir in cold water 1 teaspoon at a time. Season to taste with salt. (Onions can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated.)

Cut bacon crosswise into thick matchsticks. Pour 2 tablespoons water into a medium saucepan and set over medium heat. Add bacon, reduce heat to low, and cook for 30 minutes. Bacon will render its fat and become golden, but not completely crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels. Pour off excess fat from pan, leaving a thick film on bottom to cook hash; reserve the extra fat. Add the corned beef to the pan to warm it (you don't need to heat it for long).

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Spread half of potatoes in pan, sprinkle with salt and add half the leaves of the remaining sprig of thyme. Cook undisturbed, over medium-low heat, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup melted onions and a quarter of the bacon  and the corned beef, and gently fold together until heated through. Transfer to an ovenproof serving bowl and keep warm. Repeat with remaining potatoes, a quarter of the bacon and corned beef, another 1/2 cup onions (refrigerate leftover onions; they make a great sauce for fish) and remaining thyme leaves. Sprinkle hash with chives (if using) and remaining bacon and corned beef. Serve hot, topped with eggs if desired.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Zucchini Soufflé

Deep breath, everyone. It's soufflé time. I have avoided making one of these ever since I learned that they were the bane of every chef. "Will the soufflé rise?" seems to be the fearful question of every person who has attempted this finicky egg-based dish.  But when Bittman swore he had found an (almost) foolproof recipe, I knew it was time to face the music and give it a go.

And, who could have guessed? An "easy" soufflé recipe that was actually easy! The soufflés rose as they should in the oven, were light and fluffy on the table, and amazingly delicious! Well, the delicious part isn't so hard to imagine. I mean, the recipe is basically eggs, butter, and cheese. What's not to like? This is even a good recipe for those people who are not big fans of zucchinis (Bittman also suggests using spinach in this recipe). Now, the other ingredients probably counteract any vitamin goodness the green vegetables would give you, but hey, at least it takes away some of the soufflé guilt, right?
Right.

Makes 4 souffles

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 to 3 medium zucchini, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 eggs, separated
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Method

Butter four 1 1/2 -cup ramekins or one 6-cup soufflé dish. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; when it’s hot, add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until very tender, another 10 to 12 minutes. If you prefer, substitute a 10-ounce bag of spinach, chopped and cooked the same way. Drain the vegetables if there is excess liquid, and let cool.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and cheese with some salt and pepper. Add the vegetables and parsley and stir. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until they are light and fluffy and just hold soft peaks; stir about a third of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites, trying not to deflate them much.

Pour the soufflé mixture into the ramekins or dish. Bake until golden and puffy, 30 to 35 minutes, and serve immediately.


Chocolate Earl Grey Truffles

And thus concludes the tripartite truffle adventure. Earl grey also seems to be a flavor popping up everywhere these days and I wanted to try my hand at getting the tea flavor into chocolate.

Well, that part turned out to be amazingly easy.  Just infuse cream with earl grey leaves and leave to steep for about 5 minutes (if you can make tea, you can make these). When combined with the chocolated, it gave it a wonderfully subtle earl grey flavor. Total thumbs up from me.

The only issue with this recipe is that it didn't call for the truffles to be coated with another layer of melted chocolate as the previous two truffle recipes. This left the truffles resembling fudge rather than truffles. Now, this was not a flavor problem in the least. But, it did make the process of eating the truffles a bit of a sticky mess. I eventually decided to go ahead and dip these chocolates in another layer of chocolate, leaving them with this nice hard shell, making them much easier to eat. Either way though, they are delicious! And oh so refined.

Ingredients

2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and softened
2 teaspoons loose Earl Grey tea leaves
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped + 12 oz for outer coating (optional)
1 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

Method

Bring cream and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan and stir in tea leaves. Remove from heat and let steep 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely grind chocolate in a food processor and transfer to a bowl. Pour cream through a fine-mesh sieve onto chocolate, pressing on and discarding tea leaves, then whisk until smooth. Chill ganache, covered, until firm, about 2 hours.

Spoon level teaspoons of ganache onto a baking sheet. Put cocoa in a bowl, then dust your palms lightly with it. Roll each piece of ganache into a ball (wash your hands and redust as they become sticky). Drop several balls at a time into bowl of cocoa and turn to coat. Transfer as coated to an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper.

Optional Extra External Chocolate Coat: 

Line 13x9x2-inch baking sheet with foil. Place remaining 12 ounces chocolate in medium metal bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); stir until chocolate is melted and smooth and thermometer inserted into chocolate registers 115°F. Remove bowl from over water. Working quickly, submerge 1 truffle in melted chocolate. Using fork, lift out truffle and tap fork against side of bowl to allow excess coating to drip off. Transfer truffle to prepared sheet.

Truffles can be made 1 week ahead and chilled, or 1 month ahead and frozen in an airtight container.

Caramel-Dark Chocolate Truffles with Fleur de Sel (or Hawaiian Pink Salt)

Another truffle recipe. Well, I was on a truffle roll. Everywhere you turn these days, there seems to be another version of caramel/fleur de sel recipes. I actually hadn't tried one, but found these online (again, via Bon Appetit) and they looked delicious enough to try. And since I was already in a truffle-y mood, why not? I was not, however, about to go out hunting for the magical mystical fleur de sel that the recipe advocated. I had kosher salt, sea salt, flavored salt, and even Hawaiian pink salt (a gift from a friend) in my cupboard. I was not about to go out and buy yet another version of salt for truffles. 

Although I was curious as to what the big deal was with the product all of a sudden. It seems everywhere chefs are advocating using it instead of regular salt but for all my searching, I'm still not sure why. Apparently, it is supposed to have a more delicate flavor than regular sea salt (and the fact that it is "hand harvested" always goes a long way for gourmet products) but I haven't found anywhere that says you can't substitute a regular sea salt for any recipe that calls for it.
So hey, if you have it, by all means, go ahead and use it. I used the pink sea salt just because I thought it looked nice. And they still tasted delicious.  

Ingredients 

20 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, divided
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel (or sea salt or, for me, Hawaiian pink sea salt)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Additional fleur de sel (or whatever salt you're using)

Method

Place 8 ounces chocolate in metal bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); stir until chocolate is smooth (This part can be tricky. For help with this, see my note for Gingerbread Truffles). Remove chocolate from over water.

Combine sugar and 2 tablespoons water in small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, occasionally brushing sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Increase heat; boil until syrup is deep amber color, brushing down sides and swirling pan occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add cream (mixture will bubble). Stir over very low heat until caramel is smooth. Mix caramel and 1/4 teaspoon fleur de sel into melted chocolate. Chill until truffle filling is firm, at least 3 hours.

Place cocoa in bowl. Using 1 tablespoon truffle filling for each truffle, roll into balls, then roll in cocoa. Arrange on baking sheet. Cover; chill overnight.

Line 13x9x2-inch baking sheet with foil. Place remaining 12 ounces chocolate in medium metal bowl over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water); stir until chocolate is melted and smooth and thermometer inserted into chocolate registers 115°F. Remove bowl from over water. Working quickly, submerge 1 truffle in melted chocolate. Using fork, lift out truffle and tap fork against side of bowl to allow excess coating to drip off. Transfer truffle to prepared sheet.

Repeat with remaining truffles. Sprinkle truffles lightly with additional fleur de sel. Let stand until coating sets, at least 1 hour. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

Gingerbread Truffles

 We may be a bit past the time of year for gingerbread. But hey, things that are rich, delicious, and covered with chocolate never go out of season. Behold: gingerbread truffles. I'm not a huge huge fan of gingerbread by itself but these truffles, well, they take all the potential dryness and bread-iness of usual gingerbread and, well, make it exponentially better. By taking out the bread and adding chocolate. 

And who can argue with that?

The original recipe (from Bon Appetit, December 2005) called for half of these to be dunked in semi-sweet chocolate but as I'm a sucker for white chocolate (and I was making other kinds of semi-sweet truffles), I decided to go all white chocolate for this recipe. And I was pleased with my decision. Very pleased. 

Ingredients

3/4 cup whipping cream
10 whole allspice
10 whole cloves
1 tablespoon mild-flavored (light) molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
7 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
7 ounces plus 12 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), chopped
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger plus additional for garnish

Method

Bring first 7 ingredients just to boil in heavy medium saucepan; remove from heat and let steep 1 hour.
Combine 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate and 7 ounces white chocolate in large metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water; stir until chocolate is melted and smooth (see chef's note at bottom for help with this). Remove bowl from over water. Strain cream mixture into chocolate; stir to blend. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger. Chill filling until firm, at least 3 hours.

Line baking sheet with parchment. Using 1-inch melon baller, scoop filling and roll between palms to form balls. Place on parchment. Chill truffles at least 2 hours.

Line another baking sheet with parchment. Place 12 ounces white chocolate in another medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water; stir until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Cool until thermometer inserted into chocolate registers 100°F. Hold 1 truffle between thumb and index finger; dip halfway into white chocolate. Place on prepared sheet. Repeat with remaining truffles. If desired, press small pieces of crystallized ginger atop truffles. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes. (Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover; keep chilled.)

Chef's Note: Now, truffles are the latest "hip" make-it-yourself gift and, as a "hip gift-giver" myself, I admit, these work well. They look impressive and well, who doesn't like truffles? There is a trick to working with chocolate though. When double-boiling/melting the chocolate, you run the risk of having the chocolate separate on you, making it go all glossy and nasty. It won't fridge right, and it'll make it impossible to work the ganache into balls. If this does happen, never fear! If you see your chocolate start to separate, throw a dash (only a dash!) of hot/boiling water into the melting chocolate. The chocolate will come right back together and you can get on with your ganache making in safety. This happens to me almost every time I make anything with chocolate and without this trick, I would have given up chocolate long ago.

Brandy Hard Sauce (with Pear and Sour Cherry Brown Betty)


As I've lived in England for some time now, I felt that I had a pretty good understanding of the "dessert" culture over there across the pond. The fruit cakes, the mince pies, the gooseberry fools, the bread and butter pudding, the bannoffee pie...
All these desserts seemed to revolve around the basic (fundamental) concepts of butter, bread, and cream. I mean, they put custard on everything there. But, imagine my surprise when I learned (from an American newspaper of all places) about a concept so absolutely wonderful that I began to suspect that the Brits were keeping it from me on purpose. Why wouldn't you share something as wonderful as sweet whipped cream with alcohol in it?!

Even the concept is genius, showing just enough English organization and forethought with a healthy appreciation of alcohol (and a desire to include it in every meal). Imagine whipped cream, solidified. not frozen, mind you. Just solid. Like cold butter solid (well, because it's basically just cold butter).

You could pair this recipe with a cherry and pear brown betty, which was delicious (especially as the cherries were also soaked in brandy), but really, any dessert will work with this. Particularly warm ones so you can watch the hard sauce melt into it, infusing your chosen dessert with buttery alcoholic goodness. Oh yes.


Hard Sauce

Ingredients

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
Pinch of grated nutmeg

Method

To make the hard sauce, in a medium bowl set an electric mixer on high and beat the butter until fluffy.
Reduce speed to low and add confectioners’ sugar. When the sugar is incorporated, set the speed back to high.
Add the brandy 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until combined. Beat in the nutmeg.
Transfer the sauce to a ramekin or bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Hard sauce can be made at least a week ahead, but allow it to come to room temperature before serving (about 20 minutes). 


Brown Betty

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
 
3 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
2/3 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 1/2 cups white bread or challah, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 pounds ripe pears(about 5 pears), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons hard cider or apple cider.


Method

To make the brown betty, heat the Cognac or brandy in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the liquid has come to a simmer, turn off the heat and add the cherries. Allow them to absorb most of the liquid, about 20 minutes.

While cherries are standing, heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the sugar mixture for sprinkling. Add bread, butter and lemon zest. Toss until sugar has dissolved and bread is completely coated.

In a shallow 1 1/2-quart gratin dish (or a 9-by-9-inch pan), scatter a little under half the bread cubes. Layer half the pear slices and half the cherries (along with any liquid) on top. Cover with a cup of bread crumbs and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons cider. Layer remaining pears, cherries and bread. Sprinkle top with remaining cider and reserved sugar-and-spice mixture.

Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes. Take off foil and continue baking, until crumbs are golden brown and pears are very soft, about 15 minutes more. Serve warm with dollops of hard sauce.


Apple Green-Chili Pie with Cheddar Crust and Walnut Streusel


Ok, ok, I know what you're thinking. Well, one of probably two things.

A) That recipe sounds disgusting! Why would you want to put cheddar with walnuts and chilis?! And let's not even mention that it's in a pie! Pie sacrilege!

Or

B) Mmmmm. Apples, cheese, and nuts. With spice? Count me in! But how to serve it? as a main course or a dessert?!

Well, dear readers, you may be surprised that, in fact, I was a steadfast member of Option A for a long while. The New York Times, in their infinite wisdom, declared that this year was the year of the pie (as opposed to the last few, which were apparently the years of the cupcake. I don't have time to keep up with these things). And among their many "new hip stylish" pie recipes was this little number. The people who developed it (some crazy hippies out in San Francisco apparently) swore to its deliciousness. And if San Franciscans and New Yorkers ever agree on something, well, it's worth a try.

And so I attempted the crazy masterpiece, not sure if this would result in such a horror that I would swear off pie-making for good (not that I was ever what one would call a prolific pie-maker).
But no! Once it was all assembled, baked, and cooled, and the first tentative bite was taken, I could see what both coasts had been saying. It was delicious. Sweet, with just a hint of chili (the New Mexican chilis used in the pie give it a smokey but not fiery flavor) and a great crunch of walnut streusel on top. (By the by, if you were looking to an answer for Option B's dilemma of whether this was a savory or sweet dish, this is most definitely a dessert. The chilis don't diminish at all the significant amount of sweetness in the walnut streusel and apples.

This was chili pie conversion.

Now, this perhaps is not the pie to serve to an unknowing audience. Despite my new-found love of chili pie, the dessert did not win over everyone (my father, in particular, couldn't get over the "weirdness" of it). But never you mind. Go ahead, try it. You'll (probably) like it.

Serves 8

Ingredients

For the crust: 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into dice
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
5 tablespoons ice water, more as needed


For the filling
5 cups peeled and thickly sliced tart apples, such as Jonagold, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith (I used Granny Smith)
1/2 cup chopped roasted green Hatch chilies, mild or medium hot (see note)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cornstarch


For the topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


Method


1. Make the crust: In a food processor or mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add butter one piece at a time, while pulsing or mixing at low speed, until mixture is fine and crumbly. Transfer to a large bowl and toss well with the cheese. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time, mixing lightly with fingers just until dough holds together. To test, pinch a small amount of dough. If it is crumbly, add more ice water. Form dough into a ball, wrap loosely in plastic, then roll into a disk. Refrigerate at least one hour, or up to 3 days, before rolling. (Dough can be frozen for up to a month.)

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a circle at least 11 inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch pie pan, preferably glass. Turn edges under to make a thick rim; flute rim by pinching into a zigzag pattern. Refrigerate until ready to bake, at least an hour.

3. Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss apples, green chilies and lemon juice together. In another bowl, mix dry ingredients and add to apples and chilies, tossing until thoroughly coated.

4. Make the topping: In a small bowl, mix flour, walnuts and brown sugar. Add melted butter and toss together until crumbly.

5. Bake the pie: Heat oven to 400 degrees. Using a slotted spoon, scoop filling into chilled crust, then drizzle with 2 tablespoons of juice from bottom of bowl. Sprinkle topping evenly over filling. Bake 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until filling bubbles at edge and crust is brown. Serve warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Phoenix Restaurants: Vietnamese Kitchen

Photo taken of the interior, from Yelp.com

 Phoenix has long suffered from a lack of good (or, rather, any) Vietnamese restaurants. So, imagine my surprise and delight when my mother informed me that there was a "new little Vietnamese place" which had opened up in a nearby strip mall. From the front, the place looked a bit dubious. Dark glass and no menu outside doesn't exactly help in a mall where your neighbors are a "Cash for GOLD!" place and a dentist. But once you enter, oh my. You could immediately tell you were going to get a good meal. The only minor downside was the bizarre "framed" tv set (as seen in the photo to the right) which was playing daytime soaps. As we had been seated directly in front of it, it was hard to ignore (and really whatever Brad was going to say to Tiffany's evil twin on this week's Days of Our Lives, I really couldn't have cared less).

As previously mentioned, I'm a bit of a sucker for Asian soups. Coconut-based confections especially, but really anything with noodles, vegetables, and perhaps a bit of protein (hey, even tofu counts), and I'm sold. When I opened the menu to discover that this place specialized in Vietnamese pho, I knew I had found the right place. The soups are served fresh and hot, with cilantro, lime, and bean sprouts (all authentic, I'm told) with a variety of condiments on your table so you can adjust the spiciness of your dish as you see fit.

And so, the sad lack of (good) Vietnamese restaurants in Phoenix has ended. Huzzah! My trips home will never be pho-less again.


Phoenix Location:
20235 North Cave Creek Road
Phoenix, AZ 85024-4424
(602) 788-5535
Yelp's Review

Fluffy Make-Ahead Dinner Rolls


Oh, dinner rolls. Is there anything better? I'm not a bread snob. No, no. Anything with a nice carbohydrate base will do just fine for me. Few requirements. Few needs. 

So I couldn't pass up the chance to make my own "straight from the 1950s" dinner rolls when I stumbled across this recipe. 

Well, I almost did when I saw that they took up to 5 hours to make. But ah well, I was struck with the Christmas spirit and made them anyway. And (as you'll see), the 5 hour estimate was way over. I mean, they aren't 30 minute rolls or anything, but don't think you'll be chained to the kitchen for an entire day and a half.

These, like the "impossible breakfast casserole" come from the January 2007 edition of Cook's Country. And they looked so buttery and delicious. Well. You find a way of turning these down. 

But, be warned, dear readers. These rolls are temperamental. Knead too long and you'll end up with dense starchy things. Sure, they'll look fabulous, but they'll sit in your stomach like a lump of lead. Be gentle.

Makes 15 large rolls

Ingredients

3 tbsp. unsalted butter, plus 2 tbsp. for bowl and baking dish

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1/3 cup honey

4 tbsp. vegetable shortening

5- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp rapid-rise or instant yeast

2 tsp salt

1 large egg, plus 1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

Method

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heave oven to 200 degrees F. When oven reaches 200 degrees, shut oven off. Grease a large bowl with 1 tbsp. butter. Line 13 x 9 inch baking dish with foil, leaving overhang on all sides. Grease foil with 1 tbsp. butter.

Place milk, honey, shortening, and remaining 3 tbsp. butter in large measuring cup. Microwave on high power until milk is warm (110 degrees) and butter and shortening begin to melt, 1-2 minutes. Stir well.

Mix 4 1/2 cups flour, yeast, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn mixer to low and slowly add milk mixture. After dough comes together, increase speed to medium, add 1 egg, and mi until dough is smooth, about 2 minutes. Add another 1/2 cup flour and knead until dough is  shiny and smooth and comes away from sides of mixing bowl, 6 to 7 minutes. (add up to 1/2 cup more flour if dough is too sticky) Turn dough onto floured surface and knead briefly to form smooth cohesive ball. Transfer dough to buttered bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in turned-off oven until dough has doubled in size, 50-60 minutes. 

Punch dough down on floured surface and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into thick cylinder and cut each cylinder into 5 equal pieces. Working one piece at a time (keep remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap), form dough pieces into smooth rounds and arrange in a prepared baking dish. Lightly press on dough rounds so that they just touch each other. Cover baking dish with plastic wrap and return to turned-off oven until dough rounds have doubled in size, 50-60 minutes.

Remove dish from oven and heat oven to 375 degrees. Unwrap baking dish and brush rolls with egg-water mixture. Bake until rolls are deep golden brown, 25-27 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks for 5 minutes. Using handles of foil sling, remove rolls from baking dish and cool on wire rack.  (Note: Ok, here's where the recipe says you should cool these puppies for an hour. Ridiculous. They also say that after this, you should cool for another TWO HOURS! after this. My rolls were room temperature in 15 minutes and delicious. So forget that.)

Chicken Laksa

Oh soup, how I love thee. And, really, any kind will do. Well, that isn't entirely accurate. The British have a way of preferring "blended vegetable" soup that I just can't get behind. No chicken noodle. No hearty whole vegetables with a little pasta. Nope. Carrot and coriander. Potato and leek. Tomato. All just blended versions of various vegetables. Give me a hearty soup with, well, bits in it any day. 
And on that note, we come to laksa. I have also fallen deeply and madly in love with Asian soups over the past several years. The British may be clueless when it comes to a warming bowl, but Asia has it down pat. I'm also a complete sucker for anything that comes with a coconut milk-based broth. So sue me. 

Anyway, the good people at Sunset magazine must have heard my yearns for a good "chunky" soup, for in their January edition, they featured a whole spread on various hearty soups. One of which was laksa. They insisted that, despite the arm-length long ingredient list, it was an "easy" or "fast" soup. Ok, this isn't technically true. And some of the ingredients are a bit hard to find (e.g. "shrimp paste" whch I was only able to find after a New Year's sojourn to the land of all Asian-based products, San Francisco). In the first incarnation of this soup, with no shrimp paste in sight, I relied on some Mexican canned shrimp (which is as dubious as it sounds). The flavors still worked well but I wanted to see how the soup tasted with the shrimp paste. And, oh yes, t'was worth the trip. So, hey, if you're one of those people (like me) that somehow doesn't have all of the following ingredients to hand, never fear, the soup is delicious with any Western versions of items you happen to dig up. If, however, you are lucky enough to have the real ingredients available, by all means, indulge. This soup will not fail you. 


Ingredients

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp. black peppercorns

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. fennel seeds

4 cloves

1/4 tsp. ground tumeric

5-8 dried arbol chiles, stemmed

2 lemongrass stalks

3 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 lb., skinned chicken thighs, cubed

1 tsp. shimp paste (or dubious canned shrimp, see above)

3 large shallots, thinly sliced

1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk

1 qt. reduced-sodium chicken broth

2 tsp. sugar

3 tsp. kosher salt

1 cinnamon stick

6 oz. mung bean sprouts, rinsed

8 oz. wide rice noodles

1/3 cup mint leaves, torn

1/3 cup cilantro leaves, torn

lime wedges

sambal oelek chili paste


Method

Grind coriander, peppercorns, cumin, fennel, cloves, turmeric, and chiles coarsely in a spice grinder. Peel tough outer layers from lemongrass, then mash core with a meat mallet or small, heavy frying pan.
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chicken, shrimp paste, shallots, and reserved spices and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 2 minutes. 
Pour in coconut milk, broth, sugar, and salt; add cinnamon and lemongrass. Bring to a boil, then immer, covered, 20 minutes.
Boil bean sprouts in a large pot of boiling water until softened, 2 minutes. Transfer sprouts to a bowl. Add noodles to pot and cook until firm, 4 minutes. Drain; rinse well. 
Divide sprouts and noodles among the bowls. Ladle in soup (remove cinnamon and lemongrass) and top with mint and cilantro. Serve with limes and sambal. 
The aforementioned authentic (and hard to find) shrimp paste

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