Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mardi Gras King Cake

Yes, I realize that not only is it way past Mardi Gras, we've already passed Easter as well.
Never you mind!

The fantastic thing about annual holidays is that they'll always come round again! So, just think, you (and I) will be extra prepared for next Mardi Gras!

Total: 4 hrs

Makes: 10 to 12 servings


For the brioche:
1 cup whole milk, heated (about 105°F to 115°F)
1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
Vegetable oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons orange zest
4 large egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons almond extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled and cut into small
For the filling:
3 cups pecans, toasted and cooled
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick), small dice
To assemble:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk
1 small plastic baby (optional)
For the decoration:
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons sanding sugar (optional)


For the brioche:
1. Place the milk in a large bowl and (You can also do this with a stand mixer, but I recommend the old school hand method) sprinkle the yeast on top.
Set aside to rest until the mixture bubbles, about 5 to 10 minutes. (If the mixture doesn’t bubble,
either the milk was not at the correct temperature or the yeast was old.) Coat a large bowl with
vegetable oil and set aside.

2. Add the sugar, salt, and zest to the milk mixture and mix to combine. Add the egg
yolks and mix until evenly incorporated. Add the bourbon, orange juice, and almond extract and
continue mixing. Add the flour and nutmeg little by little until the dough is moistened throughout
and starts to come together. Turn out the dough from the bowl and knead until the dough forms a ball, and is smooth and elastic, about 5-10 minutes.

3. Add the butter piece by piece, letting each fully incorporate before adding the next. Place the
dough in the oiled bowl, turn to coat with oil, cover with a damp cloth, and let sit in a warm area
until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

4. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, cover, and let rise until doubled in size again,
about 1 hour. (Alternatively, you can place it in the refrigerator overnight to rise, about 12 to
16 hours. Be sure to let it sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.)

For the filling:

Place the nuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and pulse until
coarsely chopped, about 5 pulses. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until you have a coarse
meal, about 5 more pulses.

To assemble:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Roll the dough into a 28-by-8-inch
rectangle. Leaving a 1-inch perimeter at the top and bottom (the short sides), spread the filling
out along the whole length of the dough.

2. Whisk together the egg yolk and milk until evenly combined. Brush the exposed perimeter of the
dough with the egg wash, fold the long sides of the dough over the filling to form a long cylinder,
and pinch the edge to seal. Place the cake seam side down on the baking sheet, form into a ring,
and pinch the ends of the dough together to form a circle with about a 3-inch hole in the middle.
As needed, press on the circle so that the filling is evenly distributed within the dough.

3. Cover the cake loosely with a damp towel and set aside to rise until doubled in volume, about 60
minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

4. Just before baking, brush the remaining egg wash on the surface of the cake. Place in the oven and
bake until the cake has puffed up, the crust is golden, and the underside is golden brown, about 30
minutes. Remove to a wire rack and let cool at least 1 hour.

5. Hide the baby, if using, in the cake by pushing it up through the bottom of the cake, being careful
not to push through the top of the cake.

For the decoration:
1. Stir together the powdered sugar, bourbon, and orange juice until evenly combined. Brush the cake
with the icing and, if desired, immediately decorate with the sanding sugar.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

We have an abundance of cabbage. All kinds. And there are only so many times you can make coleslaw or braise the things. Desperate to get rid of the volleyball-sized sphere on our kitchen counter, the NY Times yet again came to our rescue. The article may as well have been titled: "When you're sick of coleslaw...".

I served these as an appetizer at a recent dinner party and they were a hit with everyone. I recommend about 2 stuffed leaves per person as a starter (always leave them wanting more!).

Serves about four to six as a side dish or appetizer


12 large cabbage leaves (about 2 pounds)

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large red or white onion, finely chopped

Salt to taste

1 1/4 cups quick-cook long-grain or basmati rice, rinsed and drained

4 tablespoons pine nuts

4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced

1/3 cup chopped fresh dill

1/3 cup finely chopped mint

1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/3 to 1/2 cup strained freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 lemon, sliced


1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the cabbage leaves, a few at a time, for 2 to 3 minutes, until they are flexible. Transfer from the pot to a bowl of cold water, then drain and set aside. Cut out the thickest part of the base of the center rib by notching a 1- to 1 1/2-inch V at the base. This will make the leaves easier to roll up.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large nonstick skillet and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until it is tender but not browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the pine nuts and garlic, stir together and add the drained rinsed rice. Stir for a minute or two, until you hear the rice begin to crackle, then remove from the heat. Toss with the herbs, salt, white pepper, nutmeg, and black pepper pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. To gauge how much salt you will need, use the amount that you would use when cooking 1 1/4 cups of rice (I used about 1 teaspoon).

Roll the parcels with the V-shape facing you.
3. Lightly oil a heavy flame-proof or lidded skillet. Place a leaf on your work surface in front of you, with the wide ribbed bottom closest to you. Place 2 rounded tablespoons of the rice mixture on top of the leaf. Roll the leaf over once, and tuck in the sides. Continue to roll the leaf into a tight package. Place in the pan. Fill and roll the remaining leaves and pack them into the pan. You will probably need to stack two layers of the filled leaves.

4. Whisk together the lemon juice, remaining oil and tomato paste with 2 tablespoons water. Season to taste with salt. Pour over the cabbage rolls. Add enough water to barely cover the rolls. Invert a plate and place it on top of the rolls to keep them wrapped and in position. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover the pan, turn the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, at which point the cabbage leaves will be tender and the rice cooked. Remove from the heat and carefully remove the stuffed leaves from the water to a platter or to plates with a slotted spoon or tongs. Taste the liquid left in the pot and adjust the seasoning. Serve the rolls warm with the liquid from the pot as a sauce.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spicy Pureed Potato and Broccoli Soup

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced and cleaned (optional)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 fresh red chile, chopped
Salt, preferably kosher salt, to taste
2 pounds starchy potatoes (russets or Yukon golds), peeled and cut in large dice (I used 2 large potatoes)
1 slice day-old white bread, torn into pieces
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf and 2 sprigs each parsley and thyme
2 quarts water, chicken stock, or vegetable stock
1 pound broccoli crowns, coarsely chopped (2-3 heads of broccoli, including stems)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere


1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and optional leeks. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the chopped garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute, until fragrant. Add the potatoes, bouquet garni, water, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. Add the broccoli, turn the heat up slightly to bring back to a boil, then reduce the heat again and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, until the broccoli is thoroughly tender but still bright. Remove the bouquet garni.

2. Blend the soup either with a hand blender, in batches in a blender (cover the top with a towel and hold it down to avoid hot splashes), or through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. For a silky texture, strain through a medium strainer set over a bowl, using a pestle or the bottom of a ladle to push the soup through. Return to the pot, taste and adjust salt, add a generous amount of freshly ground pepper, and heat through. Stir in the 1/2 cup of cheese.

3. Ladle into bowls, grating some additional Gruyere on top of each serving.

Indian Tofu with Spinach

Ok, it may not be the prettiest thing you'll ever eat, but in my eyes this dish is the holy trinity of recipes.
It's fast.
It's healthy.
It's phenomenally delicious.

Adapted from the latest New York Times' Recipes for Health column (the entire newspaper has gone spinach-mad in the last week or so), this recipe has immediately become my favorite lunch and/or dinner. It's a one-pot dish that makes a fairly good stab at imitating some high class curries.
And did I mention it's good for you? Sure, you can add the authentic Indian paneer if you choose, but extra firm tofu certainly does the trick for me. Stir-fried for about 3 minutes or so, it gives just enough of a protein base to the dish to make it a satisfying main. Although Martha Schulman insists you should have it on top of noodles or something.
Eat it on its own. And think of how much glorious iron you're getting from all the spinach you've eaten (I may use a bag of spinach just for myself...). You'll feel like Popeye afterwards.
Also, Schulman insists on using "drained yogurt" for this. It's completely unnecessary. I used low fat Greek yogurt and was happy as a clam.

Serves 4 as a main dish


3/4 pound firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes (remember to drain and pat dry the tofu. The drier you make the tofu, the more it will hold its shape in the frying pan.)

2 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 cup finely chopped shallot or red onion (I recommend using a whole red onion)

4 lengthwise slices peeled fresh ginger (2 inches long, 1 inch wide, 1/8 inch thick), coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 fresh red chile, chopped

2 whole dried red chilies, like Thai, cayenne or arbol

1 tablespoon coriander seeds, ground

Salt to taste

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

2-3 cardamom pods

1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, stems trimmed at the end and washed in 2 changes of water, or 12 ounces baby spinach, rinsed

1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt

1/4 teaspoon cornstarch


Drain the tofu on paper towels. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat in a wok or a large, heavy lidded skillet and add the tofu. Stir-fry until golden brown and remove from the heat.

Heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat in a wok or skillet and add the cumin seeds, and both the fresh and dried chilies. Cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds, or until the spices are fragrant and reddish-brown. Add the onion and ginger and stir-fry until it is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the coriander, salt, cayenne, cardamom pods, and turmeric, stir for about 10 seconds and add the spinach in batches, adding the next batch after the first batch wilts and stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze.

Stir in the tofu, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the spinach is uniformly wilted and the tofu is warmed through.

Whisk the cornstarch into the yogurt. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the yogurt.

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