Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Vols-au-Vent

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

I had such high hopes for this challenge. Not only am I a big fan of Steph's blog but I love puff pastry. I usually have a box in the freezer for quick desserts. My last experience with a laminated dough from scratch seemed to go fairly well. It wasn't exactly a puff pastry like this month's challenge but it was definitely similar (at least in my little mind!). And up until the actual shaping and baking, everything seemed to be going according to the recipe.

I had no issues incorporating the butter into the dough. That went swimmingly! I think my problem began when it came time to shape the dough. I didn't have any round cutters to use or any other shape cookie cutters for that matter. I decided to use a chef's knife instead and go with rectangular shapes. I tried to make quick sharp cuts so that it wouldn't damage the layers too much.

Vols-Au-Vent

umm...yeah. The layers. About that. Well...maybe I should just show you what I got after baking.

Vols-Au-Vent

Kinda...small and flat no? Here is a close up of the few layers that managed to puff up.

Vols-Au-Vent

They were also veerrrrrrryyyy crunchy. You could pick them up and crack! Now you have 2 sub-par Vols-au-Vent! I did attempt again but got the same result. I wonder if I had the proper cutting utensils if it would have worked. I still have a small section of the puff pastry so I will attempt this again once I remember to pick up the round cutters.

I didn't even bother trying to make a filling for them. There didn't seem to be a point anymore. If I had made the filling like I wanted, it would have been avocado based. Because I love avocado. It makes me happy.

For this month's recipe, please check out Steph at A Whisk and a Spoon. To see more Vols-au-Vent, check out the Daring Bakers blog roll.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Down at the Farm...

During the Labor Day weekend recently, I went back 'home' and visited my grandparents. While not a farmer on a day to day basis, my Popaw has quite the garden spread at their place in the Panhandle, affectionally called The Farm (by most of us anyway!). Row upon row of black-eyed peas, zucchini, quays, and my personal favorite...okra (mmmm...pickled...fried...oh my!). While there, he picked lots of delicious, fresh veggies that I could bring back to the city. Some I pickled while there and others were put into the freezer for later.


My younger sister and I also spent some time with their donkeys and horse. Well...we fed them a huge bag of carrots and they devoured them in no time! Here are some pictures I took with my new camera.

The Garden
The Garden

Peas in the garden
Black-eyed Peas

Zucchini in the garden
Zucchini Blossom

Okra Blossoms
Okra blossoms

And we can't forget these guys!

Lavada feeding the donkeys
That's my sister and Popaw...and some donkeys!

Lavada feeding the donkeys
More donkeys and my sister

Waiting for my carrot
Waiting in line for a carrot or two or three...

Star

This is Star. She's the boss. Obviously.

Popaw and Star
Isn't she gorgeous?!

That's all for now! I have TONS more thanks to my handy dandy new Fuji F70EXR! It's a great long zoom camera with lots of cool features for a novice like me. I'll try and post some of my favorite pictures every so often!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Daring Cooks: Dosas!

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When I was in London during my study abroad (gah! 4 years ago!!), there was the little corner Indian fast food shop that we would frequent because 1. the food was really good and 2. the owner was so nice. He had free wifi that he let us poor American college students use frequently. Our B&B didn't have any internet and our only other option was to use the numerous but sometimes expensive internet cafes. While coming and going or using the wifi, we bought numerous inexpensive but absolutely delicious Indian delicacies. My favorite was the spicy potato filling in a tortilla like wrapper. I can't remember what it was called but it was so amazing. Perfect for when you weren't too hungry but you knew it was going to be a long time before you ate again. Especially on those many, many nights we had to go to theatre performances.

Debyi of The Healthy Vegan Kitchenwas our host for this month and she chose Indian Dosas from the reFresh cookbook by Ruth Tal. Because of the economy and having to cutback on my grocery budget, I am always looking for vegetarian and vegan options for dinner. Vegan is a little bit harder to do at times but on all the occasions I have attempted it, I have always been impressed. The absence of animal products was not as noticeable as I thought it would be. With this month's challenge, I was excited to be combining both vegan and Indian. Two options that I have only had in limited quantities.

The dosas sounded just like the burrito like meals I had at the Indian shop in London. That made this challenge even more of a must for me. I have yet to have them again and have missed the quick, portable meal they were.

I only made one change to the dosa pancake recipe. Instead of having to locate and buy spelt flour, I used some garbanzo bean flour that I had leftover from another recipe. I am in love with this flour and use it any chance I can. We were given free reign on our filling and topping for the dosas.

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For my filling, I went pretty simple. I used avocado (because I am an avocado addict!), cherry tomatoes, garlic powder, and a touch of salt as well as some lime juice. That is one of my favorite combinations to use with just about anything. Of course, considering its almost a chunky guacamole and I am from Texas...maybe its not so surprising.

Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney

Sun-Dried Tomato Chutney

For my topping, I got a little more complicated. Since my filling and the dosa pancakes were pretty simple, I made a sun-dried tomato chutney from The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving. Let me tell you, this chutney is out of this world good. I wasn't so sure about the curry powder that was in it but there is only 2 tsp in the whole batch so it isn't overwhelming. Plus it tied into the curry powder in the dosa pancakes.

I had issues with the size of my dosas. I'm not sure if my batter was too thick or my pan too hot, but I could never get my pancakes thin enough. They always ended up a little too thick so I could not wrap them into a burrito. Oh well. Open faced dosas for me! On a better note, I am much better a flipping dosa pancakes than I am regular breakfast pancakes I have found. Not one smushed, streaked pancake in sight!

I looooved these! All of the flavors worked together perfectly. Nothing overwhelmed the other. I liked the garbanzo bean flavor of the dosa. Light but so delicious. The filling was amazing as always. I could eat that with anything. The sun-dried tomato chutney was the real star. Sweet yet definitely works with Indian food because of the addition of the curry. I'm sure it would also be wonderful on pasta or grilled meats. Even though my dosas were open faced, they were a great (though not portable!) dinner. Filling but not too much if you aren't overly hungry.

A big hit this go around! I'll definitely be making these again. For more dosas, check out the Daring Cooks Blogroll.

Even though I didn't use it, the example recipes for the filling and topping are below. They look pretty tasty so maybe next time I'll given them a try!

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Dosa Pancakes

1 cup (120gm/8oz) spelt flour (or all-purpose, gluten free flour) (I used garbanzo bean flour)
½ tsp (2½ gm) salt
½ tsp (2½ gm) baking powder
½ tsp (2½ gm) curry powder
½ cup (125ml/4oz) almond milk (or soy, or rice, etc.) (I used soy milk)
¾ cup (175ml/6oz) water
cooking spray, if needed

Dosa Pancakes
1.Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, slowly adding the almond milk and water, whisking until smooth.
2.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray your pan with a thin layer of cooking spray, if needed.
3.Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the center of your pan in a circular motion until it is a thin, round pancake. When bubbles appear on the surface and it no longer looks wet, flip it over and cook for a few seconds. Remove from heat and repeat with remaining batter. Makes 8 pancakes.

Curried Garbanzo Filling
This filling works great as a rice bowl topping or as a wrap too, so don't be afraid to make a full batch.

5 cloves garlic
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced (red, yellow or orange are fine too)
2 medium hot banana chilies, minced
2 TBSP (16gm) cumin, ground
1 TBSP (8gm) oregano
1 TBSP (8gm) sea salt (coarse)
1 TBSP (8gm) turmeric
4 cups (850gm/30oz) cooked or canned chick peas (about 2 cans)
½ cup (125gm/4oz) tomato paste

1.Heat a large saucepan over medium to low heat. Add the garlic, veggies, and spices, cooking until soft, stirring occasionally.
2.Mash the chickpeas by hand, or in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and tomato paste to the saucepan, stirring until heated through.

Coconut Curry Sauce
This makes a great sauce to just pour over rice as well. This does freeze well, but the texture will be a little different. The flavor is still the same though. My picture of this sauce is one that I had made, had to freeze, then thaw to use. It tastes great, but the texture is a little runnier, not quite as thick as it was before freezing.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
½ (2½ gm) tsp cumin, ground
¾ (3¾ gm) tsp sea salt (coarse)
3 TBSP (30gm) curry powder
3 TBSP (30gm) spelt flour (or all-purpose GF flour)
3 cups (750ml/24oz) vegetable broth
2 cups (500ml/24oz) coconut milk
3 large tomatoes, diced

1.Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, cooking for 5 minutes, or until soft.
2.Add the spices, cooking for 1 minutes more. Add the flour and cook for 1 additional minute.
3.Gradually stir in the vegetable broth to prevent lumps. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the coconut milk and tomatoes, stirring occasionally.
4.Let it simmer for half an hour.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

TWD: Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

Note: For the Recipes to Rival post for this month, please click here!

I love brownies. I love cheesecake. I love cheesecake brownies. I do not however love coffee. Coffee is usually too strong for me and leaves me with a blech taste in my mouth. I'm a tea girl myself. Anytime I go to Starbucks, I look for the green or black teas first (though its back to Pumpkin Spice Creme Frappes now!). So obviously, one would assume I would substitute the espresso for a different flavor in the brownies.

Nope. I don't like to drink coffee but I do like a little coffee in baked goods. A little. A tablespoon or two is just perfect for a boost of flavor. Don't go overboard now!

Espresso Cheesecake Brownies

These brownies were sooooo good! Its not often that I make or even eat cheesecake brownies so its quite the treat when I do. I made a full batch and had to restrain myself from eating the whole pan! I'm sure my jiggly bits were rejoicing!

The only issue that I had was that the center of the brownies did not completely bake. Or rather, the cheesecake portion. I baked the brownies for longer to begin with because I used a smaller pan and they appeared (at least from Dorie's description in the book) to be done. Once I cut into the center...I found out differently. The edges were perfect though and since they are my favorite part, I didn't worry over the center too much. They were still tasty anyway.

Speaking of edges, I really need to get me one of these! Now that would have made the perfect brownie!!

Thanks to our host was Melissa of Life in a Peanut Shell! You can find the recipe at her blog. For more brownies, check out the TWD blogroll!

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Recipes to Rival: Asparagus & Lemongrass Risotto

This month's Recipes to Rival pick was right up my alley. Debyi of The Healthy Vegan Kitchen chose Asparagus and Lemongrass Risotto. As I have said many time in the past, I love risotto and make it any chance I can get.

I am also a big lover of asparagus and enjoy incorporating it in dishes all the time. I even made an asparagus risotto a few months before this challenge. I loved it but this risotto blew it out of the water. The only component of this risotto that I had never had before was the lemongrass. I haven't ran across it very often in my local grocery stores in the past. Imagine my surprise when I saw it a few weeks prior to the announcement of the recipe at my nearby Super Wal-Mart of all places! Not knowing yet what the challenge was at the time I saw it, I passed it by thinking I may need to find a way to use it later. The day after I found out what were making this month, I went to the store to pick up a stalk. And they were completely out! I couldn't believe it. How many people in Texas use this?! Apparently more than I thought! They were also out still a week later. I was worried I was going to have to locate an alternative ingredient or dried. I almost decided to make a trip to Central Market to see if they had any but that usually isn't a good idea because I spend way to much money there! I gave it one more week and (joy!) they had it back in stock.

A big part of this challenge was that the risotto had to be vegan. Absolutely no animal products. Being a life long meat eater, I thought that this was going to be rather hard. I've been using less meat in my meals because of my self enforced food budget so that wasn't an issue really. I normally reach for chicken stock however so the veggie stock called for not something I kept in the pantry. Leaving out the parmesan that usually comes at the end of making a risotto was probably the most painful. I loooooovvvvveeeee cheese. Seriously. Its like an addiction. But like all addictions, it had to be overcome (at least for this challenge!). In the end, despite my whining, going vegan for the challenge wasn't all that hard. In fact, it was pretty easy and tasty!

In addition to the set challenge, I decided to challenge myself to make homemade vegetable stock. Many have proclaimed how much better the flavor is when you use homemade stock and it has been on my list of things to make for a long time. I made a version loosely based on this one by Martha Stewart. I had a lot of vegetable trimmings frozen and this was the perfect time to use them up and make a stock. It turned out slightly darker (because I caramelized the onions) than I had imagined but the flavor was delicious! I canned the rest in quart jars for later use.

This risotto was quite unlike one I've ever had. Normally, the risottos I eat and make are very italian in flavor and look. The soy/lime asian flavors that came out of this one were a great change and made it very big hit. It was almost like eating a fried rice. And fried rice is one of my favorites! While I'm not usually one for a lot of spice in a dish, I loved the heat from the red pepper flakes. I used about a 1/4 tsp for half of a batch and that added A LOT of heat. But in combination with the asian flavors of the risotto, it just worked.

One thing I found out in the making of this risotto was that asparagus does not freeze well. At least the batch that I had. It came out slightly goopy and limp. In the end, I picked out most of it when I ate. The since the asparagus was a flop, I was so excited to find out that the peanuts were such a delicious addition. They were fabulous a great, crunchy element that I was not expecting. Since I love peanuts, this was another reason for me to love this risotto!

Thanks to Debyi for such a great challenge! To see more risotto, check out the R2R blogroll!

Asparagus & Lemongrass Risotto

Asparagus and Lemongrass Risotto
Time: 1 hour 20 minutes Serves 4-6
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero from Veganomicon

Lemongrass Broth:
3 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
1” piece fresh ginger, sliced into ¼” slices
1 small stalk lemongrass, or 1 TBSP dried, chopped lemongrass
3 cups vegetable broth
3 cups water
3 TBSP tamari (or soy sauce, or more broth)

Risotto:
½ cup cooking sherry or white wine (D'Aquino Pinot Grigio is a good choice, any dry white wine, or just water)
1 lb asparagus
2 TBSP vegetable broth
1 cup basil leaves (Thai, if you can find it), sliced into thin strips
2 TBSP chopped fresh mint
6 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano red chile, sliced very thinly (or ½ – 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes)
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 TBSP lime juice
Chopped roasted peanuts and lime wedges, for garnish (you can use pine nuts or sliced almonds instead of the peanuts)

1.If using fresh lemongrass, peel away and discard any brown stems from the stalk. Slice the stalk in half lengthwise and cut into 3” to 4” lengths, then julienne.

2.Give the garlic and the ginger a could whack with the side of your knife, keeping them whole. Prepare your herb pouch, if using.

3.Place all of the broth ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the broth, discarding the vegetables and herbs. Pour the broth back into the pot, cover and simmer over as low a heat as possible to keep warm.

4.Slice the asparagus into ½” pieces, removing any tough parts from the bottom of the stem. Separate the tips from the stems and place each in separate bowls.

5.In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed pot, saute the asparagus in 1 TBSP vegetable broth over medium heat until bright and crisp tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the basil and mint, saute for 30 seconds, remove from heat and set aside.

6.Add the remaining tablespoon vegetable broth to the pan. Saute the shallots and garlic, stirring occasionally, until shallots are very soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the serrano and rice, saute for about 8 minutes, until the rice smells slightly toasted. Add the cooking sherry (or white wine) and stir constantly until the liquid is absorbed.

7.Now, time for relaxation and stirring. Get a glass of your favorite beverage, turn on some soothing music, or a good movie. Ladle about ½ cup of the broth at a time into the rice, stirring constantly until each addition is absorbed. Stir and cook until the rice is creamy but still somewhat firm in the center.

8.When the broth is almost gone, stir the sugar and lime juice into the remaining broth before adding it to the risotto. You may add more water or vegetable broth in ¼ cup increments if needed. This will take about 35 minutes.

9.Stir the asparagus stems into the risotto and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the asparagus has reached desired tenderness.

10.Garnish each serving with the asparagus tips, chopped roasted peanuts, and lime wedges.

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