Saturday, May 23, 2009

Scones 2 ways

Looks good, right? ...Let's examine the road to getting to the above product. The chocolate scones will come later; for now....strawberry!

It's apparently National Strawberry Month and my work hosted a Strawberry Feast where employees brought strawberry dishes of their choosing to share. Okay, sounds great at first. As I've mentioned before, I don't bake. Or, at least I try, but cooking is more my thing. Cooking allows you to express your creativity and taste and add and get enlightened and add another key ingredient that changes the whole flavor. Baking is exact. 1 tablespoon of this. 2 cups of that. I'm not knowledgeable enough to tamper with baked goods recipes. So I feel really boxed in.

So back to Strawberry Feast. I just wasn't going to participate. You want a savory dish? Sure, no problem. But baked good?! Eh... Until I got suckered into it because no one was signing up. So they asked me to bring something since they know I'm a foodie. Sigh... now what? Strawberry mousse? Blah. Strawberry cheesecake? Too much to do on a work night. Trifle? Too common. And then I stumbled upon this. Go ahead, look. I'll wait. getting me now? All of a sudden I was inspired. SCONES! Of course. Not too sweet. Right up my alley. I love a semi-sweet baked good that goes with tea or coffee. (I guess I get that from my time living in France. Plus, I've never been a dessert person anyways.) Now we're talking. And it looked so simple! What could go wrong?! And this time, no cutting out butter or sugar or cream to make it healthier. Those don't seem to turn out, as history has revealed. So here we go...

Strawberry Scones
(courtesy of Confessions of a Tart)

1 cup strawberries (or other fruit)
3 tablespoons sugar (granulated)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, in cubes, slightly softened

2/3 cup half-and-half or cream or cold buttermilk (I used half and half)

1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

Cut strawberries into small pieces. Sprinkle fruit with 1/2 tablespoon sugar; set aside. (I also added a 1/4 teaspoon of good Madagascar vanilla extract to the berries. You could add it or omit if you choose.) Be sure to make the pieces small, or they tend to fall out of the dough.

Combine remaining sugar with flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter, using a pastry cutter or 2 knives to cut in butter. (I used my hands to best incorporate the butter.) Stir in fruit; then add cream/half-and-half/buttermilk all at once. Use spatula to gently stir dough until it holds together.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to incorporate dry ingredients. Be gentle so you don't break up the berries and don't overwork the dough. Sprinkle dough with flour if it gets sticky. (This dough is VERY sticky, so liberally use flour to pat out the dough into a circle.)

Press (pat) the dough into a circle 3/4 inch thick. If any berries peek out, push them into dough. Cut circle into 6-8 wedges, then transfer wedges to the cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/2 inch of space between them. Bake 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with sugar and bake 5-10 more minutes or until the tops are beginning to brown and spring back when you push them. (The sprinkling of sugar over the top for the last few minutes of baking creates a simple, sparkly topping.)

Okay, you know something is going to be good when your batter smells like strawberries and cream. Really. I still remember that smell just looking at the picture!
I made tiny, thin scones since I was trying to feed the masses at work. I made two batches of tiny, two-bite scones. They look like blobs of dough in the picture below. The dough is really sticky and I hadn't quite figured out how to cut and transfer them without ruining the shape. By the second batch I had it down. I found that if my pizza cutter worked better than a knife to cut the dough if floured well. Now they begin to take the typical scone shape. Well-floured dough and the pizza cutter made a HUGE difference!
My camera was acting up on this day, so the pictures aren't very clear, but you get the picture! I love the sugary topping since it adds a simple sparkle to the top. Plus, scones don't have much sugar, so the added sweetness goes a long way. I'm happy to say they were a hit! I'm very particular about sharing subpar food with other people. I take it to heart if my food isn't good, so I was scared to try a new recipe for a work function. But this recipe is a keeper. Please give this a try and adapt with any fruit--or chocolate--you like! Now onto the second attempt with chocolate chunks! My boyfriend loves anything chocolate chunk or chip-- muffins, pancakes, bagels, etc. So since I loved the scone recipe I wanted to try it again two days later with chocolate. I tend to like things rustic, so instead of using chocolate chips, I used my go-to Lindt 70% dark chocolate and chopped it into small chunks. (I use this chocolate for my homemade hot chocolate and my chocolate molten cakes as well.)

I used half wheat flour, half all-purpose flour this time around-- so 1 cup all-purpose, 1 cup wheat. I noticed the batter was much drier once I added the 2/3 cups half and half, so I added around 1/3 cup more to the batter so it wouldn't be too dry. Since I wasn't making these for work, I made them closer to the normal scone size. After they baked I noticed they missed some pizazz on top. (I didn't add the sugar topping to this batch.) So I quickly whisked together half and half, confectioners sugar, and more Lindt chocolate over low heat. Once it thickened and cooled slightly I spooned it into a plastic sandwich bag, snipped the tip, and drizzled it over the top. Beautiful!!

Chocolate Scones
(adapted from Confessions of a Tart)

1 cup chocolate chunks
3 tablespoons sugar (granulated)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, in cubes, slightly softened

1 - 1 1/3 cup half-and-half or cream or cold buttermilk (I used half and half)
I had good natural light coming in this day, so I tried to capture it to get a better picture. I love how these look!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A close call

I hate those times in the kitchen when it seems like nothing is working out quite right. I admittedly get pretty upset when my food just doesn't work. I love food and hate when it's a bad day in the kitchen.

So the picture below shows the pizza before it went in the oven to cook. It doesn't indicate a near disaster. In fact, it looks quite good.
Problem 1: So-so pizza dough. I made what seemed like a promising semolina pizza dough recipe. I thought it would have a better flavor with the semolina flour. It was thin and crisp but the flavor was just... eh. Problem 2: Lack of proper equipment. I didn't have a pizza paddle, so creating the pizza on a cookie sheet that was too small didn't really work. I have a pizza stone, but that was coming to temperature in the oven. And the pizza was not budging from the cookie sheet. At all. A few tears in the dough later, and after smooshing it back together to fill the gaps, and several attempts to transfer later, the pizza was on the pizza stone. Phew.
The actual toppings were good: pesto, cremini mushrooms, sliced tomato, yellow and green squash, havarti, jalapeno, grated pecorino, fresh basil. This was pizza attempt number 2; I think pizza attempt 1 turned out better. Better crust and texture, better flavor. Now that I have the pizza stone I'll keep trying for an even better crust. It's so much fun to create your own since it's so hard to get a decent pizza with good, natural ingredients.

Near and dear

Alright, this particular dish is near and dear to my heart. It's called Easter Pizza. This dates back to my great grandmother who came over from Calabria, Italy. It runs back generations and my family has made it each and every Easter, but never ever in between. It is to be made solely on Easter. It is absolutely hands down one of my favorites. And trust me-- I've been known to, ahem, beg on occasion for it to be made in between. Nope, never. Can't be done. Easter, and Easter only.

I've never in my life heard of anyone else who makes this dish--even other Italians. We've researched it and know it's a south Italian tradition, with each family having some variation: ham, salami, pepperoni, various Italian cheeses, eggs, no eggs, etc. Each version as unique as the region and the families.

Only this Easter did I run into a girl from work whose boyfriend is Italian and makes Easter pizza. Wha-at?! I was floored to say the least. Someone who knows of Easter Pizza and even knows it's called Easter Pizza?! It was so exciting for me to share such an esoteric tradition.
Okey doke, now comes the fun part, and one you've probably been asking since the beginning of this post. Great, Tiff, but what IS Easter Pizza. Ahhh let me indulge you. (And it is quite the indulgence!)

We first start with a homemade dough for the bottom and sides. Then comes the glorious filling. Salami (genoa or hard, depending which has a better flavor at that particular time), pepperoni, diced hard boiled eggs, mozzarella, provolone, and ricotta.

BUT WAIT. 'Tiff, you always speak of healthy food and eating,' you may be asking yourself. Yes, you are correct. But, and this is a big but, I also believe it tradition. I believe in food transcending you to another place and time. Family, friends, memories.

And plus, you do only eat it once a year. ;) Moderation, my friends, moderation.
But I digress. Back to the receipe. You mix together the salami, pepperoni, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella, and provolone. Pour the mixture over the bottom dough. Top with more mozzarella, if desired, and spread ricotta over the entire mixture.

This one is my grandmother's for the past Easter. See the thick slices of fresh mozzarella on top? Oh yes.
The two below are my mom's version. We had two this Easter--which we've never done before-- because I begged for leftovers. =) That makes for a very happy me. Plus, some friends from work have come to know the gloriousness that is Easter Pizza and they, too, crave it! So, who was I to deny them and not bring home leftover?! After the ricotta is spread over the mixture, the top dough is placed on top and sealed with the bottom dough around the whole pizza. Score the top and egg wash the top of the pizza and bake in a 350 degree oven, until the crust turns a beautiful brown and the mixture bubbles.Look at those layers!!Now the one below is grandma's. I couldn't get a clean slice because of all the cheese. And that makes it even better. You have never ever tasted something like this. I absolutely guarantee it. I love food that brings family together.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Simple pleasures

There is nothing more simple, pure, or lovely than the smell of freshly baked bread. I'm pretty sure the smell of freshly baked bread takes anyone back to their youth. For me it reminds me of grandma's fresh bread, cooling outside the oven. I loved getting a huge slice and spreading peanut butter on the warm bread.
I, like any other foodie, get great pleasure out of cooking a good meal. But there is something different with bread. It isn't mixing and matching ingredients to make a good meal; there's something more. It's the satisfaction you get out of actually creating something. I don't have a KitchenAid stand mixer--yet!--so the entire process is manual. Mixing, kneeding, shaping, etc. Start to finish my hands create and gently form the bread. Kneeding itself takes a good 10-15 minutes to turn a slightly crumbly mixture into a smooth, soft ball. I made two wheat loaves this particular night; one in a typical bread pan, the other in a cake pan because that's all I had!
I love, love, LOVE this bread. *secret* shh.... most bread recipes call for a package of yeast. Try cutting back and only using one teaspoon. You still get 2 good rises out of the dough, plus the end result is a gorgeous dense bread. More yeast would provide an airier, lighter bread, but using less gives you a chewy dense loaf. Just look below-- no holes!Now I'm digging through the archives of pictures to the very first time I made bread. Man was I proud. I never EVER thought my first attempt at bread making would be successful.
I used white bread flour the first time around. Yea, and that whole crazy idea to cool the bread after baking? Didn't happen. Nope, didn't stand a chance. I cut into that loaf so fast and smeared butter on a thick slice. Heaven, I swear.

Asparagus, yes asparagus

LOOK AT THIS!!! Yes, you.
Remember this? My love for asparagus is by no means an esoteric obsession. It is, however, an obsession. (If you need proof, just look at the header for my blog!) The last time I posted about roasted asparagus I sadly did not have my own pictures. Now I do! Just look at that poached egg with the pecorino romano melting on top! Honestly, I could eat this for dinner all the time. Line 'em up: the asparagus coated in extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and pepper; ready to roast! Oh, and when you cut into the poached egg the still slightly-runny yolk coats the asparagus. Yes, this makes me a happy, happy girl.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

eeeeeeeeeeee he's coming!

Only one thing would warrant a post entitled in such a way.


Yes, the one I blogged about here and here. Oh, and to add to my jubilation, he's coming to my favorite grocery store, as blogged about here. If it's at all possible to have a foodie 'O', this is it. He's coming to the Fairfax, VA Wegmans in 2 weeks! I have tickets in hand and am giddy with excitement. A signed copy of In Defense of Food and An Omnivore's Dilemma are just 2 weeks away! Oh, what to tell him? Thank you for being vocal and standing for good, real, whole foods? You should've been Secretary of Agriculture? Your books have completely shaped my food views? Thank you for being the one person who makes sense in a throng of low-calorie, low-fat 'health' food numbnuts? So many things to say...

And you better believe I'll be posting once I meet him, so stay tuned.

Acini Chicken Caprese

Okay, this is so a keeper. Acini Chicken Caprese. Thanks to Melissa from Alosha's Kitchen for this caprese inspired recipe. It's so simple and so flavorful. And just wait until summer when the basil is sweet and the tomatoes ripe! This will most definitely be a go-to recipe for me. You can have it hot or cold, AND it would be perfect for a summer picnic!

Acini Chicken Caprese

1 box acini di pepe
4 tomotoes, diced
Large bunch basil, chiffonade
Toasted pine nuts
Grilled chicken, diced and seasoned with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Pecorino romano
Zest and juice of one lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt water and add acini. Cook 9 minutes or until al dente. Drain and pour acini into a large mixing bowl.

Season chicken with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Grill or cook through, dice and add to pasta.

Toast pine nuts in oven or toaster oven. Add pine nuts, diced tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to pasta. Add zest and juice of the lemon. Grate pecorino romano. Mix well.

My notes: I prefer De Cecco Acini di pepe. It stays al dente, even after reheating. That's what makes this a great recipe to make ahead of time. Use tons of water for the acini. It looks small but don't let it fool you! It sucks up lots of water.
Do not leave while toasting the pine nuts! Let me repeat: DO NOT LEAVE! I burnt my first batch when I washed a dish. They go from white to brown to burnt within 30 seconds. Just keep a good eye on them.

Just look at that chicken! I love, love, LOVE my cast iron stovetop grill. I swear it turns ordinary meat into something so much more flavorful. Okay, so I know a typical caprese calls for mozzarella. But the thing that makes this dish so amazing is the contrast in flavors and textures. It's no surprise I love a sharp pecorino, but it works well here. Mozzarella is softer and would just be mushy in the pasta. Now, I'm not saying you can't use mozzarella, especially if you don't like sharp italian cheeses, but give pecorino a try.

Pine nuts are a pricier nut, but for about $5 worth you can change the dish from ok to wow! I too fell into the debate of 'to toast or not to toast' my pine nuts. Toasting gives them an extra edge and nuttyness; it takes them from sweeter to nutty. I've made this recipe twice now and it was just as good, if not better. That's a testament to a recipe: If you make it again and it turns out beautifully, it's a keeper. Light, flavorful, amazing. I can eat this straight for a whole week.