Wednesday, May 27, 2009

DBL: Strawberry-Kumquat Strudel

Strudel. Sounds exotic, and sweet, and like something I want to eat. Sounds good, but I don't know if I've ever actually had it and was not sure what all the hype was about. I have to confess, it is grossly overrated in my opinion, or maybe that's just because of my poor interpretation. I'm not sure. Sadly, I won't be making this again. Maybe I'll try it from a real bakery. Granted, as you can see in the picture, my dough looks a little thick, definitely not paper thin. It tasted like chalk. The only yummy part was the filling, which should have had twice the amount of sugar to offset that crust. We were allowed a little bit of creative freedom in the filling, so I decided to do a Strawberry-Kumquat filling. Strawberries are in season here in Va, and I keep seeing kumquats in Kroger, so I thought they would be a good match. Kumquats by the way are delicious!! So sour and sweet, just the right balance... kind of like a lemon and an orange together, but more tart, and more sweet all at the same time. It's a crazy intense burst of flavor. Kumquat and strawberry- match made in heaven.

Here were my issues with the recipe:
1. The dough was too wet. Mine was too wet to work with easily, I had to add quite a bit more flour to get it to form a ball and be dry enough to handle.
2. The rolling out process. Whoa. I'm definitely over rolling things out to paper thin. When you have to use other things like tablecloths etc my work/benefit ratio goes askew and I ask myself is this really work all the effort??
3. The dough just dosent taste good to me. Maybe I'm a sweet dough kinda girl, but it was pretty gross. The dough is half the strudel! If the dough's gross the strudel will be too.

Oh well. I gave it a good try, but like I said, definitely not on my list of "things to make again." sigh.
Without further adieu, the recipe. Good Luck!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Preparation time
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes – 3 hours 30 minutes

15-20 min to make dough
30-90 min to let dough rest/to prepare the filling
20-30 min to roll out and stretch dough
10 min to fill and roll dough
30 min to bake
30 min to cool

Strawberry-Kumquat strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 pint strawberries chopped

5 kumquats, chopped

5 tbsp sugar

1. Put strawberries, kumquats and sugar in saucepan over medium heat. Cook 8-10 min or until strawberries have released juices and started to macerate.

2. Let cool, drain liquid off (save and serve as a syrup for pancakes yum!)

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the strawbery mixture along one end of dough.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Graduation and Botched Daring Cooks

Our first Daring Cooks challenge: Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi. Tragically, mine were far from stellar. Everything started well, but when it came time to cook them I had to add flour to get them to a workable consistency. Then I did a tester to make sure it was right, and when I tasted it, I was a little grossed out. Not sure why. I was late on time at that point for the rest of my dinner, so I scrapped the whole thing and vowed to try later. Then when later came around I had graduation from Medical School so I completely ran out of time. Medical school graduation festivities versus gnocchi...hmm...which will I choose? I can't believe I'm a doctor now! All the years of hard work and studying have paid off. I achieved my goal! Now I have a few weeks off to cook and bake up a storm until the real work begins: internship! I just wish I had pictures of all the great food at the party! Here are two sheet cakes my dad made and freehand drew the cadeuceus on in my favorite color (PINK!):
As for the gnocchi, I have a second batch of ricotta chillin in my fridge as we speak. I plan on making the recipe, but I just haven't had the opportunity yet. Better luck next time I guess. Here's the recipe


For the gnocchi:
1 pound fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneat to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Variations: For the gnocchi, you can flavour them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourselves. Surprise us!!!

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Invention of the Light Box

Tastespotting as I call it, is food porn, and I have photo envy. They are the most beautiful pictures of food I have ever seen. These shots rival those in cookbooks, and they are taken by home chefs. Even things I have never really liked, or don't want to eat like pate or mountain oysters make my mouth water with desire. Those who can compose these gorgeous pictures make me jealous. I read and read trying to figure out how to improve my shots. I've got a point and shoot digital camera, no external flash, no tripod, no fancy schmancy equipment. I kept reading about a wondrous invention called a Light Box. I read instructions for creating such an invention on Strobist. I still don't have any other photography equipment. I'm not exactly sure what to set the food on in the box. I don't want my posterboard to get all stained up and such.

As you can see, my light box is a hearty improvement to my "photo studio" in the top picture. My previous studio was that leather Ikea bar stool in front of the window, Period. That was it. The sweet black background I've gotten on cupcake shots is really just the brown leather Ikea stool. What you can't see is my random assortment of gardening supplies underneath- the mini greenhouse thing, some seeds, bulbs and a watering can. My space is truly a catch-all.

So here's my first photo box photo, sans white posterboard. I just wanted to try out the lighting effect to see how it would work out. Nothing amazing. What is amazing is that I bought that Julia Child cookbook at my little brothers school fair for $1. What a steal.

Then the strawberry, my first REAL light box photo with natural light and white posterboard. I like the effect. I think its pretty. It's almost too nice, you can see all the blemishes on my poor strawberry model.
In conclusion, I encourage all to make a light box. Once I figure out exactly how to use it I think it will be a pretty neat way to filter the light better. Previously I had underexposed or overexposed pictures from the bright sunlight. Now I can get a nice glow without bleaching out the shot! I'm definitely on my way to food porn worth photos.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Strawberry Lemon Tart

Strawberries. They're so red and pretty. I love when they are in season, namely because of my dad's Strawberry Shortcake, which I will save for another post. Other things strawberry are great too, milkshakes, jam, cake, the list goes on. My breakfast all week was blackberries and strawberries with cottage cheese and flax seeds. Anyways, I had my pseudo-grandparents over the other night for a nice dinner and decided to stick with a strawberry-ish theme. Most of the dishes are somewhat scatterbrained, but they all are so delicious I just couldn't resist. I made Chicken Marsala, Sauteed Asparagus, Strawberry Pecan Avocado Salad and Miso-glazed Salmon. For dessert I decided to try my hand at a Strawberry Tart with Lemon Curd. I went to the grocery store and then two and a half hours later I was finishing up the meal and my guests were at the table. It was chaos.
After my usual Tastespotting perusal I found Half Baked's recipe that seemed to be everything I was looking for. Sweet tart crust, tart lemon cream, and of course STRAWBERRIES!

Strawberry Lemon Curd Tart
9 inch tart pan

The Crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons; 4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk lightly beaten

1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. Add yolk a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

2. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Don't be too heavy-handed – press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but don't press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
3. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

4. To fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.

5. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. Bake the crust for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown, brown being the important word: a pale crust doesn't have a lot of flavor. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature.
The Lemon Curd
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
grated zest of one lemon
1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temp cut into 8 pieces

Choose a saucepan that will hold the bowl from your mixer (or a heat proof mixing bowl) in a double-boiler arrangement. Fill the pan with 2 to 3 inches of water and bring to a simmer.
Put the eggs and sugar in the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at high speed until very light and fluffy. Still whisking, add the lemon juice and zest. Set the bowl in the saucepan, making sure the the bottom of the bowl does not touch the simmering water, and cook the mixture, whisking constantly by hand until smooth, thick , and custardlike. Be patient; this can take a while. Remove bowl from saucepan and whisk in butter piece by piece. Cover the curd with plastic wrap pressed to the top, and refrigerate until chilled and set, or pour directly into cooled crust and top with sliced strawberries.