Pseudo-Guest Blogger Strikes Back: Dave dives into the world of doughnuts!

I’m back!  If 2011 was the year of the pancake, 2012 may be the year of the doughnut.  Well, at least till I have them figured out.  What started out as a mission to replicate the beignets that we loved in New Orleans has turned into a quest to make the perfect doughnut.  So far, this has proven to be quiet difficult.

We wanted to have party favors for a recent dinner party we threw; something sweet that our guests could enjoy on their walk or ride home.  We threw around doing doughnuts initially, but I said “what about beignets?”  After trying 3 different recipes, I found one that I liked, added a bit more sugar to it and then experimented with cooking times.  Our guests liked them, and I didn’t think they were half bad myself (although they were no Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans).  I thought “that wasn’t terrible, let’s try actual doughnuts.”  Famous last words.

I am now on recipe number 4 or 5 of the doughnuts and most have different ingredients for the dough.  From what I have found, the key principles to the dough are simple: 1) make sure your yeast activates and 2) give your dough enough time to rise.  I also made some slight tweaks with the ingredients. I enjoy adding a little bit of cinnamon or brown sugar even when the recipe does not call for it.  And vanilla extract, Mel will attest that when I bake vanilla extract goes into almost anything.

While the dough part isn’t all that difficult, the cook time in the oil and thickness of the dough when you cut the doughnuts all has to be pretty exact.  After allowing the dough to rise the first time, I use a sheet pan lined with flour to roll out the dough to a thickness of between 3/8″ to 1/2″.  This step is the difference between making a doughnut that is light and airy and one that is dense and chewy.  While dense and chewy may be good, light and airy is how I like my doughnuts.

My last doughnuts were my best so far; not quite perfect but I would call them pretty damn good.  They even stayed fresh for a few days afterwards, only needing to be reheated shortly in the microwave.  They weren’t quite the yeast doughnuts that we loved from Doughnut Plant in New York City, but I put those on a silver platter that I hardly expect to reach.  It’s not like I go around and compare my pancakes to those at brunch establishments in the city (oh, wait…), why would I do that to my doughnuts?

Recipe
Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Yields ~9 Doughnuts

Ingredients
1 envelope active dry yeast (.25oz)
1/4 cup warm water (~110 degrees)
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable shortening (can be omitted)
5 cups all purpose flour (plus more for the pan)
1 quart of vegetable oil for frying

For Glaze
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2-4 tablespoons milk

1) sprinkle yeast into warm water, let dissolve and then let stand for 5-10 until foamy.  If the yeast does not get foamy, it’s not active.
2) In a large bowl, mix together the yeast mixture, milk, vanilla extract, sugar, eggs, shortening, and 2 cups of flour.  Mix for a few minutes using a wooden spoon.  Beat in remaining 3 cups of flour 1 cup at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the bowl.  Knead for about 5 minutes then transfer the dough to a greased bowl.  Set in a warm, dark place for 1.5-2 hours or until dough has doubled in size (initial rise).
3) After the initial rise, place dough into a floured cookie sheet and roll out until 1/2″ thick.  Cut the floured dough with a dougnut cutter.  Cover the cut dough with a towel and let sit for 1 hour or until roughly double in size (second rise).
4) In a shallow bowl or platter, mix the confectioners sugar, cinnamon, and 2-4 tablespoons of milk until a thick glaze has formed.
5) Heat oil in a dutch oven, heavy skilley, or deep fryer to 350 degrees.  Place doughnuts into oil and allow 20-30 seconds of cooking per side.  The doughnuts will rise in thickness.  Be careful not to overcook, judge by color of the doughnut as it frys.  Remove after cooking and allow to drain on a paper towel lined cooling rack.  Dip into glaze while still hot, allow to cool slightly, serve while warm.

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A Love Letter to the Baltimore Chocolate Top

My Darling Chocolate Top,

I so enjoyed the time we spent together during my recent visit to Baltimore.  You always entertain my taste buds with your savory sweet personality. The combination is delightful.

When I set my eyes on you, I see a work of art. I love your perfectly coiffed chocolate icing sitting upon a simple shortbread cookie.  The contrast is striking.  Just thinking about you makes my salivary glands sing!

You are one of a kind. Having lived outside of Baltimore for 15 years now, I have searched high and low for you, but your beauty can only be found in the dessert cases of Baltimore delis.  And although there are a few imitators out there, your originality can only come from the Gourmet Bakery.

The time we have spent together over the years has been wonderful.  You’ve traveled on trains and planes with my mother to visit me.  For this I am grateful.

Stay decadent my sweet and I look forward to our next rendezvous together.

Always,

Melissa

Fried Eggs with Mushrooms and Kale

When people ask me what my favorite food is, I usually say french fries, chocolate chip cookies, or sushi.  But if I am being honest with myself, it is really eggs.  I love eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I love them scrambled, poached, hard-boiled…you name it.  Which is why I am especially excited to be taking an Eggs class this term in culinary school.

One of Dave and my week night go-to meals is Fried Eggs with Mushrooms and Kale, a one pan recipe that I saw Martha Stewart demonstrating on the Today Show a while back.  It is quick, easy, and healthy.  We like kale, but really you can use any cooking greens you prefer.  We make this in our cast iron skillet since Dave has a minor obsession with it.  But any large skillet would work also.

Enjoy morning, noon or night!

Fried Eggs with Mushrooms and Kale
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 4

Ingredients
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 ounces white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
Coarse salt
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 cups cooking greens (cut into 3/4-inch-wide ribbons), such as collard, mustard, or kale
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large eggs
Garnish: finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat and add oil. Cook mushrooms with 1/2 teaspoon salt until golden and tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in garlic, then greens and water. Cook, stirring, until greens wilt.

2. Push greens to make 4 wells. Crack 1 egg into each. Season with salt. Cook for 4 minutes. Let stand until whites are set but yolks are still runny, about 4 minutes. Garnish with cheese.

Blood Oranges Three Ways

Not sure if you have noticed all the citrus in the grocery store and at produce stands, but Dave and I sure have.  We even schlepped back a bushel of citrus from our Florida road trip in December.  And ever since our juicer has been working overtime making fresh squeezed orange juice of different varietals. Let me tell you, there is nothing better than fresh squeezed orange juice!

Among my favorites this time of year is the Honeybell (aka tangelo) and most recently the blood orange.  I had obviously heard of this said blood orange (El Vez’s Blood Orange Margarita anyone?), but I had never brought one home to my own kitchen.  During one of our weekly trips to the Italian Market, Dave and I saw the oranges being sold at one of our favorite stands and picked them up.  I love the beautiful crimson color on the inside and the sweetness of its juice.

The first recipe we tried was this Blood Orange and Onion Salad.  So delightful and refreshing.

Of course, we had to test our own version of a Blood Orange Margarita.

And my sweet tooth couldn’t resist this Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake.

I even made blood orange mimosas for a recent Girls’ Dinner.  While they are in abundance, I would highly recommend picking up a few!  All three recipes are below:

Blood Orange and Red Onion Salad
Adapted from Food and Wine

1/4 small red onion thinly sliced
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
Maldon salt and fresh ground white pepper
4 blood oranges
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T basil leaves chiffonade or torn

1. In a bowl, toss the red onion with the vinegar and season with Maldon salt and white pepper. Let stand at room temperature until softened, 15 minutes. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pith. Thinly slice the oranges crosswise, removing any pits. Arrange the oranges on a platter and scatter the red onion on top. Drizzle with the olive oil and season with Maldon salt and white pepper. Garnish with the basil and serve.

Blood Orange Margaritas
Adapted from How Sweet It Is
makes a single serving

1 1/2 ounces tequila (silver or gold, based on your preference)
1 ounce aperol, grand mariner, or other orange-flavored liquor
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 1/2 ounces blood orange juice (about 1-2 oranges)
salt for the rim, lime/orange wedges for garnish

Rim the ridge of your glass with a lime wedge and dip in salt. Fill the glass with ice. In a cocktail shaker, combine tequila, aperol, blood orange and lime juice with ice, and shake for about 30 seconds. Pour over ice and squeeze in lemon and orange slices.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Butter for greasing pan
3 blood oranges
1 cup (200 grams or 7 ounces) sugar
Scant 1/2 cup (118 ml) buttermilk or plain yogurt*
3 large eggs
2/3 cup (156 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups (219 grams or 7 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream, for serving (optional)

*I actually used soy yogurt and it worked well

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Grate zest from 2 oranges and place in a bowl with sugar. Using your fingers, rub ingredients together until orange zest is evenly distributed in sugar.

2. Cut off bottom and top of the oranges so fruit is exposed and orange can stand upright on a cutting board. Cut away peel and pith, following curve of fruit with your knife. Cut orange segments out of their connective membranes and let them fall into a bowl. Repeat with another orange. Break up segments with your fingers or cut to about 1/4-inch pieces with a knife.

3. Halve remaining orange and squeeze juice into a measuring cup; you’ll will have about 1/4 cup. Add buttermilk or yogurt to juice until you have 2/3 cup liquid altogether. Pour mixture into bowl with sugar and whisk well. Whisk in eggs and olive oil.

4. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Gently stir dry ingredients into wet ones. Fold in pieces of orange segments. Pour batter into prepared pan.

5. Bake cake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until it is golden and a knife inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up. Serve with whipped cream.

Eggplant Sloppy Joe

I am always looking for ways to be creative in the kitchen, so Dave and I aren’t eating the same chicken and broccoli every week.  We try to split up our week night meals among meat, poultry, and fish, and include eggs frequently.  I didn’t grow up eating Sloppy Joes, but started making it years ago when I was looking for an alternative use for ground turkey.  It had been a while, but I decided to give it a another whirl, this time with a reduced fat recipe that came across my inbox.

In addition, Dave and I started off the New Year promising ourselves we would eat healthy during the week, and then eat whatever we want on the weekends.  This is a useful strategy since Friday night is Date Night and Saturday is Culinary School.  And so far, we have been pretty good at sticking to this edible schedule.

So, I thought why not replace the bread from the Sloppy Joe and sandwich it between two thick eggplant slices?  The results?  A healthy and satisfying meal!

*Note:  You’ll see in the eggplant preparations, you need to use salt and let the eggplants sit for 1 1/2 – 3 hrs to release their water content.  This may seem time consuming, but what I do is as soon as I walk in the door from work, I slice the eggplant, rub in the salt, set the slices in a colander over a bowl and then go about my after work tasks for that hour or two before I get dinner started.

Broiled Eggplant Slices
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients
2 lbs eggplant (about 2 medium eggplant)
1 T salt
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic (optional)
2 – 3 T minced fresh parsley leaves or finely shredded fresh basil (optional)
Ground black pepper

1. Cut off and discard stem and bottom end of each eggplant. Do not peel. Cut eggplants into 3/4-inch slices. Lay slices out on a work surface, sprinkle tops with half the salt, and rub it in with your fingers. Turn eggplant slices over and repeat procedure with remaining salt. Place eggplant in a colander, set colander over bowl or in sink, and let eggplant stand for at least 1 1/2 hours, preferably 2 to 3.

2. Rinse eggplant under cold, running water, rubbing slices lightly in your hands. Shake colander to drain. Lay slices about an inch apart on triple thickness of paper towels; cover with another triple layer of towels. Using your palms, press each eggplant slice very firmly until it looks green and translucent and feels firm and leathery when pressed between fingertips. Repeat pressing process on fresh toweling if eggplant has not yet reached this stage. Repeat with remaining eggplant slices. (Can refrigerate up to 3 hours before cooking.)

3. Heat broiler. Mix oil and garlic in small cup. Arrange eggplant slices fairly close together on a baking sheet; brush tops with half of oil mixture. Turn slices over and brush with remaining oil mixture. Broil eggplant slices about 8 inches from heat source until tops turn mahogany brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Turn slices over; broil until other sides brown, an additional 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle eggplant with herbs and pepper, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Reduced-Fat Sloppy Joes
Adapted from Cook’s Country
Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients
4 tsp vegetable oil
12 oz white mushrooms, sliced thin
2 tsp brown sugar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 medium onion, minced
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1/2 cup of ketchup
2 1/2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 cup of water
1 lb 93 percent lean ground beef
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat 2 tsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat in large nonstick skillet until shimmering.  Add mushrooms and cook until browned, about 5-7 minutes.  Transfer to food processor and pulse until mushrooms are finely ground.

2. Heat remaining oil in empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  Cook onion and processed mushrooms, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 12 minutes.  Stir in chili powder and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomato sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire, sugar, vinegar, and water.  Simmer over medium-low heat until vegetables are completely tender and sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.

3. Add beef and simmer, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes more.  Season with salt and pepper.  Divide among eggplant slices and serve.

Two of My Favorite Tips and Tricks from Culinary School

I thought I would share two of my favorite culinary school tricks I have learned so far that I am currently obsessed with in my own kitchen.  I hope they’ll be as helpful to you, as they have been to me!

1) Put a mesh drawer liner underneath your cutting board to keep it in place.

On my first day of school, the chef suggested buying mesh drawer liner as a way to stabilize your cutting board. (you can also use a damp towel, but who wants a wet towel lying around all the time?)  I thought this was brilliant and told everyone I knew about it.  I was even readily willing to cut friends and family their own piece from my personal roll.

This works wonders and you will easily be able to chop and slice without the cutting board sliding beneath you.  You can buy a roll at any hardware store.  Cut it so it is about 3/4 of the size of your cutting board.

2) Deglazing.  No more scrubbing burnt pots, pans and baking sheets!  For some recipes, you use the caramelized bits stuck to the pan (called Fond) in a sauce to accompany what was just cooked in the pan.  Typically wine or another type of liquid is used for deglazing when creating a pan sauce.  But when your pan, pot or baking sheet looks like this sans a sauce, here is what you can do:

Heat the pot, pan, or baking dish on the stove top, and pour some water it in.

Using a wooden spoon or the utensil that was used for cooking, push the bits back and forth to remove these pieces from the bottom of the pan.

Empty the pan of the liquid and debris and…….

Voila, you have a clean pan!

I wish someone would have told me about this when I received my new shiny All-Clad set 7 years ago.  Sigh.  Well, at least going forward, no more additional brown stains on my pots and pans!

Stay tuned as I plan on sharing more tidbits of useful information as I learn them!

Julia with a dash of Ina

Between Christmas and New Year’s, Dave and I took a road trip to South Florida and as we headed back north, stopped in Tampa to visit my close college friend Joy, her husband Ian, and their adorable 2 year-old son, Jack.  When I spoke with Joy a few days before our visit, she was so excited and planned an exquisite meal for us, with a deal that it would make this blog. And it turned out to be more than worthy of a post!  As Joy said to me, “I introduced you to Ina (Barefoot Contessa); I think you are ready for Julia.”

We started with store-bought Foie Gras mousse, accompanied by Barefoot Contessa’s apple and prune compote.

The main event was Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin with her garlic mashed potatoes and buttered peas from her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I.

It was a lovely evening of good food, good friends, and good conversation.  Which is how I prefer it!  Take a cue from Joy and try this menu for your next dinner party.  Bon appétit!

Warm Apple and Prune Compote
Serves 6

3 large apples, peeled, cored and each cut into 12 wedges
2/3 cup sweet dessert wine, such as Sauternes
1 1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
14 large pitted prunes (3/4 cup)
2 springs fresh rosemary
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Stir the apples, wine, lemon juice and honey together in a bowl.  Pour the mixture into one or two baking dishes large enough to hold the apples snugly in a single layer with the apples cut sides down.  Scatter the prunes among the apples and tuck the rosemary sprigs into the fruit.  Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of pepper.  Cover the baking dishes with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the baking dishes and raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Continue baking for 10 – 15 minutes, until the liquid has become syrupy.  Set aside.  (You can refrigerate the compote for 24 hours and reheat when ready to serve.)

Julia Child’s Coq Au Vin
A 3- to 4-ounce chunk of lean bacon
A heavy, 10-inch, fireproof casserole or an electric skillet
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 to 3 pounds cut-up frying chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup cognac
3 cups young, full-bodied red wine, such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Côtes du Rhône or Chianti
1 to 2 cups brown chicken stock, brown stock or canned beef bouillon
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves mashed garlic
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
12-24 brown-braised onions
1/2 pound sauteed mushrooms
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons softened butter
Sprigs of fresh parsley

Remove the rind of bacon and cut into lardons (rectangles 1/4 inch across and 1 inch long). Simmer for 10 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Rinse in cold water. Dry.

Sauté the bacon slowly in hot butter until it is very lightly browned (temperature 260 degrees for an electric skillet). Remove to a side dish.

Dry the chicken thoroughly. Brown it in the hot fat in the casserole (360 degrees for the electric skillet).

Season the chicken. Return the bacon to the casserole with the chicken. Cover and cook slowly (300 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Uncover and pour in the cognac. Averting your face, ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole back and forth for several seconds until the flames subside.

Pour the wine into the casserole. Add just enough stock or bouillon to cover the chicken. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and herbs. Bring to the simmer. Cover and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until the chicken is tender and its juices run a clear yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork. Remove the chicken to a side dish.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms (see below).

Simmer the chicken cooking liquid in the casserole for a minute or two, skimming off the fat. Then raise the heat and boil rapidly, reducing the liquid to about 2 1/4 cups. Correct seasoning. Remove from heat, discard bay leaf.

Blend the butter and flour together into a smooth paste (beurre manié). Beat the paste into the hot liquid with a wire whip. Bring to the simmer, stirring, and simmer for a minute or two. The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.

Arrange the chicken in the casserole, place the mushrooms and onions around it and baste with the sauce. Serve from the casserole, or arrange on a hot platter. Decorate with sprigs of parsley.

Brown-Braised Onions:
12 to 24 small white onions, peeled (or double the amount if you want
to use tiny frozen peeled raw onions)*
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

* If neither frozen nor fresh pearl onions are available, substitute one large onion cut into 1/2-inch pieces. (Do not use jarred pearl onions, which will turn mushy and disintegrate into the sauce.)

While chicken is cooking, drop onions into boiling water, bring water back to the boil, and let boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and drain. Cool onions in ice water. Shave off the two ends (root and stem ends) of each onion, peel carefully, and pierce a deep cross in the root end with a small knife (to keep onions whole during cooking).

In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil, add parboiled onions, and toss for several minutes until lightly browned (this will be a patchy brown). Add water to halfway up onions and add 1/4 to1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover pan and simmer slowly for 25 to 30 minutes or until onions are tender when pierce with a knife.

Mushrooms:
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, washed, well dried, left whole if small,
sliced or quartered if large
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil

Prepare mushrooms. In a large frying pan over medium heat, heat butter and olive oil; when bubbling hot, toss in mushrooms and saute over high heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from heat.  Don’t crowd the mushrooms!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
¼ cup roasted garlic cloves
½ cup milk {reduced fat is fine, but not skim}
½ cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt
2 pounds potatoes, preferably Idaho or Yukon Gold, peeled and quartered

Purée the garlic, milk and cream in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter; cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, bring a large a 3-quart or larger pan of water to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the potatoes.

Cook until tender, about 15 minutes; drain.

Arrange a potato ricer over a large heat-proof bowl and press the potatoes through it. If you don’t have a potato ricer {you should, it makes super-smooth potatoes!} just mash the potatoes in the bowl using a potato masher.

Dribble in the hot milk mixture beat until the potatoes are creamy. Taste and add more salt if you think they need it. I find that they almost always need some – start with ½ teaspoon kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon table salt and go from there.
Serve warm, sprinkled with some freshly chopped parsley or chives.

Buttered Peas with shallots
10 oz fresh or frozen peas
2 – 3 tsp butter
1 small shallot diced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the peas in a boiling pot of water for 1½ – 2 minutes (if using frozen peas, less time is needed). Remove from the water and drain.

Heat the butter over medium heat then add the shallots and cook stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add the peas to the butter and shallots, mixing well to evenly coat the peas in butter. Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste.