Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers & The Danish Braid

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: what I love most about the Daring Bakers is that each month's challenge pushes me beyond my comfort zone and forces me to question my notions of baking and what I can do.

Preconceived notions about this challenge?
1) Making a laminated dough is difficult.
2) I don't like danish.

Realities realized after completing the challenge?

1) Making a laminated dough -- at least from this recipe -- is well within my ability! Sure, the instructions are lengthy, but the steps are fairly easy. The most important skill is patience: waiting for the dough to come together, waiting for the dough to rest or rise, waiting to roll and re-roll between turns and -- the most difficult to wait for -- waiting for the danish to cool so it can be eaten without burning my mouth!

2) I hadn't eaten real danish before. I love to eat real danish! The baked dough has the perfect chew, run through with flavor -- butter, vanilla, cardamom, orange -- so scrumptious! And the apple filling is to die for. Make sure you use Fuji apples; their taste and texture hold up well through the sauteeing and baking for a final result that is amazing.

So thank you Kelly and Ben for hosting this month's Daring Bakers challenge and, once again, pushing me to learn more about baking (and a little more about myself, too).

Check out the loooooooong list of Daring Bakers at the Daring Bakers Blog Roll!

Note: watching the danish braid video on this page (featuring Julia Child and Beatrice Ojakangas) really helped me visualize how to construct the braid. I highly recommend taking a look!

Danish Braid

Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough, enough for two braids

For the dough (Detrempe)
1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.

1. Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

2. After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour. Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally. Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3. Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.

Makes enough for two braids

4 Fuji or other apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Toss all ingredients except butter in a large bowl. Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until slightly nutty in color, about 6 - 8 minutes. Then add the apple mixture and sauté until apples are softened and caramelized, 10 to 15 minutes. If you’ve chosen Fujis, the apples will be caramelized, but have still retained their shape. Pour the cooked apples onto a baking sheet to cool completely before forming the braid. (If making ahead, cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate.) They will cool faster when spread in a thin layer over the surface of the sheet. After they have cooled, the filling can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Left over filling can be used as an ice cream topping, for muffins, cheesecake, or other pastries.

Makes enough for 2 large braids

1 recipe Danish Dough (see below)
2 cups apple filling, jam, or preserves (see below)

For the egg wash: 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

2. Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

3. Spoon the filling you’ve chosen to fill your braid down the center of the rectangle. Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Egg Wash
Whisk together the whole egg and yolk in a bowl and with a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid.

Proofing and Baking
1. Spray cooking oil (Pam…) onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

2. Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven.

3. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown. Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Eating Around NY, Part 3: A Nosh Here, A Nosh There

My production class is at DCTV (pictured above) so I've been checking out a few things in the Chinatown area, with detours to Astor Place and 14th St. It's an easy trip from my parents' apartment on the Upper East Side to DCTV riding the 6 line, and just as easy to hop on and off the train to explore different neighborhoods.

One of the first places I visited was Nha Trang Centre, a Vietnamese restaurant just around the corner from DCTV. The food wasn't anything special, but I did order a durian fruit milkshake. The durian is reknown for its stench -- it even it made Andrew Zimmern retch -- so I was pretty interested in seeing how they were going to serve this thing.

There it is. And, boy was it bland -- icy with a vaguely tropical flavor -- which made me think there wasn't much durian in this durian milkshake. But after drinking half, the waitress came over and asked, "You like it?"

"Yes," I said. "I've never had durian before, so I thought I'd try this. Do you like durian?"

"Oh yes!" she exclaimed. "But Americans usually can't stand the smell." And she flitted off.

The milkshake had only a vague green banana scent. I think I'm going to have to eat an actual durian to know exactly what she's talking about.


Before going to class the following night, I grabbed a quick drink and snack at the Egg Custard King Cafe.

Pictured is a banana egg custard and a Taro bubble tea with chewy black tapioca pearls. The custard was very rich, and I think I'd get a plain egg custard next time as the banana flavoring tasted artificial. The crust was very flaky and mild in flavor; I'm guessing it uses plenty of shortening, not butter. The tea had a watery flavor -- a bigger taro punch would have been nice -- but the pearls were fantastic: sweet and vaguely almondy.

After class, I strolled around St. Marks Place and Astor Place. There was a huge crowd at St. Marks around the Dessert Truck.

I wasn't hungry so I didn't get anything, but there were many, many people happily scarfing down milk chocolate mousse, coconut tapioca, lemongrass soup with fresh strawberries, and other tantalizing goodies.

I did stop at Beard Papa, which wound up being a bit of a trip down sad-sack lane (and looking back, why did I get a stupid cream puff instead of a gourmet dessert at the Dessert Truck?). Beard Papa was nearing closing time and its employees were camped out at the door, selling hawking the day's pastries to passers-by.

"Cream puffs! One dollar! One dollar cream puffs!" they called out, plaintively.

I almost didn't buy one. There is something sad and desperate about selling -- and buying -- discount pastry. But then I rationalized that it was still the *same* puff I'd come to check out (after reading so much about them), and I'd just gotten lucky that they were on sale.

So I stopped being a food snob and got a vanilla. I liked the choux better than the, but again, I wasn't hungry and that may have thrown my perception off. (That, and I'm not the biggest cream puff fan. So, again -- WHY did I eschew the Dessert Truck for Beard Papa?)


Last night, I picked up another pre-class snack at the Canal Cafe Bakery; taro bubble tea with black pearls again, plus mini black bean moon cakes.

The taro tea was fantastic: sweet with perfectly chewy pearls. I wish I could describe the flavor of taro for you, but I'm at a loss. Just go have a taro bubble tea and taste for yourself.

The moon cakes were also very good, reminiscent of a fig newton. The filling is mildly sweet with a slightly sesame flavor. And look a the pretty design on the top of each cake! Again, go to Chinatown and taste it for yourself.


At some point, I stopped at Papaya King to eat their kick-ass hot dogs.

Ohhh, Papaya King. How I love your snappy dogs and banana daiquiris! (I know everyone goes crazy for their eponymous papaya drink, but I've always preferred the banana.)

Alas, they'd run out of banana, so I opted for pina colada instead -- delicious. And the dog, loaded with kraut and spicy mustard, did not disappoint, either; it fabulous as usual.

I have no pics of this but after stopping at the Morgan Library & Museum to look at not one, not two, but THREE Gutenberg Bibles (here's the signifcance) and an advertising exhibition at the NYPL ,I stopped at Tiffin Wallah for their lunch buffet. The food is terrific. Nothing was labelled, however, so I'm trying to remember exactly what was available: Palak Paneer, I think, a lentil curry, and a delicious hot entree featuring beats, plus two types of breads, two types of rices, various condiments, salad, and gulab jamun.

And here's the kicker -- access to this buffet is only SIX DOLLARS. The downside is that the space is small and, at lunch time, the restaurant is busy, so it's not the place for a leisurely meal.

But, six bucks! For lunch! In Manhattan!
It's weird, but that was the same day that a giant bumblebee found its way into the packed subway car I was riding in, plus a man actually moved over so that I could sit down, so maybe it's miracle time in NYC.

Next up: dining in high fashion with the Goddess of Bread.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Eating Around NY, Part 2: Yogurt Wars

After reading tons of stuff about Pinkberry and Red Mango -- people are crazy for it -- I made a point to check them out. The NY Times describes the new wave of frozen yogurt shops as "a simple formula of fresh fruit toppings on a consciously tart, decidedly yogurt-flavor creamy swirl that drives certain people to distraction."

Pinkberry was the first to land in NYC, with Red Mango quickly following suit (although it appears Red Mango was actually around before Pinkberry, but the latter made it to the US first).

I tasted both the original and green tea flavors at each shop (Pinkberry also has a coffee flavor I didn't sample).

Pinkberry's Green tea with coconut.

Pinkberry's plain flavor (called "pinkberry") is tart, very similar in taste to plain yogurt with just a bit of sugar. I preferred their green tea; the macha, a delicate flavor, mellowed the yogurt's tang a bit. It paired nicely with the coconut.

The texture on both flavors was icy; not in a granular way, but it's very clear that there's no fat to add a silky mouthfeel.

Red Mango's original with blueberries.

I really liked Pinkberry -- different, light, refreshing -- until I tasted Red Mango's yogurt. Their original is tangy, but not as sharp as Pinkberry's, slightly sweeter and has a light vanilla flavor; it's a winner. Their green tea packs a bigger macha wallop, too -- while Pinkberry's green tea was very light, Red Mango's macha is much more present . Additionally, both Red Mango flavors had a creamy, silky texture; it's hard to believe there's no fat in it. If you look at the pictures, you can even see that the Red Mango yogurt is more lush than Pinkberry's.

The verdict? Red Mango, all the way. (It's cheaper than Pinkberry, too.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Eating around NY, part 1

I flew into JFK late Saturday afternoon, met my Dad who was picking me up at the airport, and we drove into Manhattan where he works & lives. Since 1994, he's been the building manager of an upper-east side 5th avenue apartment building that overlooks Central Park. A huge perk -- and, at the same time, problem -- of the job is that he and my mom live in the building; so while they live rent free in one of the nicest building in NY, my dad is always on call for any big (or ridiculously small) problem.

There are stories. Many, many stories -- which I will not divulge here.

In any event, we had pizza from Little Vincent's on Saturday night. Little Vincent's will never be a pizza mecca but LV's is the type of pizza I ate growing up on Long Island, and it's still pretty good. We ordered half-regular, half-meatball and the meatball was just as I like it: round, thin slices about 2-inches in diameter polka-dotting the surface of the pie.

On Sunday, I headed to Brooklyn to visit my cousin Matt, his wife Catherine, and their 18 month old daughter, Fiona, who were such gracious hosts and completely indulged my foodie wants! We hung out at their apartment a bit, sipping bloody marys and noshing on prosciutto, figs, and local strawberries (tough life, huh?) before venturing out into the Smith Street Fest.

It was pleasantly crowded, with lots of local eateries setting up shop on the street and selling their wares.

This meringue was too pretty not to buy, but I can’t say they packed with flavor.

Matt was much smarter and bought grilled lamb sausage with a thin smear of mustard, all on a good hunk of baguette. It was fabulous: the lamb’s flavor shone through, enhanced by char from the grill. It was a bit oily --but in a good way -- and the juices trickled into the bread.

We wandered past the fair and around the corner to check out several other places. The first stop was F. Monteleone & Cammareri Bros. bakery. The shop was packed with Italian pastries (and smelled like the Italian (-American) bakery by which I judge all others, La Guli) but Matt recommended the chocolate chip. I can see the appeal, but their not my favorite. They’re dry and sandy (made with shortening? And definitely only white sugar) but are studded with discs of dark chocolate.

We also stopped in next door at D’amico Coffee Roasters , rated the number one coffee roasters in NY by the Zagat Survey (watch WNBC story here ). Not surprisingly, D’amico smells divine. Matt bought me a pound of the Jamaican Blue Mountain and I’m looking forward to trying it when I get back home.

Next stop was Sweet Melissa’s Patisserie . My goal was to get their butterscotch pudding, of which Ed Levine says is “the best butterscotch pudding [he's] ever had in New York City."

Butterscotch pudding always strikes me as sickly sweet, but if Levine was raving about it, it had to be good.

The verdict: it tastes nothing like butterscotch but like caramel, one with burnt sugar notes. And it’s creamier yet firmer than a pudding. I’m not saying it’s bad – I had no trouble polishing it off – but I don’t think it’s a must taste.

Our final stop was One Girl Cookies . It’s a very pretty space, and the cookies are daintily displayed behind a glass case in a fashion similar to the way fine chocolates might be shown off. By this point, however, I was too full for cookies.

I did have a few spoonfuls of the gelato Matt purchased there: a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of banana which I think came Il Laboratorio de Gelato. If so, the every good thing said about Il Laboratorio de Gelato is completely justified. The chocolate gelato tasted like a rich, decadent chocolate truffle and the banana (a greatly underused flavor in ice creams and gelatos, if you ask me!) was fresh yet lush.

Catherine, Matt, Fiona and I strolled back towards the street festival, and ambled through a little bit, stopping to look at a confectionery oddity Catherine spotted: gummy bacon. I should have checked to see if it tasted like bacon, or was just shaped like it.

I headed back into the city around 3:30pm (Matt and Catherine decided to take Fiona to the park and, maybe the heat – or the vodka-spiked bloody mary I’d drank earlier on an empty stomach, the one which I’d suggested needed *more* vodka -- was getting to me, but I wasn’t feeling so hot). I hopped on the F train and enjoyed the coolness of the air condition. A few stops later, I was at the Delancey St. station and, though I was still feeling kind of ill, the insistent foodie in me made me get up off the train and walk a couple of blocks to (wait for it) the Doughnut Plant.
A low slung building with a small public space on Grand St., the Doughnut Plant was bustling with customers. Still, I only had a short wait to place my order, and I took home a sampling of what was in stock. At Matt’s earlier recommendation (“get whatever they’re brewing in the jug”), I also grabbed a strawberry lemonade, handed over $22 (it’s $1.75 to $2.00 per donut; the guys next to me bought three boxes, and paid the cashier a crisp $100 bill but, yes, they got change back) and made my way back to the subway station.

At this point, I was pretty hot, tired and sore (why I thought wearing cork wedge sandals around town would be a good idea is beyond me, though, they’re the only shoes I brought that matched my dress).
I'm pretty cranky at this point. But the strawberry lemonade – oh, delicious strawberry lemonade – was the perfect refresher.

It took me a while to get back to the apartment and I crashed for a long while before even thinking about the doughnuts. And then I descended upon them.

Unfortunately, these were not the doughnut nirvana I was hoping they’d be. The flavors -- tres leches (cake), blackout (cake), raspberry glazed (cake), key lime glazed (cake), coconut glazed, coconut cream (yeast), peanut butter glazed, strawberry jelly (yeast), vanilla bean glazed, strawberry jelly, and Valhrona chocolate – are by all means inventive, use quality ingredients, and taste really great.

But the doughnuts themselves – the cake and yeast doughnut bases – are meh. With the exception of the blackout doughnut (definitely the best cake doughnut) each basic doughnut appears repurposed for different flavors; i.e., the difference between a raspberry and key lime doughnut is only the glaze you top it with. These could have been *so much better* if the fruit flavors were incorporated into the batter.

As for the yeast doughnuts, they’re chewier and more hearty than a traditional version. Are they made with whole wheat flour? It doesn’t work for me as a dessert (though it was kind of effective in the peanut butter and jelly version as the doughnut recalls bread).

I do really like the coconut doughnut’s glaze, but thought the coconut cream filling could have been, well, more coconutty – and then there’s that issue again with the texture.

My mom basically thought they were evil (“I hope you debunk the myth on these”) but my dad was quietly kinder: a few doughnuts that were in the box last night had disappeared by this morning.

Verdict on the Doughnut Plant: like Matt said, grab a glass of whatever they’re brewing in the glass jug, pick up a doughnut if you must, but don’t blow any significant cash on their stuff.

Next up: Pinkberry vs. Red Mango.

Friday, June 20, 2008

NYC "Must Taste" List?

Donuts from The Donut Plant: they will be mine. Oh yes, they will be mine.

Tomorrow, I'm headed to New York for a DV production course. I'm looking forward seeing my family, visiting a few old friends and just rambling around the city.

Not suprisingly, I'm going to hit up several restaurants, gourmet shops and goodie vendors on my "must taste" list while I'm in town, but the list could be waaaaaay longer. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pomegranate Margarita Ice

If only we had margarita glasses...

Inspired by this lovely cocktail, the pomegranate margarita sorbet is a refreshing and sophisticated way to end a summer's meal. In addition to lime and pomegranate juice, there's a bit of tequila and Cointreau in here; not enough to get a buzz but maybe more than you'd feel comfortable serving children.

Pomegranate Margarita Sorbet
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 cups pomegranate juice
Zest of one lime, cut into 1-inch wide strips
Juice of 2 limes (approx. 6 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp. tequila (recommended: Patron Silver)
1 Tbsp. Cointreau

Place sugar, water, pomegranate juice, and lime zest in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Discard lime zest.

Add lime juice, tequila, and Cointreau to pomegranate mixture and refrigerate until well chilled. at least 2 hours. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an air-tight container, cover and freeze until firm, about 6 hours.

Yields approximately one quart.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Golden Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting

Two Sundays ago, Shane and I worked a shift on the Fellenz Family Farm as part of our obligation to the UUCC CSA. After nearly four hours of hoeing and transplanting, we'd worked up quite an appetite. Shane wanted a big breakfast -- eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, hash browns -- but I wanted a huge slab of vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. The craving was so vivid I could almost taste it.

Unfortunately, the diner where we stopped to eat didn't have this kind of cake. So when we returned home, I headed into the kitchen.

The result was a dense and moist golden cake, similar in flavor to a pound cake but with a lighter texture and flavor, perfect to pair with frosting.

The frosting, which uses a hefty dose of sour cream, has a definite tang and although it includes 30 oz. of melted chocolate, is not very sweet. This is a frosting for adult palates, so if you're looking for something more traditional, look elsewhere!

Golden Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting (from

3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 cups sour cream

20 oz fine-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped
10 oz fine-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla

To make cake, preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Butter 2 (9- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottoms of each with rounds of wax or parchment paper. Butter paper and dust pans with flour, knocking out excess.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in vanilla. Add half of flour mixture and mix at low speed until just blended. Add sour cream, mixing until just combined, then add remaining flour mixture, mixing at low speed until batter is smooth.

Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops.

Bake in middle of oven until cake is springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes, then invert onto racks, remove paper, and cool completely.

Trim tops of cooled cake layers with a long serrated knife if necessary to make flat and level; frost.

To make frosting, melt chocolates in a double boiler or a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally. Remove bowl from heat, then whisk in sour cream and vanilla. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally (frosting will become thick enough to spread). You must work quickly and spread the frosting before it becomes too thick. (If icing does become stiff, reheat over simmering water, then cool and try again.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

EFL Spring 2008 online!

The debut issue of Edible Finger Lakes (with my article on CSAs) is now online. Click here to read the full issue.

The summer issue is scheduled to hit newsstands on July 15 and features with many tasty articles (including one I wrote) -- be on the look out!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sugar Plums Dancing in My Head, Ed. #5

New Camera

Unfortunately, I still don't have pics for the blog due to my camera’s untimely death but, on a happier note, I’m awaiting its replacement from Broadway Photo.

This camera, a Fujifilm s8100fd, promises to be a winner -- I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Buying it from Broadway saved us at least $100 to boot .

UPDATE: ARRRGH. I just got a phonecall from Broadway Photo. They tried to sell me at least $100 worth of extra stuff -- batteries & recharger, memory card, camera case, extended warranty --that I "need" for the camera. WTF?!? I told them to hold my order & I'd call them back. So, who the hell knows when I'm getting a camera. I HATE the hard sell. Grr.

The Happening

Are Shane & I the only ones excited about The Happening? (Probably. I think we're the only people who liked Lady In The Water.) I read a spoiler for The Happening on IMDB, went to bed and promptly had a nightmare. Awesome.


Renee at Cafe Nay Nay tagged me for a meme!

The rules: Each participant answers questions about him/herself. At the end of the post, the participant tags five people. Their names are posted letting them know they’ve been tagged. They then have to read the participant’s blog. The tagged lets the tagger know when the answers have been posted. Here we go!

What was I doing ten years ago?
10 years ago, I was in living in NYC. I'd just finished my Junior year at Marymount Manhattan College and a Spring internship at Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee. I was dealing with my mounting anxiety as to what I was going to do after graduation. (After working at Live!, I knew I wasn’t going to be happy working in TV.) Since it was June, I was probably working the service elevator at the 5th Avenue apartment co-op my dad manages.

Five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today
1. Clean the kitchen.
2. Research ice cream recipes.
3. Stress out about upcoming deadlines.
4. Enjoy the rare hot weather we’re having.
5. Watch The Daily Show & Colbert Report I ti-faux’ed last night

Five Snacks I enjoy
Good god, I could snack all day long
1. Bachman’s Jax cheese puffs
2. Of late, bagels
3. Also of late, ice cream
4. Sweetened cereal (e.g., Cap’n Crunch, Honeycomb, etc.)
5. Coffee with delicious-yet-horrible-for-you flavored creamer

Things I would do if I were a billionaire
Travel around the world
Pay off all my student loans
Work hard to create socio-economic equality the world over
Become the FCC’s worst nightmare

Places I have lived
Long Island
Finger Lakes Region (New York State)
Wayne, ME (summer job)

Jobs I have had
Service elevator operator
Art counselor at an all boys’ summer camp (Camp "Hellonearth")
Ghost writer for Gridlock Sam
Associate Editor at Videography magazine
Adjunct professor at MMC, IC, FLCC & MCC
Freelance Writer

I tag
Maltese Parakeet, all of Peanut Butter Etouffee
Susan of Food Blogga
Tracy of Ra Cha Chow

Monday, June 09, 2008

Grilled Ham Steaks with Rhubarb Chutney

Sometimes, it's amazing how easy it is to turn out delicious food.

All you need to do here is grill up a ham steak and top it with a chutney that comes together in 15 minutes. The combination of salty, smoky ham with the tart but sweet rhubarb cherry concoction is phenomenal. For summer, pair it with a fresh green salad and a cold beer; for winter, serve it with roasted root vegetables and a good wine.

(Leftover chutney is fabulous on turkey sandwiches.)

Grilled Ham Steaks with Rhubarb Chutney (slightly adapted)

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1 cup 1/2-inch pieces fresh rhubarb
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup cherry preserves
1/4 cup dried cherries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 13-ounce ham steak

Toast mustard seeds in medium saucepan over medium heat until beginning to pop, about 2 minutes. Add rhubarb, red onion, water, cherry preserves, dried cherries, sugar and balsamic. Simmer until rhubarb is tender, 5 minutes. Increase heat to high; boil until mixture thickens, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat grill to medium and cook until brown at edges, about 3 minutes. Top with chutney and serve.

Serves 2.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Real Honest Jewish Purist's bagels

A caraway and sea salt bagel with a wild garlic cream cheese schmear.

There are three types of food I'm very particular (if not snobby) about:
1) Pizza (NY style Neapolitan)
2) Lasagna (mine)
3) Bagels

I'm not sure many people have had genuine bagels. (Mmm... genuine bagels.) They're not perfectly round, their consistency is not like other breads, and you don't just pop them in the oven.

Real bagels have a slightly exterior, with a good chewy --not gummy-- interior. They're hand formed and so are not perfect circles. Nor are they smooth. They're boiled, then baked. They're served with a schmear. They are fantastic. But outside of the NY metro area, they are hard to come by.

As you might know, the June 2007 Daring Baker challenge was to make bagels. Though I wasn't a member at that time, I knew I had to use their recipe for Real Honest Jewish Purist's bagels (the link to the original recipe does not seem to be working).

The recipe yield is for 15 but those would be huge, so using a bit less dough, I got approximately 22 satisfyingly sized bagels.

The recipe says that, ideally, when you boil the bagels, they'll sink to the bottom and then begin to rise to the top. Not ONE bagel sunk to the bottom (which seems pretty consistent with other DBers' experiences) so I held them under water for a few seconds with a slotted spoon.

Upon baking, the first batch of bagels -- poofy from their stint in the water -- flattened out while baking. In subsequent batches, I used the convection feature on my oven and received better results.

But the taste? Outstanding; just like those in a good NY bagel shop. I ate at three the day I made them -- bagels sprinkled with caraway seeds and sea salt and filled with a homemade wild garlic cream cheese -- and have eaten one everyday since.

Sadly, my supply is running low. I guess I'll just have to make some more ...

Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels

6-8 cups bread (high-gluten) flour
4 tablespoons dry baking yeast
6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey (clover honey is good)
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups hot water
a bit of vegetable oil
1 gallon water
3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
a few handfuls of cornmeal

large mixing bowl
wire whisk
measuring cups and spoons
wooden mixing spoon
butter knife or baker's dough blade
clean, dry surface for kneading
3 clean, dry kitchen towels
warm, but not hot, place to set dough to rise
large stockpot
slotted spoon
2 baking sheets

How You Do It:
Step 1- Proof Yeast: Pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.

Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.

Step 2- Make Dough: At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.

When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time.

Step 3- Knead Dough: Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat counter top or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or counter top, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.

Step 4- Let Dough Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with one of your clean kitchen towels, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.

Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrade) is ideal for rising dough.

Step 5- Prepare Water for Bagels: While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move.

Step 6- Form Bagels: Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks.
Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.

Step 7- Pre-heat Oven: Begin to preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 8- Half Proof and Boil Bagels: Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water. If they float, it's not a big deal, but it does mean that you'll have a somewhat more bready (and less bagely) texture. Let the bagel simmer for about three minutes, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another three minutes, and then lift the bagels out of the water and set them on a clean kitchen towel that has been spread on the counter top for this purpose. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup or sugar in the boiling water.

Step 9- Bake Bagels: Once all the bagels have been boiled, prepare your baking sheets by sprinkling them with cornmeal. Then arrange the bagels on the prepared baking sheets and put them in the oven. Let them bake for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn them over and put them back in the oven to finish baking for about ten minutes more. This will help to prevent flat-bottomed bagels.

Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on a dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. Don't do it.

How To Customize Outside of Bagels: After boiling but before baking, brush the bagels with a wash made of 1 egg white and 3 tablespoons ice water beaten together. Sprinkle with the topping of your choice: poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds, toasted onion or raw garlic bits, salt or whatever you like. Just remember that bagels are essentially a savory baked good, not a sweet one, and so things like fruit and sweet spices are really rather out of place.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sugar Plums Dancing in My Head, Ed. #4

The one and only Nick Tahou Garbage plate. (Source)

Garbage Plates

A few days ago, Edward Schneider, a contributor to Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten, posted on garbage plates. Living in a suburb of Rochester, NY, where the garbage plate was invented, I was excited to see what Schneider had to say. He writes:
The scholar in me knows that “garbage plate” has a particular meaning in the lexicon of regional American gastronomy, specifically that of western New York State. But in my house it has broader connotations, relating to the amalgamation of disparate leftovers into a single mass, for human consumption.

In other words, if there’s a half cup of this and a third cup of that, plus a quarter cup of ratatouille, it all gets microwaved or sautéed and mixed up into a one-person meal.

Oh, a topical bait-and-switch. Bummer.

The comments section is filled with other's "surprising combinations they have perpetrated in the name of clearing out the fridge" but the best comment is from Nathan, who seems just as disappointed in this Bitten post as me:

"It’s actually just Rochester, not ‘Western NY’," writes Nathan, "and it would be blasphemous to mention Ratatouille in the same conversation as a Garbage Plate there."

Hee! So true.

If you haven't heard about garbage plates, take a look at Please Pass the Salt Potatoes' Nick Tahou Garbage Plate video, produced by by the Telecom students at Cayuga Community College. Their professor, Steve Keeler, co-leads the Media/Broadcasting: The British Experience course I participated last January (Steve's a big foodie, to boot).

I Smell Sex and Candy...

I'm not a Gwyneth Paltrow fan, so my excitement for this fall's Spain ... On The Road Again, the HD food and travel show in which she's featured, is a bit dampened. Paltrow, along with Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, and actress Claudia Bassols, ate and drank their way through Spain driving from place to place in -- I kid you not -- a fleet of Mercedes.

It certainly makes sense to have a show featuring chefs on a foodie road trip, but why include Paltrow and Bassols? The only reason I can think of -- unless Paltrow and Bassols have some culinary training that we're not aware of -- is eye candy. And I hate when food and/or travel shows feel the need to "spice" things up with gratuitous T & A. The gorgeous locales and the sumptuous food aren't enough; the narrow definition of female beauty has to be introduced and exploited once again?

Additionally, Batali was recently quoted on Paltrow's exercise regimen:
"[She] loves to eat ... and, you know, she never puts on a pound! I think she works out three hours a day - which is one of the keys to success. If we all did that, we’d all look like Gwyneth Paltrow. Or at least closer."

Arrgh. It's enough to put one off one's sangria and paella. But that's probably a good thing because if we want to look like Paltrow, we either have to spend one-fifth of our waking hours exercising or starve ourselves instead. Whee!

My camera, a Sony cyber shot, has been down for months due to what I thought was a faulty adaptor. I bought a battery charger, thinking that would solve things but, unfortunately, the battery isn't the problem; it's something with the camera itself.
So, I've been borrowing Shane's camera for the blog but he left the adaptor in Florida last week and the camera ran out of juice yesterday. Today, I went to Radio Shack for a universal adaptor and, although brought in the camera and had the manager select the adaptor, it appears the adaptor fried the battery.

So, again, no frigging digital camera.

Shane is so irked by all this that he doesn't want to discuss getting a new camera. I'm sure it doesn't help that I'm a nudge and all I WANT to do is bring it up until the situation is solved. (This is a habitual dynamic, played out in everything from pet care to child rearing.)

In any event, if you have suggestions for digital cameras or repair ideas, please let me know.

On a more positive (and drunk) note
Red wine may be much more potent than was thought in extending human lifespan, researchers say in a new report that is likely to give impetus to the rapidly growing search for longevity drugs.

The study is based on dosing mice with resveratrol, an ingredient of some red wines. Some scientists are already taking resveratrol in capsule form, but others believe it is far too early to take the drug, especially using wine as its source, until there is better data on its safety and effectiveness. [...]

One of the more spectacular results was obtained last year by Dr. John Auwerx of the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in Illkirch, France. He showed that resveratrol could turn plain vanilla, couch-potato mice into champion athletes, making them run twice as far on a treadmill before collapsing.
You know what this means? You can go that much further on a bar crawl if you stick to red wine.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Orange Scones with Rhubarb and Cherries

Last week's CSA share contained four large stalks of rhubarb. I wanted to use them, but not in a pie, crumble or bar. So I adapted a recipe for moist scone, mixing the rhubarb with orange and cherries.

The main flavor in the resulting scone is orange, but the rhubarb gives each bite a little tang and the cherries add a touch of sweetness.

They were delicious -- Shane ate six of them in one day.

Orange Scones with Rhubarb and Cherries

2/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 c. sugar
2 1/2 tsps. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. fresh orange zest
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp.) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
2 cups finely chopped rhubarb (about two large stalks)
1/3 cup dried cherries
Cooking spray

Combine milk, vanilla and egg; place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 425-degrees F.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange zest in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk mixture, and pulse until just until moist. Add rhubarb and cherries and mix by hand thoroughly.

Turn the dough out onto parchment lined baking sheet and, with floured hands, pat dough into an 8-inch circle (dough will be very sticky). Cut dough into 8 wedges but do not separate. Bake for 20 minutes or until browned. Serve warm.

Serves 8.