Sunday, February 17, 2013

Helpers in the Kitchen (Noodle day!)

Basic Pasta

Over the holidays I spent some high quality time with my sister's family and we had a great time making homemade pasta. We aren't Italian, but that doesn't mean you can't make great pasta and enjoy doing it.  My sister raises chickens, so we had the privilege of using her fresh delicious eggs which impart a nice colour and flavour.  See below for this easy recipe and with the Kitchen-Aid pasta maker attachment, rolling and cutting are a snap.

My older sister and my nephew Alec helping make pasta. 

Pasta is a classic staple in many of our homes.  Fresh pasta is a delicious alternative to the standard noodles both in taste and texture.

To Make
- Combine in the mixer bowl:  4 large eggs, 1/2 c. water, 3 1/2 c. sifted flour, and 1/2 tsp salt
-  Use the flat beater (also known as a paddle beater, or the one that looks a bit like a spade) and mix for 30 seconds on speed 2 (medium).
 - Now, put on the dough hook
- Turn back to speed 2 and let the dough knead for 2 minutes. Remove dough and knead by hand for 1-2 minutes, or until the dough is firm and smooth.
- Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. This is very important - do not skip this step!

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE GLUTEN (science time!)
In this step what you are doing is allowing the gluten that you just developed to relax.  Let me back up one step further - within the wheat kernal (the grain) you have the outer later (the bran), the oil sac (the germ), and the starch endosperm (what gets ground up and becomes what you think of when I say flour).  Whole wheat flour contains all of these components and goes rancid much faster due to the oil oxidation (oil exposed to oxygen).  Keep it in the freezer to reduce the enzyme activity for spoilage.  But - back to the gluten -> within wheat, you have several types of proteins, I will not go into all of the different types. However, there are 2 that really make the difference: Gliaden and Glutenin.  When you combine both of these proteins (though mixing) with the presence of water then you are able to create a strong and elastic protein matrix called "Gluten"!!   The proteins give strength and support to your pasta while also having a nice elastic rebound. Think about it like a stretchy elastic cord.

Whole grain flour normally makes for a heavier/ more dense bread - because the cellulosic bran layer (no gliaden or glutenin) and the oily germ layer prevent the gluten from stretching. Think about this like adding a plastic crimp in your elastic cord - it doesn't stretch very well in that spot - hence, becoming tougher.

This is also the reason that different flours are found in the grocery store - they are all specified by their respective protein content.  For bread, you want to have a strong crumb structure and develop a lot of gluten and you will find that the standard of identity for bread flour is 13% whereas a cake is much softer (also aided by the addition of sugar), but cake flour typically contains around 9% protein.  An "all-purpose flour" typically contains around 11% protein.

I have made basic egg-pasta with both all-purpose and bread flour and both turned out great. However, if you do want to substitute some of your flour for whole wheat flour, I would recommend using bread flour for the white flour in your recipe to boost the available proteins.

After you have mixed together the dough, the proteins will be tight. Allowing the dough some time to rest will relax the proteins (decreasing the tension in the matrix) and give you better stretching with less rebound.

- After your pasta has rested (and now you know why) - divide it into 4 pieces.
-You may need to use a little flour at this point, but refrain from adding too much. You don't want them to taste like flour.
- Pass this through the pasta maker (smooth rollers) to the desired thickness.
-Do this 1 piece at a time and place on a floured towel after you've rolled it out.
-I like to start at the larger setting and then reduce the thickness gradually so that it becomes more even. If you set it on the smallest setting first, it will clog the top of your machine and has a tendency to tear because you are putting a lot of shear stress (stretching in the direction of travel) on the dough.

- You can use the sheets you have made to assemble ravioli or you can change attachments like we did and add the linguine attachment. Roll your sheet through one more time and  - "Ta-Da!" you have perfect linguine.

The sheets get longer and longer - use the back of your hand to support the draping pasta as it goes through the machine. 
-Allow to dry draped over a clean rod (yardstick), or on a towel. If you use the towel, it will take longer and you might have to turn them.

Once they are dry, store in an airtight bag.  If you want to store them before they are dry, simply allow to dry for 1 hour and then place into a freezer container.

A fun activity for a cold winter day when we are all stuck inside. 

As you can see, any rods will work - this is about being creative and using what you have!

Drape the pasta over rods or place on a floured towel to allow the strands to dry. 

 - Fresh pasta cooks much faster than commercial dry pasta.
- Place in boiling, salted water and cook for 4-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of your pasta.

My 2-year old niece doing some 'quality control' on the finished product - I think it's a hit! 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Plaza (Food Hall) & Strawberry-Jalapeno Prosecco

The Plaza (Todd English's Food Hall) - PLUS - spice up your Prosecco with a Strawberry-Jalapeno   mash recipe (Amy's creation)

The Plaza Hotel in NYC ( is known for two amazing things: one being a glamorous Cinderella-spot for weddings and the other being an amazing food castle sitting beneath the hotel.  Given my current state of affairs, you can guess that I chose the to be princess of the food castle rather than the fairytale wedding.

The Food Hall, opened in 2010, has an amazing restaurant as well as several (for lack of better terms) "high end, artesian food stalls" or small booths outside of the restaurant where you can mingle around and find some exquisite treats. It actually reminds me of the Food Hall in the ritzy Harrods's Dept. store in London (on a smaller scale). See below for pictures of this fun food-tourism adventure.

Todd English is the chef in charge of the Food Hall restaurant bearing his name. 

I know it's hard to see - but these are marshmallows! 

Strawberry-Jalepeno Prosecco (I asked the bartender to blend it for me) with Lobster Hush puppies and a truffle aioli sauce.  See below for how to make this drink at home! 

Gorgeous and zingy fish tacos - Slice & seared tuna, chili-lime aioli, jalapeños and a zippy radish slaw

Brick-oven baked pizzas! This is the fig & prosciutto with gorgonzola cheese - rich and delicious! 

Francois Payard: This delightful chocolatier blesses us with another french delight - Macaroons (in the food hall).  I  absolutely LOVED the violet macaroon. I find many try to make good macaroons, but few actually succeed in reaching their goal.  This place actually deserves the right to continue making them. My favorite macaroons are from a La Maison du Chocolat when I was in Paris (there is a La Maison in the Food Hall, which I did not yet try) and these were a good resemblance form the ones I had in Paris. Well done, yet again, to the French.

Give me the bubbly stuff any time.  But amidst the world of fancy cocktails, you will occasionally find some containing Prosecco (let's dare not desecrate true Champagne).  On the drinks menu, I found a fancy drink which had a strawberry-jalapeno mash and wanting to add a little creativity to my bubbly, I asked the bartender to add some of the mash to my drink.  What I found was a delightful little kick to make the sweet bubbly have a little more complexity.  It also gives a little visual appeal to the clear liquid.

Strawberry-Jalapeno Mash

1 c. chopped strawberries, separated
2 jalapeño  peppers* - finely chopped, separated
2 Tb. water
2 Tb sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Using your immersion blender (remember, I love this tool), blend together 1/2 c of the strawberries and 1 of the jalapeño peppers, water, sugar, and salt.  Blend until smooth. Stir in the remaining strawberries and jalapeños. For best results, allow the flavors to blend and equillibrate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, but this will keep a couple days in a covered container. Add 1-2 Tb of mash to your bubby and enjoy!

You could also free portions in an ice cube tray (I would recommend only filling the standard ice-cube only half full) and then when you want a fun add to your drink - just place one cube in the bottom of a glass and add your bubbly on top. This will help keep the drink cold as well as allow you some extra preparedness before your guests arrive.

*I don't find jalapeños too spicy, but if this seems like it will be too spicy for you and your guests, feel free to only use 1 jalapeño.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Browned Butter Creme Sandwich Cookies

Browned Butter Creme Sandwich Cookies  - rich and buttery.

I absolutely love the flavor of browned butter. If you've never tried this flavor, just image caramel notes combined with the luscious melt-in-your mouth texture of a butter cookie. We had a cookie exchange and these special little cookies were a big hit! I bet you'll be surprised to find that they only have 8 ingredients.

Taking my finished cookies to the cookie exchange in a fun tin :-) I was living in the UK during the Royal wedding and enjoyed bringing home some fun memorabilia.

  • 3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
Using my cookie scoop to portion out the dough

5. Bake at 325F for 10-13 minutes or until they start to get golden brown. You really don't want to overbake these. 

Pressing the dough balls with a fork to give them a decorative look
To make the Browned Butter frosting: 
1. Place 2 Tb butter (no substitutes) into a small saucepan or skillet.

2. Heat over medium heat until the butter turns a light golden color. Depending on how hot your range gets, this can take a few minutes. Watch carefully because once the reaction starts, it will go quickly. If you burn it (it gets the color of bacon), then discard the butter (save to use on something else?) and try again.  All the flavor in the creme comes from this step, so there is no point in ruining all your hard work for only 2T of butter!!

*What you are actually doing in this step is applying heat to the dairy proteins in the butter and driving the Maillard browning reaction which is what develops the delicious flavor. This is also the reason you can't use margarine because it is made from vegetable oil which doesn't contain protein, therefore it won't brown.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine:

  • browned butter
  • 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 Tb milk
Blend until the creme reaches a spreading consistency. 

To assemble the cookies: 
1. Take 2 of your delicious cookies and spread about 1-2 tsp of creme between them. 
2. Sandwich together and enjoy!!

Cookies can be made and frosted and the entire sandwich (or just the cookies) could be placed in the freezer in a freezer-safe bag or container for 3-6 months. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Spinach and Black Bean Burgers with Sweet Chili Sauce

Spinach and Black Bean Burgers with Sweet Chili Sauce (Vegetarian & Gluten Free)

I like changing up the routine and having vegetarian meals at least once a week. Black beans are fat free and high in fiber. I blend them with fresh spinach and garlic which makes really tasty meal. These can also be made in advance and then frozen for an easy meal.

You can make a lot or a few burgers with this recipe as the proportions can very to you liking. Feel free to experiment.

To Make:
-1 egg
- 1 small yellow onion
-2-4 fresh garlic cloves, peeled (you decide based on your love for garlic)
-1/2 bag (1 cup) of dry Black beans cooked* or 1 can (16oz) black beans
- 2 cups fresh spinach
-1/2 cup pureed butternut squash (if you don't have this on hand, you can substitute pureed eggplant, pureed roasted red pepper, or any other vegetable which will impart some flavor and body, this will help bind everything together).
-1 cup rolled oats or bread crumbs
-Salt & Pepper to taste
-Sweet Chili sauce

In a medium bowl, add together the egg, garlic, onion and 1/2 of the cooked black beans. I love to blend this together using my Cuisnart immersion blender (LOVE this kitchen tool!)

Add the pureed vegetable of your choice and some of the spinach. Continue blending and adding more spinach until all of it is chopped and well mixed.  Stir in the remaining black beans (this keeps some of them intact, rather than get pulverized).  Add the salt and pepper. At this point, the mixture will be very wet. Stir in the oatmeal or bread crumbs. This will still look wet, but trust me, after an hour in the fridge, the starches will soak up and retain all of the moisture. If you added enough oatmeal at this point that you could handle the mixtures then your burgers would DEFINITELY be very dry.

Cover the mixture and allow it to rest for 30 minutes (min) or up to a day in the refrigerator. This is really easy to blend together at night and then make them the next day.

To cook - heat some olive oil in a large skillet.  I use a food ring to keep the shape and size consistent, but if you don't have one, you can just estimate the sizes. You will fry these like you were making pancakes. Your goal is to get the mixture hot and heated through to cook the egg.  Start with a medium-high heat to get the outsides nice an crunchy, like a real burger. Allow to cook and flip when golden.

To Freeze - Simply put to cooked and cooled burgers in a freezer container (ziplock bag or plastic container) and keep in the freezer for 3-6 months. Reheat and Enjoy!

To Serve - I first served these with brown rice and sweet chili sauce - a really nice accompaniment to the garlic and spinach.  However, I also tried putting a burger on crusty bread which I had spread with the tangy sweet chili sauce and then topped with slices of  fresh avocado - delicious!!

Feel free to experiment with different vegetables and ratios - let me know how it goes!

*I soak the black beans overnight in water and then I simmer them in water in a saucepan on medium heat for ~ an hour. Doing it yourself imparts less sodium than commercially canned beans and you will find that the beans are  not over-cooked, that is - unless you forget about them and boil them to death.  :-)   

Friday, January 25, 2013

My favourite English Toffee

Amy's English Toffee - you will love it!

Waiting for the chocolate chips and chunks to melt onto my English Toffee. 

I love making  this toffee every winter.  It's great to  share with friends, family, and co-workers as it makes a large pan and travels very well - in fact, I made it a week in advance and carried put the bag in my checked luggage when I went to the UK to visit friends and wanted to share a homemade treat with them. And the second best part - I've included an easy way to clean the pan!

Before you begin - make sure you have an accurate candy thermometer. We are working with sugar caramelization and sugar concentration in this system.  The temperature will tell us where we are in the reaction chemistry (heating will break the bonds in the sugar causing them to release water. As the water is released and boiled away, this will create a thicker product. This is always why the product snaps - because you have created a very hard sugar matrix without much water, ok - enough food chemistry)

Step 1. Mix 2 c sugar and 2 c butter (4 sticks) in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Bring to a boil. 

Step 2. Add 1 cup (8oz) of sliced almonds. Stir constantly while boiling the mixture. 
Start Boiling

Keep Stirring        
You are trying to get to what we call "hard-crack" stage or 300F.  Keep stirring and watching the temperature rise. I have an electric stove (heats more slowly than gas) and this took me ~12 minutes. You can see the color changes from pale gold (above) to a rich golden color (below).

Beautiful - > done at 300F
Step 3. Once you reach 300F, immediately take the pan off the heat. If you heat much higher, you will burn the candy and this is such a sad thing as the burnt taste is impossible to mask and you just have to start over. 

Pour the toffee onto a sheet of wax paper. It should be 3-5 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Use the back of a spoon to spread if necessary. Toffee will have a glossy, buttery appearance - this is normal. 

Step 4: Sprinkle 1 cup of chocolate chips (you can use chips or chunks. For this time, I used a combination of 1/2 c. dark chocolate chips and 1/2 c. Bakers semi-sweet chocolate chunks) on top of the hot toffee, see the opening photo. Allow to sit for a few minutes. When the chocolate looks shiny, use your spatula and spread the chocolate evenly over the surface. 

Step 5: Sprinkle with your favourite nuts - in this case, I used Planters chopped walnuts, but you can also use pecans. I highly recommend lightly toasting the nuts if you have time to really deepen the flavor. Lightly press into the chocolate.

Allow the toffee and chocolate to cool/harden (you may need to place in the refrigerator for a few minutes to get the chocolate hard).  Break into small pieces and keep in an airtight container. 


Step 6: The easiest bit - cleaning the sticky pan.  I normally dread this part because making caramel is always a mess. BUT - if you just add some soapy water to the pan, bring it to a boil and then let the boiling action melt away the sugary mess, all you have to do is dump out the very hot water (be careful!) and give the pan a rinse and you are done.  You will thank me when you see how easy this is and now have one less excuse for making my favorite toffee.

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto & Parmesan and a creamy orange sauce

Spaghetti Squash with Prosciutto & Parmesan in a tangy orange sauce (Gluten free)
This dish is so tasty that you will forget that you are eating mainly vegetables - a great lighter alternative to the heavy starch-based winter 'comfort' foods.

Spaghetti Squash with Proscutto & Parmesan in a tangy orange sauce
Amy Penner

Fall and winter just beg us to eat warm, hearty, comforting food to get the chill from our bones.  This dish is a real treat that is both warm and comforting.  Growing up, we would have had peas, ham, and noodles all in one meal.  I've taken these classic ingredients and upscaled them a bit to make a delicious looking and tasting dish.

I will also mention that I 'cheated' a little on my ingredients (this was made in December, I am just now publishing it).  I went to a holiday work social which had a lot of fancy appetizers - a meat and cheese tray being one of them.  The event organizers ordered a lot more food than we could consumer, and the waiters brought out take-away boxes at the end of the event, which I thought was interesting and a bit unusual.  Knowing that hard cheeses (aged parmesan) and the prosciutto could survive sitting out at room temperature for 2 hours during the event, I felt micro-safe to take some home with me. I did eat some of the meat/cheese with crackers, but decided that I might have more fun putting them into a dish, and that is how this dish was born.

I love using EVERYTHING in the kitchen, and I have a personal vendetta about letting my fruit and veg go to waste. It makes for a creative challenge - in this test, I had previously purchased a box of clementine oranges. However, I find it really difficult  to get through the entire box of them (which is a side note - but begs the question of grocery stores - why do you have to sell clementines in those massive boxes? what happened to choosing the amount that you want like every other fruit??).

After buying a box, I normally end up with about 5 lonely clementines left and I'm just so tired of eating them, no matter how easy they are to peel.  In this recipe, I squeezed them to get the juice and also got some pulp as well to give a great fresh, tangy taste to the dish. Normally a Hollandaise sauce uses lemon juice to create the pH shift to give the creaminess, but I knew that OJ would also add that acid that I needed.

My twist on several classic ingredients:
 - Prosciutto (dry cured ham) instead of ham steak
- Spaghetti squash instead of noodles (Gluten free!)
- Peas in the dish instead of beside
- Orange (clementine) juice instead of lemon juice for a sweeter, less acid tang; the sauce is a blend between a  hollandaise & white sauce (Hollandaise from the egg & orange juice, white sauce because it starts as a roux).

Step 1: Cook the spaghetti squash
The inside of a spaghetti squash

To cook your spaghetti squash - (1 large spaghetti squash)
Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds.  Place in a microwave safe dish, cut side down and add a little bit of water.  The water will create steam in the dish and cook your squash much faster than in the oven.  Make sure to keep it covered in the microwave to keep the steam close to the squash (I use plastic wrap and poke a hole in it).  Cook for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of your squash.  Once it is cooked, you should be able to easily 'flake' the squash and you will find that it easily separates into 'noodle-like' fibers. Scoop these out with a spoon or fork.  Just be careful - it will be hot! While it cools a bit, make the orange sauce (or, let it cool, then scoop out with the fork, this is easier on your hands!  You can prepare the squash 1-2 days in advance and keep in the refrigerator in a sealed container).

Step 2: To make the orange sauce - 
Getting the noodle-like flesh
from the squash. 
(2 Tb butter/ 2 Tb flour or 1 Tb cornstarch/ 1 c chicken stock/ 2 egg yolks / 1/2 c. orange juice)
 In a heavy sauce pan, add 2 Tb of butter over medium high heat. Let this melt and add 2 Tb of flour or 1 Tb of corn starch for a gluten free option. Whisk constantly until no lumps. This will look like a paste (roux). Slowly add 1 cup of chicken stock while whisking.  Add slowly to keep the sauce hot and allow it to incorporate nicely into the paste - this will give your sauce a nice texture.
Mix together 2 eggs (beat with a fork).  Add a little of the white sauce into the eggs. This will heat up the eggs to prevent 'scrambling' them if you were to just add them to the sauce. Return the egg/roux back to the pan with the rest of the sauce in it. Season with salt and pepper.  Allow to cook over med. heat for 1-2 mins, this will cook (160F) the egg yolks for food safety. After this, take the sauce off the heat and add in the juice of 3 clementines or ~1/2 c.   You need to take it off the heat to prevent flashing off the orange flavor and you need to add it at the very end as the acid in the oranges will change the pH of the sauce (more acidic) and if you add this before cooking the egg yolks, you will denature (precipitate) some of the yolk, which does not add to the nice velvety mouthfeel that you should get from this dish.

Step 3: Putting it all together - 
(1 c frozen peas/ 1/2 c  roughly chopped prosciutto /  3/4 c. large chunks of aged Parmesan cheese)
Heat a large frying pan on medium high heat, add the frozen peas and a drizlzle of olive oil. Cook until warm (1-2 minutes).  Add the spaghetti squash shreds and warm (if cold).  Add the prosciutto and parmesan and stir until blended. Add the orange sauce and stir well.  Add a little fresh cracked black pepper and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A "Sweet" treat you can make (Sugar cubes)

Sugar cubes - simpler to make than you think!

I know we are all trying to move away from sugar, fat, and salt, but at least if you are going to enjoy it - make sure it looks great! 

When I lived in the UK, it was really common to go to a coffee shop and have a bowl of white and brown sugar cubes on the tables.  The sugar cubes looked a bit more artesianal and I found it fun to figure out what size of sugar cube that I wanted in my coffee or tea. I thought it would be fun to try making these at home. 

What you need for White Sugar Cubes
1/2 cup sugar*
1 tsp water

To make: Place the sugar in a bowl and add the water. Stir with a spoon and mix the water evenly. It helps to use your hands as well because then you can get a feel for how well the sugar is sticking together. You may need to add another tsp or two, but don't get too hasty - you don't want to dissolve the sugar! 

You have enough moisture in the sugar when you can form squeeze it together and it retains its shape.  For the shape above, I used my hands and hand-shaped all the sugar and placed them on wax paper to dry. They were hard in about an hour.

*if you want to make more, just use more sugar and based on the feel of the sugar, add more water. And vice versa - if you wan to make less cubes, use less sugar and less water. 

What you need for Sugar in the Raw Cubes
1/2 cup turbinado brown sugar + 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 tsp water

In this case - the turbinado is not fine enough to form nice cubes (doesn't pack well), so you need to add the brown sugar to essentially "fill in the gaps" and keep the cube together when moistened. Otherwise you don't have enough contact points for the sugar to hold together against itself.

Mix in the same was as above and form.  Allow to dry on the wax paper.

Fun Options to personalize your sugar cubes: 
 - Use food coloring to color your sugar
- Store new (or used) vanilla bean pods in the sugar. The beans will add a lovely vanilla flavor to your sugar.
- Add edible glitter (found in speciality cake shops) to your cubes

Place them in a fun jar, add a ribbon, attach some tongs, and share with a friend!