Monday, November 28, 2011

Lamb Patstitsio

Food 52 hosts weekly contests to see who can make the best dish in a given category.  A while back, they hosted a best baked pasta contest. This recipe won, and has become one of my favorite comfort food dishes. It takes some time, but is actually quite simple and totally worth it. 

Pasta & Meat:
  • 1 lb penne pasta (I have also made this with my new fave pasta, gemelli, and it was great)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2lb ground lamb
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 1/2 c red wine
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • zest of one lemon 
    • The recipe actually calls for 1/2 tsp ground sumac. I can never find this spice where I live, but the google machine told me I could sub in lemon zest. I have never had it with sumac, but the lemon zest really makes this dish awesome, so I don't think I'm missing anything.
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 oz crumbled feta
Cheese sauce:
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 3 c milk
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne 
  • 1/4 c grated parm
- Cook the pasta, leaving it with a slight bite. Drain the pasta and mix it with the tbsp of butter.
- Cook the lamb and the onions- I like to do this separately so that the onions can take a little more time and get slightly caramelized on their own.

- Drain the fat from the lamb and combine the meat with the onions. Add wine and cook the mixture until most of the liquid evaporates.
-Stir in the tomato paste. This step is important- all the mixture to cook for a couple of minutes. This lets the tomato paste kind of "toast" a bit and adds another layer of flavor.
- Add cinnamon, oregano, half of lemon zest (or all of the sumac), mint, and 2 c of water.

-Simmer until this mixture thickens (about 15-20 minutes.) Season liberally with salt and pepper.

-Preheat the oven to 350 while you make the cheese sauce:
-Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan, whisk in the flour.
-Add the milk to the mixture slowly, whisking continuously.

-Cook until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon:

- Stir in the cayene and parmesan cheese. 

- In a large bowl, mix the pasta with the lamb mixture. Add in the feta and the rest of the lemon zest.
-**Taste it and make sure there is enough salt. It may just be me, but I have a tendency to undersalt this dish. There are no salty ingredients except that bit of parm in the sauce, so you should make sure there is enough to really highlight all of the flavors. 

- Pour the lamb and noodles into a 9x13 baking dish, cover with the cheese sauce.

- Bake at 350 until the sauce is bubbly and browned in spots- about 35-40 minutes.

- Grab a bowlful, get comfy, and enjoy.....

Holiday Cookies #3: Salted Caramel Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Raise your hand if you like the salted caramel hot chocolate they are serving at every coffee shop these days.

Awesome. Now put your hand down, people are starting to stare.

The reason I ask is that I love salted caramel hot chocolate. And it turns out that these cookies ARE salted caramel hot chocolate. But in easy to transport cookie form. I'm not gonna lie, there is a looooot of butter involved. And sugar. These are by no means a healthy cookie. But I think the mental health they impart is worth the damage they may do physically. Plus, it's the holidays- live a little.

This recipe came from the same place as my favorite Mexican Hot Chocolate cookies. I may have mixed feelings about Martha Stewart, but that woman has some mean cookie recipes... It's not a difficult recipe, but it can take a little time. As I am typing this, I have only turned about 1/3 of the cookies into sandwiches. I am le tired.

Ok, enough chit chat. Here's what happened:

Salted Caramel Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- Preheat your oven to 375 deg.
- Beat the butter with the sugar with an electric mixer until it's pale yellow and fluffy:

- Beat in the egg yolk (you may need more than this... read on)
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
-*** The recipe says that at this point a dough is supposed to form. Here is what mine looked like:

It was crumbly and dry... I used a large egg, but perhaps my large egg yolk was just not large enough. So I decided to whisk the egg white to get it mildly frothy and mix it into the dough. After that, it looked like this:

....and was very easy to scoop and handle. Not sure what I would do if I had it to do over... I'm happy with how they turned out, so maybe just add the whole egg where I was supposed to add the yolk...

Moving on...
- Drop the dough by "level teaspoons" onto a parchment lined baking sheet, spacing about 1" apart.
     - I used an actual teaspoon measure that I had and leveled off the top so that they came out as round little scoops with flat bottoms.

- The recipe says to bake them for 8 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. I did the first batch that way and ended up baking the remaining batches at 6 minutes without turning the pan. The 8 minute batch was a little flatter and crisper than I would have liked.

8 minute batch

6 minute batch- a little fluffier
- While the cookies cool, work on the caramel sauce and icing:

Caramel Sauce
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
 - In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat sugar over medium-high until it starts to melt and you see the edges start to brown. This should take 2- 3 minutes. With a heat-resistant spatula, pull melted sugar toward the center of the pan until all sugar is melted and caramel is deep amber in color. Once the sugar starts to melt, it shouldn't take long for it to get to this point.

- Once it gets a pretty caramel color, immediately whisk in  the butter, salt, and vanilla extract.  There will be some bubbling, just keep whisking to make sure it all gets combined.Whisk in the heavy cream.
     - This all happens pretty quick (not even time to take a photo of the process!), so make sure you have your ingredients at the ready before you start making the sauce.

- Remove it from the heat. If you are not going to make the icing immediately, put it in a heat-resistant container and let it cool.

To convert caramel sauce to icing:

  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (or maybe slightly warmer...)
  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
- The recipe said that you simply "beat the butter and cooled caramel sauce until smooth."

This is much easier said than done with room temperature butter. I ended up setting my bowl on top of the stove and let the heat melt the butter down until I was able to get it smooth. I would suggest using slightly warmer butter- although not completely melted, as that would make for a completely different texture.Here's how mine looked after a bit of stovetop melting:

- Gradually add in the powdered sugar and continue to beat with a wooden spoon until smooth:

I considered using less powdered sugar, but it wasn't thick enough with only 1 cup, so I just went with it and tossed it in. The resulting icing was just a little looser than a buttercream and spread nicely on the cookies.

The icing is *pretty sweet* so I would make sure you taste it before you start slathering it on the cookies- just to gauge the amount you want on each sandwich.

NOTE:  If you have an odd number of cookies, it is perfectly acceptable to spread these odd cookies out with caramel icing and use them as "testers." If you actually end up with a perfectly even number, just eat one. Then you will have an odd number. Then just eat one more. Problem solved.
Using the teaspoon-sized scoops, this recipe made just about 60 cookies. Do a little math... carry the one... that made for approximately 29 sandwiches. Yep. 29 ;)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holiday Cookies #2: Orange Butter Cookies with a Grand Marnier Glaze

I found this recipe in the holiday edition of Fine Cooking magazine last year and couldn't wait for the holidays to roll around again so I could have an excuse to bake up a batch (or two...)
These cookies are simple to make, yet have a great complex flavor- the combination of citrus with a hint of salt nicely compliment the naturally buttery flavor of the cookie. They look great cut into clean, simple circles, or you can get creative and use more holiday-appropriate shapes :) I was tempted to use my ninjabreadmen cookie cutters, but I opted for some simple flower cutters instead. 
The cookies can take a bit of time to make, depending on the size of the shapes you use. Using these relatively small shapes, this batch made approximately 4 dozen cookies.

Orange Butter Cookies with Grand Marnier Glaze

  • 2 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbs. finely grated orange zest
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Grand Marnier glaze:
  • 4 oz. (1 cup) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tbs. Grand Marnier
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. heavy cream; more as needed
  • 2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
  • Pinch of table salt
- Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

- Beat the butter, sugar, and zest until well-blended, about 2 minutes:

- Add egg yolks one at a time, mixing until blended after each.  Add vanilla with the last egg yolk, and mix for one additional minute. 

- Add the flour and mix on low speed until moist clumps form- this should take about 1 minute.
- Turn dough onto a work surface and divide into 2 discs:
-Wrap each disc in plastic and refrigerate for abut 30 minutes. 
-After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 350 deg. Roll the dough to approx 1/4" thick. 
- Cut the dough into desired shapes and place about 1" apart.

-Bake until the edges become golden brown, 9-13 minutes. Again, this will depend on size, so I would keep an eye on them starting at 8 minutes if your cookies are small. Also, depending on how your oven heats, you may want to rotate the pan halfway through.
-Mix the glaze ingredients. I have made this a couple of times and this part will be a matter of personal preference. Don't get me wrong,  I looove the flavor of Grand Marnier. However, the raw flavor of 2 tbsp of the liquor can end up overwhelming all of the other flavors. It might be best to just add one tbsp and, if that is sufficient, add a little extra cream to loosen the glaze enough to spread. Or, if you add the full 2 tbsp and it seems like too much, just add a bit more powdered sugar and cream to even it out.
- Spread the glaze over the cooled cookies and give them some time to dry. Don't try stacking them when they are still wet, or you will end up with one giant mass of stuck-together (yet still tasty) cookies. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Cookies: #1- Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

I LOVE love love love these cookies. I found the recipe last year, in a Martha Stewart holiday cookie magazine that I bought on a whim in the grocery store checkout line. Since then, I have probably made at least a dozen batches of these cookies. I decided it was time to start holiday baking, and where better to begin than my favorite sweet and spicy cookies.
These chocolatey tidbits have a crunchy saltiness from the chunks of salt in the batter, and a nice bit of sweet and heat from the cayenne mixture they are rolled in just before baking. I have been in love with pretty much anything combining salty and sweet for years, and these combined with a salted caramel mocha make for a super tasty and decadent holiday treat.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
    • I have made it with regular cocoa powder, but strongly prefer a Dutch Dark Cocoa- Hershey's Special Dark, specifically.
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered cayenne pepper
    • This can be altered based on personal preference. I like the 1/2 tsp, but when I'm making them for people who don't like spice or if I'm not sure if they will like spice, I usually do just over 1/4 tsp.

Preheat oven to 400 deg.
Sift together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy- this should take about 2 minutes.
Add eggs and beat until everything is combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add the flour mixture and mix until it all comes together.

At this point, I usually like to pop the dough in the fridge for about 15 minutes- having it cold makes it a little easier to roll in into balls with minimal mess. 

While the dough is chillin', take a small bowl and mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and whatever amount of cayenne powder you would like to use. Take a tablespoon and form it into a ball of dough.  Roll the ball in the cinnamon mixture. Gently bounce it in your palm to allow any excess to shake of through your fingers. I find the cookies are best when the mixture is in a holiday-appropriate bowl:

Place the balls about 2-3 inches apart, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. 

Bake until cookies are set in center and begin to crack, about 10 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. This will vary based on your oven. I have had them be perfect after 8 minutes in one oven, and then overcooked after 8 minutes in another. Unless you like crispier cookies, they are best when pulled from the oven while they are still soft to the touch- they should deflate a little if you try to touch one with your fingertips. At this level of done-ness, they will be chewy and slightly fudgy, and stay soft for approx 3-4 days.

 Let the cookies cool on sheets on wire racks for a few minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to finish cooling. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Salad with fresh figs, goat cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic vinagrette

It has taken me forever to get my hands on fresh figs. FOR-EV-ER. But I finally did and I wanted the first thing I made with them to be simple, fresh, and tasty. I went to the google machine and got some ideas about what kinds of flavors typically went well with figs. I settled on a nice salad with salty prosciutto, creamy goat cheese, and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette. The salad went particularly well with my stuffed squash blossoms. 

Salad with fresh figs, goat cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic vinaigrette:
Start with some kind of leafy vegetable- I used a crunchy red leaf lettuce. This would also be nice with spinach, romaine, maybe even arugula. If your leafy veg is of the large-leaf variety, give it a rough chop into bite-size pieces. No one wants to shove a giant leaf in their mouth. No matter how hard a person tries, it's just not going to be sexy.  

Quarter the figs, use as many as you would like, this salad is all about personal preference- I did two per person

Dice the prosciutto and toss it in a hot pan- let it cook for a bit until it's all caramelized and crunchy.

While the prosciutto is cooking, mix together the vinaigrette: 

- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 tablespoons EVOO

Whisk together the balsamic, dijon, and pepper. While whisking, slowly incorporate the EVOO until you have an emulsion. The dressing will keep for a while, so if you have leftovers, just keep it in the fridge and use at will (also makes a great marinade.)

Toss the lettuce with the balsamic. Add in the prosciutto and split between 4 salad plates... or two big plates :) 
Crumble goat cheese over each plate, and pop the fig quarters along the sides of the plate.