Saturday, November 27, 2010

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

based on The Joy of Cooking

1.5 c all purpose or white whole wheat flour
2 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground ginger
.5 t freshly ground nutmeg
1 t baking soda
.25 t baking powder
1 t salt

.33 c milk

6 T butter
1 c sugar
.33 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 c pumpkin puree
1 t vanilla extract

2 c fresh cranberries
.5 c toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour a 9x5" loaf pan.
Combine and sift your dry ingredients.  In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy and well combined.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the pumpkin puree and vanilla.  Once mixed, alternately add the dry ingredients and milk, beginning and ending with dry.  Fold in the cranberries and pecans, and transfer to your baking dish.  Bake until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean - about one hour.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Braised Duck Legs : Master Recipe

This year for Thanksgiving dinner my main course was braised duck legs over kale, parsnip puree, and curry beurre blanc with a brunoise of honeycrisp apple.  I want to share this duck leg recipe with you because it never fails and it always a crowd-pleaser (unless your crowd doesn't like duck, and then there's nothing I can do for you!).

Braised Duck Legs

Plan on one duck leg per person.

The night before you plan to serve the duck, trim and rub the legs.  Cut off any extra skin and fat (save these bits and render them out; duck fat is precious), then cut a clean line just below the ankle.  This is purely cosmetic; it allows the muscle and skin to retract in a tidy fashion.  If you're feeling very particular, you can then clean the end of the bone completely of skin. 

Next, rub each leg with a bit of salt and whatever flavorings you'd like.  This time I used some freshly ground curry powder, perhaps 1/2 t per leg.  Other good options are ras al hanout or herbs de provence.  It all depends on the flavor profile you're looking for.

Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to bake, then preheat your oven to 400F. 

In a roasting pan or baking dish, lay roughly chopped vegetables (onion, garlic, carrot, parsnip, celery, etc) about 1" thick.  You won't be eating these vegetables, they are purely to perfume the meat so they should mirror the other flavors on the plate. 

Pour in chicken stock until the vegetables are almost submerged, then lay the duck legs, skin side up, in a single layer.  Cover loosely, and place in the oven.  Immediately turn the heat down to 325F.  Allow to braise until fall off the bone tender - about three hours.

Directly before serving, remove warm legs to a broiler pan, and broil just until the skin is crisp.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Beginning of Thanksgiving Dinner

Freshly roasted curry spices for braised duck legs over parsnip puree!

I just thought they were pretty : )  They'll be ground down and used to season duck legs and make a curry emulsion.  The parsnip puree will be the base, with some sauteed kale and brunoise of honeycrisp apple.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Oh, Rice

I think, volume-wise, I eat more white rice than any other food.  I love basmati, arborio, glutinous, calasparra, jasmine, vialone nano, and so on and so forth.  I enjoy brown rice as well, but would probably loose my cool if I could no longer have each and every variety of white rice.

If you follow the rice train of thought, it would make sense that I really enjoy Asian food as well.  Europe uses a fair amount of rice, but not like many of the Asian cultures.  I realize that saying "I like Asian food" is kind of a big blanket, but I really don't discriminate.  I have a special place in my heart for every cuisine from Vietnamese to Burmese to Japanese.

Recently, I learned from a colleague how to make onigiri.
Not that it's super complicated, but in spite of my love of rice I hadn't come across them before.  Onigiri are simple hand made rice balls with various fillings inside or with garnishes folded into the rice.

To start, cook off some Japanese style medium grain white or brown rice (a good introductory rice for this would be Niko Niko Calrose).  While the rice is still warm, dip your hands in lightly salted water (or cheat like me and buy a $4 mold from the Japanese market, which you would brush with the saltwater).  Form the rice into balls or triangles, placing a dab of some pungent flavoring in the center.

Some typical fillings are umeboshi, kombu relish, bonito flakes or salted salmon.  Really, you could use anything intensely salty or sour to provide a counterpart to the rice.  And alternatively, you could fold in something like cooked salmon, green onions, or sesame seeds into the rice before shaping.

You can serve these immediately after shaping, or chill them for a bit.  At any rate, partially wrap each onigiri with a piece of nori right before serving.  It provides some extra flavor and a nifty handle.  You can put out some soy sauce, pickled ginger, or wasabi to accompany the onigiri if you must have something, but I like them plain.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quite Possibly the Best Cake Ever

I've always been a fan of raw apple cakes.  My mother made a very tasty one when I was growing up and it was my favorite dessert.  It was even relatively healthy and could easily be made vegan.  It's definitely the best vegan cake I've ever had, and I still use her recipe when I simply need cake but have no eggs.

This, boys and girls, is not her recipe...  While hers is just as good, this one is loaded with butter and simply irresistible.  It is not vegan, and it is not healthy; I figure this is the uptown version of the down-home cake of my childhood.

The following recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan.  For those of you who don't know, she's a food writer and cookbook author who splits her time between the States and France.  Her recipes are reliable, approachable, and a great way to expand your baking prowess without having to break the bank on specialty ingredients.  The only changes I make are to cut the apples smaller and use brandy instead of rum.  Enjoy!

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake 

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large apples (if you can, choose 4 different kinds)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the cores. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s evenish.

Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean; the cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. (Open the springform slowly, and before it’s fully opened, make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper, and invert it onto a rack. 

Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.  Serve with lightly whipped cream if desired.