Monday, June 27, 2011

The Daring Bakers make baklava!

I know what you're thinking: rolling chopped nuts in packaged phyllo is not much of a challenge. Well, you should know by now how the Daring Bakers works. We had to make our own phyllo from scratch and roll, roll, roll. It sounds daunting, but the dough was so silky and easy to work with that it wasn't difficult, just time-consuming. From a tennis ball sized lump of dough, I was able to get about 25 sheets.
My failed baklava tower!
The best baklava I have ever had was made by the aunt of one of my Turkish students years ago. I had never cared much for baklava before the day he brought it to class. Unlike the baklavas I had tried before this was super fresh, moist but not drippy, and filled with bright green pistachios from Turkey. I love pistachios, so I tried to recreate that amazing baklava for this challenge. As I did with these pistachio brownies, and this pistachio panna cotta, I shelled, blanched and peeled a lot of pistachios.  The bright green colour and buttery flavour are worth the investment of time. And I can do while I'm watching Wimbledon. I used almonds for the top layer. Both fillings were scented with cardamom, and I brushed the layers of phyllo with browned butter. After baking, I doused the hot pastries, a bit too liberally, with a lime and sugar syrup. It was a delicious, but very sweet treat.

The next morning, I took all the off-cuts from my baklava and tried to roll them again. It was possible, but the dough was much tougher to roll out. I made a couple of nightingale's nests with the leftover dough and pistachio filling. These weren't as sweet as the baklava triangles, but not as tender as those made with fresh dough. Were mine as good as that long ago baklava? No, but they were pretty good for a first try.

Thanks to Erica for a great challenge! I look forward to making this dough again and making strudel out of it later this summer. Check out the slideshow at the Daring Kitchen to see all the kinds of baklava the Daring Bakers made this month. Download the printable challenge PDF with recipes, here.
I wish I had waited to cut and taste the baklava:
2 days after making, it was at its best. Moist throughout,
and it held together well.

Blog-checking lines: Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mango with Coconut Sticky Rice

When mangoes (mangos?) are in season, I go a bit crazy. I buy them by the flat, then race to eat them all before the fruit flies push me out the door and lock it so they can have them all to themselves. I never cook mangoes, never make smoothies with them, never do anything but peel and eat them. Except for once a year. Once a year, I remember sticky rice and mango and I go out and buy some sticky rice so that I can make this. It's the easiest and most delicious thing, and it's pretty impressive too, I think, for something so simple. 
You need sticky rice to make this, and half the battle is finding the right kind. The rest is easy. Sushi rice is not sticky rice. You need to buy rice that is sometimes called sweet rice or glutinous rice. The easiest way to tell is to just have a look at the grains of rice. If they are slightly translucent you've got the wrong rice. Sticky rice is chalk white and opaque before cooking. You do need to soak it before cooking, preferably overnight, so plan ahead!
Left to right: basmati, medium grain, sticky rice

Coconut sticky rice with mango
Adapted from Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Serves 3-4

1½ cups sticky rice
1 cup coconut milk
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 ripe mangoes
gratuitous black sesame seeds for garnish, optional
  1. Rinse the rice and soak it in fresh water to cover for about 8 hours. You can also soak it in warm water for 2 hours. Drain and place in a metal sieve.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and balance the sieve on top of the pot. Make sure the water is not touching the bottom of the sieve. Cover with a lid and steam for about 15 minutes. Now turn the rice over in the sieve so that it steams evenly. You want the rice on the bottom to be on the top and vice versa. Steam for another 10 minutes, then test. When the rice is ready, it will be shiny and sticky (!) and will be cooked all the way through. Remove from heat but leave covered.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the coconut milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan, and heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Do not boil. Stir in the rice and cover and let sit for 20-60 minutes so that the rice absorbs all the liquid. 
  4. Peel the mangoes, halve them and slice thickly, either lengthwise or crosswise. As you can see, I couldn't make up my mind. However you do it, the flesh around the pit is the cook's treat.
  5. To serve, arrange the sticky rice and mango on a platter or in bowls. Serve immediately, as the rice will dry out if exposed to air.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Strawberry and Roasted Rhubarb Custard Tarts

I am a delinquent French Fridays with Dorie member. I haven't posted anything in months, but when I saw that rhubarb was on the menu I jumped back on board. A day late, but I'm posting! Rhubarb season is pretty well finished here, but I grabbed a bunch last weekend at the farmers' market, along with a basket of local strawberries. I know that strawberries get all the glory, but I prefer the rhubarb. I just can't get enough of its acidity and tang.
Rhubarb surprise under the pastry cream!
These tarts were made from some rough puff pastry I had in the freezer, left over from the custard tarts. I cut small circles and baked them at 400℉ for about 10 minutes in a muffin tin, then turned them out onto a rack to cool. I was too lazy to line them and fill them with beans, so they shrunk a bit, but they were incredibly crisp and flaky. I made a quick pastry cream and piped it into the cooled shells, over a layer of the roasted rhubarb. Then I plopped a strawberry or more rhubarb on top and dessert was ready. These were so tiny that 2 or 3 seemed like a reasonable serving.
Straight rhubarb for me, please
The rhubarb was delicious, very tangy and not too watery. We don't post the recipes from Around my French Table, but you can find this one here on Dorie's blog. I used a vanilla bean instead of orange, as I find the orange takes over the rhubarb flavour a bit, and I like it to be front and centre. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Daring Cooks Make Potato Salad. Really.

I couldn't believe it when I read the challenge for this month: potato salad, and healthy too! I don't have a problem with healthy, and actually get very excited about produce (in the words of a friend), but I don't eat potatoes more than a few times a year, and that includes fries. However, I have a lot of experience with them, as it seemed like we had them every night for dinner when I was a child. I pushed them around a lot, not caring for the texture. Now, I eat potatoes to be polite, such as when I am a dinner guest. The taste is fine, but it's that slightly grainy texture that gets me every time. Anyway, I'm sure if you have read this far that you actually like potatoes, so let's get past my potato inhibitions, shall we?

I didn't want to miss this month's challenge, as I had missed last month's (too greasy/meaty). So, I put my thinking cap on and tried to figure out when I did like potatoes and how I could incorporate those flavours into a potato salad. I like spicy curries with potato, as well as thinly sliced potatoes on pizza, and poutine, but that was the end of my list. I didn't see how I could put gravy and cheese curds on cold potatoes and make it work, so the poutine salad was out. Potato salad on a crust? Nope. Spicy? Yes, please. Rather than curry, I went with some Mexican ingredients to make a chipotle potato salad. It was good, but very spicy, as I doubled the chipotles from what you can see in the recipe below. As for healthy, I used half buttermilk and half mayonnaise to make a creamy dressing. Oh, and the most exciting part for me was that I liked it! I actually took the leftovers for lunch 2 days in a row. This is pretty earth-shattering, people. I think it was because I used tiny new potatoes and they were creamy, not grainy at all. So, Spud, you're okay. See you at Thanksgiving. Now to love eggplant...

1 pound tiny new potatoes
12 small radishes, sliced
2 small or one large poblano peppers, roasted, peeled seeded and diced
½ red onion, finely chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

  1. Place potatoes in a pot of cold water with a generous amount of salt. Bring to the boil and cook for about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and cool. Halve potatoes and place in a large bowl.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and about ½ cup of dressing and toss well. Serve.
Chipotle Ranch Dressing
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
1 chipotle chile in adobo and a teaspoon of the sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 small clove garlic, mashed with a pinch of salt
¼ chopped cilantro
  1. Combine everything but cilantro in a blender and puree until smooth. Add cilantro. Will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.
Blog-checking lines:Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lemon Mascarpone Layer Cake

Have you been over to my place for dinner yet? You should come. The food's good and so is the conversation. It's the getting there that's a struggle. You see, preparations for a dinner party follow a very predictable course chez Mary. Basically a dinner invitation means I want to cook up something I've never made before. I am not one of those people who goes for the tried and true. Once I finally decide on a menu, I procrastinate extensively. The day of the dinner party dawns, and is usually spent in a frenzy of cooking, cleaning, shopping, and just lying around, hoping it all magically gets done on its own. As the afternoon progresses, I look at the clock, wondering if there's anything I can skip. That is why you should never look in my closets. The laundry might fall over and smother you. As the minute of the guests' arrival approaches, I usually jump in the shower and then panic when I realize I've forgotten something crucial, like cleaning the bathtub. What? Well, you never know. The consummate hostess is prepared for everything. 

Last month I had the pleasure of welcoming some good friends from Australia, along with their son and his grandmother, for dinner. I used to work with L in Toronto, where we also had some fun kitchen adventures. I'm giggling remembering the Benriner episode, the double cardamom shortbread fail, and the pumpkin ravioli. Oh, and cringed when I remembered T eating the whole cayenne pepper I had forgotten to fish out of a curry. L and T had also been my guests many times in Toronto and knew the drill. They used to pace outside on my driveway, waiting for the appointed time, not knowing what they'd find if they showed up early. Smart people! I don't mind lateness too much, being chronically late myself, but I think being early is insufferable for all involved.

Anyway, they were most considerately 90 minutes late, and I was pretty well ready when they got here. I had even managed to get a photo of the cake, even though it was a grim, grey and rainy day. L is a photographer, so I stressed about this a bit. We had a simple, but delicious menu of orange and olive salad, chicken, spinach and tomatillo tacos, refried black beans, and this cake. The only thing that wasn't homemade were the corn tortillas, and they were awful--soggy and falling apart. Next time I will be better prepared and make them myself. Ha! No really. I actually had to run to the store to get them, with not much time to spare, and some jerk yelled at me because my umbrella and his wife's caught, soaking us both. 
The cake was nice, but I think it could have been better. The frosting, with the mascarpone and lemon curd was delicious--creamy and not too sweet. The cake seemed a bit floury and didn't rise as much as I would have liked, meaning I couldn't divide the layers. That meant there was a tiny layer in the middle where the syrup didn't reach. I don't think anyone else noticed, but it bothered me. Also, the cake wasn't as lemony as I would have liked. Next time I make this, I'll use a genoise from The Cake Bible and add use passionfruit curd instead of lemon. The raspberries were my addition, and I loved the texture and tart, winey flavour they added.

This cake had a lot of components, but it didn't take that long to put together. Or maybe I was just running on warp speed. Start the day before your dinner party, as the finished cake needs to sit overnight.
Cake recipe after the jump!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Rhubarb-brown sugar plain cake

Does it ever seem that you run out of a lot of basic ingredients at once? My kitchen cupboards have been empty lately, and I  haven't even had time to stock up. May is a very busy month for substitute teachers, as schools run their last workshops of the year and teachers take a day off here and there to celebrate the return of the hot, sunny weather, or just to recover and write report cards. June is a different story, which means I should have lots more time to bake. Apparently I need the practice, as I broke 2 bowls getting this cake made.

This week's recipe, chosen by Cindy of Everyday Insanity, was originally for a blueberry cake. I love blueberries in cake, but it's rhubarb season here. I did not get a chance to preserve any, so I am using what I've got in the fridge everywhere possible, as it's gone to seed and there'll only be a bit more in the late summer, but that's it. Sniff, sniff. The recipe called for all-purpose flour and whole milk, but I was out of these, so I substituted cake flour and orange juice. Actually, I ran out of cake flour too, so there is also ⅓ cup of buckwheat flour in mine, along with 2 cups of thinly sliced rhubarb. Instead of cinnamon I used a citrus-vanilla extract. And who has an 11"x17" pan? Not me. I used a 10" springform instead.

This recipe is called 'plain cake', but it was a bit fussy in its preparation. It called for separating the eggs and folding the beaten whites into the batter at the end, just before adding the fruit. I was going to skip that part and just add the whole eggs to the batter, but I had changed so many other things that I followed the directions for once.  A small part of them, at least. The cake turned out to be delicious, I am happy to report. It had an interesting citrus flavour from the juice and extract, and a tart, jammy layer of rhubarb mostly near the bottom. It was very tender and moist, and the buckwheat added speckles and a faint taste too. It was quite sweet, as is typical for this book's recipes, so I was glad to have the sourness of the rhubarb to balance it out. It would be great with a bit of cream, if you didn't want to serve it plain. Since it was so yummy, I guess I can leave off grocery shopping for another day and see what kind of substitutions I can come up with next. I still have a few things in the cupboard...