Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alton Brown answers food questions in haiku

Okay, I simply couldn't resist passing this one on. Enjoy!



And for the record, I agree with him on the raisins!

Infused Booze - flash infusing

I read about this method on the Marx Foods site, and had been meaning to try it for a while. It sounds logical. Put your liquor and your flavorings into your cream whipper - the kind that uses the nitrous canisters - and pressurize the canister.

The idea is that by putting the liquid under pressure, the flavor will infuse faster. It makes perfect sense. It's like putting your meat into a vacuum-sealed container to marinate faster.

It is, however, a non-compliant use of the device, so if you blow yourself up (probably not very likely) or spray booze onto the kitchen ceiling (significantly more likely) don't blame me.

Now, reading something on a site and remembering it exactly are two different things. And this is where the fun begins.

I began my experiment into mad-scientist-land by putting 2 cups of vodka into my cream whipper. I added 3 vanilla beans (split open), 3 allspice berries, and a 3-inch cinnamon stick. I pressurized the canister, tapped my toe a few times nervously, and paced back and forth.

Then I released the pressure. Now, when you're using this thing to make whipped cream, you hold it with the nozzle down so the cream comes out. Nozzle up, and it just released pressure. Nothing to it.

I opened it up, poured out the liquid, and what I had was a clear liquid that might have tasted vaguely of something, but it wasn't really what I was looking for. I wanted significantly more. Okay, time for Plan B. I figured that I hadn't let it rest long enough.

The folks at Marx Foods say they swirl the liquid for 30 seconds, then let it sit for 30. But, yeah, I didn't remember that until after. Well, actually, I didn't "remember" until I emailed and said, "so, that flash infusing thing..."

So Plan B was to pressurize the container and let it sit for 15 minutes or so. I figured that the longer I let it sit, the more flavor would develop. Logical, no?

About 3 hours later (I get distracted, okay?) I remembered that the canister was still sitting there, waiting for me to do something. So okay, I released the pressure and it all was going well until some liquid shot out. You know, like onto the ceiling. It wasn't a lot, but I decided to not risk shooting booze all over the place, so I stuck the nozzle of the cream whipper into a now-empty vodka bottle, and finished releasing the pressure. I have no idea why it spewed like that, but it was amusing, in a stupid sit-com sort of way..

In theory, if the canister us upright, it shouldn't do that. Theories are good. Vodka on the ceiling, not so optimal.

When I dumped out all the liquid, it was an amber color. The allspice berries were a little soft. Not mushy, but you could squeeze them and they had some give. The cinnamon was also soft. Not squishy, but no longer crunchy. Now, this is what I'm talking about. Infused booze.

Flavor-wise, I don't think I added enough allspice berries to make any difference at all. The prominent flavor is vanilla, with bare hints of spice from the cinnamon. A nice flavor. But I think the key here is that softer items will yield to the pressure faster than the hard items like the allspice. I think flash-infusing with citrus peels would be interesting, as would herbal infusions.

Not too much doubt I'll be trying that next.

My other projects - and believe me, I've got bottles all over the place with things floating - are all about long-infused booze with sugar. Liqueurs rather than flavored liquor. This is a flavored vodka, pure and simple. It will make a lovely cocktail. Maybe even later tonight.

Next time, I think I'll try a slightly shorter time before I release pressure. Maybe the 10 minutes I had planned on. Or I'll try the 30-second swirl followed by the 30-second wait. At the worst, it just means that I have to use a second blast of nitrous if it doesn't work the first time.

Flash-Infused Vanilla Vodka

2 cups vodka
3 vanilla beans, split
1 3-inch stick of cinnamon

Place all the ingredients into a 1-pint cream whipper. Charge with nitrous. Swirl it around for about 30 seconds. Wait another 30 seconds - or longer, if you prefer.

Discharge the gas with the canister upright, keeping in mind that you could possibly blast some vodka out - so prepare for that.

After the gas is fully discharged, strain the liquid to remove the spices.

I tend to re-use spent vanilla beans, usually by rinsing them if needed, and then putting them in a jar with sugar. The sugar absorbs the vanilla scent. It's not strong stuff, but it's not plain sugar, either.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Browned Butter and Parmesan Grissini

As much as I like a freshly baked loaf of bread, I have to admit that crisp breadsticks (grissini) are one of my favorite snacks. I can nibble on them before dinner, after dinner, and after dinner.

There's something so satisfying about the crunch. Like pretzels, but without all the extra salt.

There are cooked at a fairly low temperature - it's the key to getting the breadsticks completely dry and evenly baked without getting over-browned.

Browned Butter and Parmesan Grissini

2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) bread flour (divided)
1 cup water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 ounce finely grated parmesan cheese

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine approximately 2 cups of the bread flour, the water, yeast, and sugar. Stir to combine, cover, and set aside for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a small pan until it begins to brown and starts to smell nutty - be careful not to let it burn. Take the pan off the heat and set aside to cool.

Add the remaining flour, along with the cooled butter, salt, and parmesan to the dough in the stand mixer bowl. Knead with the dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and flour your work surface.

These are easier to roll out if you divide the dough into several pieces. Roll your first piece to 8 inches high 1/8  inch thick, and as wide as it needs to be to reach those other dimensions. With a pizza or pastry cutter - or a sharp knife - trim 1/2 inch off the top and bottom of the dough, and trim the left and right sides to square them off.

Cut the dough vertically in strips about 1/4 inch wide and place the on a baking sheet, leaving room between them. As you place them on the sheet, they're likely to stretch to about 9 inches long - that's fine. You can leave them flat, or if you prefer, twist them into a spiral. Continue rolling and cutting until you have used up all the dough.

Bake until they are lightly browned, crisp, and completely dry - about 25 minutes. Let them cool completely on a rack.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Secret Cookies

Sugar cookies are perfect for holidays. For any holiday. All you have to do is decorate them appropriately. And decorating these is easy. No need for a piping bag or fancy frosting - colored sugar is the perfect topping.

These days you can find colored sugars in just about any color you can think of. Match the holiday, match your decor, or just make them with your favorite color. Or, if you're not looking for color, you can top them with white sugar or just leave them plain.

There are probably millions of recipes for sugar cookies, but not all of them get it right. You shouldn't break a tooth on a cookie. This recipe gets it right.

This recipe is from the Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, with contributions from the Food52 community.

This particular recipe is from the early days of the site, and was contributed by Merrill's mother, Veronica.

Secret Cookies
Adapted from The Food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and Merril Stubbs

3/4 pounds salted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Colored sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the yolks and vanilla, and mix well. Add the flour and combine completely.

Use a teaspoon or scoop to make balls, the round them with your hands. Place them on ungreased cookie sheets. then flatten the dough with the bottom of a glass dipped in colored sugar

Bake for 10 minutes, watching carefully towards the end of cooking, since they can burn easily. The cookies should be just barely golden around the edges.

Let the cookies rest for a minute or two on the cookie sheet (they're very fragile while warm) before removing them to a rack to cool.

The cookbook says that the flavor of these cookies improves over time. Can't say that I could vouch for that - they didn't last that long.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Granola Topped Coffee Cake

All summer, one of the highlights of my week is going to the farmer's market. I spend most of my time - and money - on fresh local fruits and vegetables. I'd leave with bags heavy with produce - sometimes requiring two trips, depending on what I bought.

As the market wound down this past fall and the winter squash seem to predominate, I spent a little more time with the other vendors - the local artisans who make products and sell them - things in jars, bags, and bottles. One of those vendors was Boulder Granola. Bet you'll never figure out what they make.

First, I was chatting to the folks at an adjoining booth and when the fellow at Boulder Granola heard that I had a blog and I liked to use local products in my recipes, he invited me over for some samples and pretty soon he was giving me samples to take home and use.

Well, okay, then.

I've got to say I love a company with a tagline that says "Unleash your inner hippie." Although, to be honest, by inner hippie has never been leashed. So I tossed the granola on the counter and contemplated my options. Here's my first recipe. Yes, first. I have quite a bit of granola, so I'll probably be coming up with more ideas for it. I've already got quite a few thoughts. This could be interesting.

Granola-Topped Coffee Cake


2 cups (9 ounces) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 cup Boulder Granola original granola
2 teaspoons cinnamon


Spray a 9-inch square pan with baking spray and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda whisk to combine.

Combine the egg, buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.

Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment - or you can use a regular electric mixer. Add the flour in three doses, alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the flour.

Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan. Mix the granola with the cinnamon and sprinkle it on top of the cake. Bake at 325 degrees until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean - about 35 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing it to cool on a rack.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cookbooks - can you have too many?

I have a lot of cookbooks.

Do I need more? Honestly, no.

But do I want more? Most emphatically yes.

There are always new cookbooks coming out from authors I love, and new authors I want to get to know, and older books that I'm just hearing about now. New techniques, interesting cuisines ... books from restaurants and bakeries and bloggers. Lots and lots of books that would look good on my book shelves.

So, yes, although I already have a lot of cookbooks, there are more that I'd love to look at. So how about this? Chronicle Books is giving away up to $500 worth of their books to one lucky blogger (and I hope it's me!) and one person who comments on the winning blog will also receive $500 worth of books. AND they're giving another $500 worth of books to a charity chosen by the blogger. That's a lot of books!

So, if I was lucky enough to win, this is what I'd choose:

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson
Flour by Joanne Chang with Christie Matheson
The James Beard Foundation’s Best of the Best by Kit Wohl
D.I.Y. Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch by Vanessa Barrington
The Cheesemonger’s Kitchen by Chester Hastings
Sweet Miniatures by Flo Braker
Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O'Connor
Masala Farm by Suvir Saran with Raquel Pelzel
Nuevo Tex-Mex by David Garrido and Robb Walsh
Luscious Chocolate Desserts by Lori Longbotham
The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger
Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott
Deep Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry
Cake Simple by Christie Matheson
Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts by Mark and Michael Klebeck with Jess Thomson
Handheld Pies by Sarah Billingsley and Rachel Wharton
The Tra Vigne Cookbook by Michael Chiarello with Penelope Wisner
Lobel's Meat Bible

The entry form didn't require that I list the charity I chose, but I'll most likely support our local library - there are also a number of charitable resale shops in the area, but given that they sell books so cheap, the $500 book value wouldn't earn them much at all. On the other hand, $500 worth of books for the library is $500 they don't have to spend for their own acquisitions.

So ... if I win, one of YOU might win. Feeling lucky? Do you think I'm lucky? Leave a comment here, and we could BOTH be hauling home a whole lot of books! Contest is limited to US residents, 18 years or older. Deadline for posting about this event is Dec. 2, and Chronicle will choose a winner some time in December. If I win, I'll pick a winner right after I am notified.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Let's Bake Some Buns

Most of the time when I make dinner rolls, I make round ones.They're the easiest to make, and, let's face it, fancy shapes don't make the buns taste any different. And a basket full of precise round buns has a certain appeal. They look professional.

But for a special dinner, of when you've got a little extra time to be creative, those fancy shapes can get a basket of buns noticed on table full of other delectable delights.

It takes a lot of practice - and a lot of luck - to get all of your fancy-shaped buns to look alike - but that shouldn't even be a goal. Hand-crafted items don't need to look identical. Part of the beauty of artisan breads is that each one is a little different. No matter how careful you are in shaping your buns, you can't control how they rise in the oven.

Even if your creations look the same going in, you might find that they don't rise or brown exactly the same in the oven. So don't worry about it - have fun with creativity, and don't worry about perfection. After all, they'll taste the same when they're done, right?

Buns, glorious buns

4 cups (1 pound, 2 ounces) all purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons cane sugar
1 1/2 cups cool water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter, softened
Olive oil for drizzling
Dried herbs (optional)
Melted butter (optional)

Combine the flour, yeast, sugar, water, salt and softened butter in the bowl of your stand mixer. (Or you can do this by hand, if you prefer.) Knead just until the dough starts to become elastic - you aren't looking for a smooth, shiny, finished dough - just one that is well-combined. This is a fairly wet and very sticky dough at this point. Don't worry about that, it will firm up during its long rest.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil - just a splash - into a plastic zip-top bag. Transfer the dough to the bag, close the top, and refrigerate at least 8 hours, or up to two days.

On the day you will be baking, remove the dough from the refrigerator open the bag to expel the trapped gas, and massage the dough in the bag to mash out the bubbles. Leave the bag sitting on the kitchen counter to warm up a bit - at least an hour, but two is better.

Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Knead it briefly, the form it into a ball.

Line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

To make crescents:

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll the first piece into a circle about 8 inches in diameter. Brush the circle with melted butter (optional). With a pizza or pastry cutter, or a sharp knife, cut the circle into 6 wedges.

Take the first wedge and hold it by the outer edge and gently pull and stretch the dough toward the point until it stretches to about twice its original length. Lay it down on your work surface and start rolling it beginning at the wide end and working towards the point. Place it on the baking sheet and form it into an arc or half-circle shape.

Continue with the rest of the wedges - and with the rest of the dough, if you want to make the full batch of crescents, leaving sufficient room between the rolls so they can rise.

Cover the finished rolls with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled in size. They should feed puffy when you poke one in the side. Brush with additional butter before baking, if you like.

Bake at 350 degrees until nicely browned, about 25 minutes. If you aren't serving immediately, let them cool on a rack. For softer tops, cover them with a clean kitchen towel as they cool.

For herbed swirl rolls:

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. roll the first piece into a rectangle about 5x9 inches. With one of the long sides facing you, brush the surface of the dough with melted butter, leaving about 1/2 on the far side uncovered.

Sprinkle the dough with your herbs of choice - dill is a nice choice to go along with fish, or oregano for a Mediterranean-themed meal. Or use your favorite herb mix. about 1/2 teaspoon is more than enough.

Beginning on the side closest to you, begin rolling the dough towards the far side - rolling loosely. When you get to the far side, pinch to seal the seams.

Cut the roll into two pieces about 4 1/2 inches long, then cut each of those into thirds. Place the buns cut-side up, on prepared baking sheets, leaving room between them for rising. Continue with the remaining pieces of dough, if you want to make all swirl buns.

Cover the finished rolls with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled in size. They should feed puffy when you poke one in the side. Brush with additional butter before baking, if you like.

Bake at 350 degrees until nicely browned, about 25 minutes. If you aren't serving immediately, let them cool on a rack. For softer tops, cover them with a clean kitchen towel as they cool.

Round buns, two ways:

Sometimes all you want is a plain, round bun, and there's no reason you can't use this dough for that purpose. This dough will make 2 dozen small buns, but you can certainly divide it into fewer pieces for larger buns. Besides making round dinner rolls, you can also make sandwich buns.

For round buns, simply shape them into rounds. You can do this by rolling them on the counter top until you have firm, round shape. I usually prefer the "bubblegum" method: I hold the dough ball in my left hand and push into the center of the dough with my left thumb while pulling the outer part of the dough with the fingers of my right hand over the indentation my thumb left behind. I pinch the dough together, make another thumb indent, and pull and pinch again. After several of these motions,the dough is firm and bouncy, with a nice, tight skin.

Why do I call it the bubblegum method? Well, once you do it a few times, you'll see that it's very much like the way you form a piece of bubblegum with your mouth before you blow a bubble. You'll see.

For sandwich buns, you probably want larger buns - figure about a dozen from this amount of dough. Once you have made the round shape, flatten it from the center outward, leaving the center indented and the edges thicker. Aim for a round disk that is about an inch thick.

Cover the finished rolls with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled in size. They should feed puffy when you poke one in the side. Brush with additional butter before baking, if you like.

Bake at 350 degrees until nicely browned, about 25 minutes. If you aren't serving immediately, let them cool on a rack. For softer tops, cover them with a clean kitchen towel as they cool.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Internet things I am thankful for

Yes, really.

Internet things.

Of course I live a life outside the Internet and I could certainly tell you how grateful I am for all of that, but you-all who are reading this are part of my wider online world, mostly beyond my range of hugs and smacks-upside-the-head.

So let's talk about what I'm grateful for in this cyber world we all inhabit together.

First, I'm grateful that I started this blog nearly two years ago and I'm grateful for the technology that made it possible for me to connect with people worldwide for virtually no cost. All this text, all those photos - and the software that allows me to format and arrange and spell-check. Mostly free.

Second, I'm grateful to Serious Eats under the helm of Adam Kuban. Shortly after I started this blog, late one night and completely on a whim, I asked Adam if he would like a bread-baking column for Serious Eats. Adam answered within five minutes, and I nearly had to pick myself off the floor, because he said "'yes. Giddy with joy, I was. You see, I'd been a writer for YEARS, but food writing was new. I created this blog as a resume, of sorts. Put it out there and see if anyone liked it.

I'm grateful for my first few followers on this blog who probably clicked the follow button because I cajoled them to do so. I'm also grateful to every follower after, many of whom are strangers, although I'd love to meet you all some day.

I'm grateful to Tastespotting, who rejected my photos month after month after month. Once I discovered Tastespotting, I submitted a photo every day. And got rejected. And tried again. And finally, I managed to get the color and composition and everything else just right, and I got a photo published. If it had been easy from the beginning, I wouldn't have appreciated it as much. And if it they had been less particular, I wouldn't have tried so hard to see what they were looking for, and my photos wouldn't have improved as much as they did.

I'm grateful to the other photo sites - Photograzing, Tasteologie, FoodGawker and Dessert Spotting. Because now I know that some photos are obviously good or bad, while some rejections and acceptances are very subjective.

I'm grateful to Kitchen Play for hosting monthly contests that have been fun to enter. And when I've won, they set the prizes promptly. Having a contest to enter sometimes inspires me to create interesting new recipes.

Speaking of contests, Marx Foods has had some challenging ones, and they send some really fun ingredients to use in the contests. Last year, I won a contest for an ice cream recipe that I was particularly proud of.

And while we're talking about food samples, thanks to Fooducopia for letting me create recipes for the products they sell. I've found a whole lot of interesting products through that relationship.

Ah, recipe creation. Thanks to Whole Foods in Boulder for finding me and bringing me onto their blog. It's been fun working with them and it makes grocery shopping much more fun.

Thanks also to all the book publishers and food companies who have sent me products to review. I have a voracious cookbook habit, and I love trying new products and gadgets. It's great to be able to do that as part of my "job." There are too many to mention individually, but I appreciate each and every one.

Morrow Books deserves a little extra credit for bringing together a special group of bloggers to promote a new book by Emeril. Twelve of us have formed our own little blogger group called Virtual Potluck, and I'm very thankful that I met all those wonderful enthusiastic, and hard-working bloggers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This cheesecake will make you snicker

Halloween makes me think about candy, and it got me thinking about the flavors I like together. That thought stuck with me. What flavors could I work into something completely different?

It took a little while to go from thought to plate, but I was very pleased with the results.

Chocolate and peanuts are a favorite combo. Chocolate and malt are classic. Caramel goes with all of them. Combine them all, and the flavor is very reminiscent of a very familiar candy bar.

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with those flavors.

Finally, I decided on cheesecake. Even if you don't think of any particular candy bar when you taste this, the flavors mix, match, and mingle very well.

The malt powder I used is the same malt powder that's sold for making malted milk. If you don't like that flavor, you can leave it out, no problem.

For the cookies, you can go home-made all the way and make your own cookies, or you can start with any commercial chocolate cookie that you like.

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cheesecake

For the crust:
1 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup dulce de leche or similar caramel sauce
For the filling:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
2 eggs
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup malted milk powder
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sour cream
For the topping:
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup heavy cream (or as needed)
2 tablespoons sugar
Whipped cream (optional)

To make the crust:

Combine the cookie crumbs with the butter, and stir to combine.

Press the cookie mixture into the bottom and part way up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan. You can go all the way up the sides, if you like, but you don't have to.

Place it on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and top with the dulce de leche, spreading it evenly across the bottom of the crust. If the caramel is too thick to spread, place the crust back in the oven for a minute until the caramel softens enough to spread.

Let the crust cool while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling:

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until it is smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each time until it is fully incorporated. Add the cornstarch, vanilla, malted milk powder, sugar, and salt. Mix on low speed until it is combined. Mix in the sour cream.

Pour the filling into the crust in the pan, and smooth and level the top. Bake on the baking sheet at 350 degrees until the filling is starting to set but is still jiggly in the center, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the topping:


Combine the sour cream, peanut butter, and sugar in a medium bowl. Stir to combine. The mixture should be thick, but pourable rather than spreadable. If it is too thick, add heavy cream, as needed - how much you will need depends on the brands of peanut butter and sour cream you use, but you shouldn't need more than 1/4 cup.

Pour the topping evenly over the partially-cooked filling. Bake on the baking sheet for an additional 15 minutes. The filling should still be just a little jiggly in the center - it will continue cooking as it cools.

Remove from the oven, and let it cool on a rack to room temperature, then refrigerate until fully chilled - about four hours, or longer, if it;s more convenient.

If your prefer a more decorate presentation, serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cinnamon Walnut Bread - overnight in the bread machine

A while back I got a bread maker to review, and although I was initially skeptical about whether it would be useful or not, I've started to like it. It does a great job kneading. Oh, sure, I could knead by hand or with my trusty KitchenAid stand mixer. And most often, I do use my stand mixer.

But the bread machine is handy when I don't have time for anything but dumping in the ingredients and pulling out either finished dough or a finished loaf.

I'm still running the machine through its paces. One feature I hadn't tried yet was the timer. When you make a loaf of bread, you should take it out of the machine then it's done. If you delay the start of the process, you can have a loaf ready when you're ready for it.

The other thing I hadn't tried yet was the unfortunately-named raisin dispenser. I don't like raisins. But it was a prefect way to add the walnuts at the appropriate time. The interesting thing about walnuts is that even though they're not very dark, they turn the bread an interesting color. Check out the photos. Yep, that's what color the bread is.

So there I was one evening thinking that I might like a loaf of bread in the morning. This was the result.

Cinnamon Walnut Bread

2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast

2 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts

Put the sugar, salt, cinnamon, and bread flour and butter in the bread machine. Put the yeast on top of the dry ingredients. Put the walnuts in the dispenser. Pour the water around the outer edge of the bowl - you don't want to get the yeast activated yet.

Set the timer, as desired. Remove the loaf from the machine when it is done.

This has been submitted to Yeastspotting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Virtual Potluck: It's a Marx Foods Thanksgiving

Last week we launched Virtual Potluck - a group of 12 amazing bloggers (okay, eleven amazing bloggers and me) working together on fun blogging projects. For details, check out the tab at the top or our new spiffy website.

This week's potluck is sponsored by Marx Foods, one of my favorite food sites. I drool every time I go there. So when Virtual Potluck was being brainstormed, I asked Justin Marx if he'd like to help us play. Seconds later, he said "yes" and in no time we had sample boxes with vanilla, mushrooms, chilis and rice.

The premise for this potluck is that we're all invited to a Thanksgiving dinner and we're all asked to bring a contribution. Since great minds think alike, we're all using products from our sample boxes.

Potlucks are fun. You never know what anyone will bring. It could be all desserts, or it could be all salads. But even when they're not planned, chances are it will all work out just fine.

Make sure you check out what all my friends brought to the table, and raise a glass of cheer, because I decided to bring the drinks. Not just any drinks - oh, no, this party is too good for bringing off-the-shelf drinks! This calls for some home made goodness.

And make sure you check out the blogs - you'll might get to take home some goodies!

Cookistry

For the party, I made an infused liqueur that showed off vanilla bean flavor, the sweetness of honey, and the color of hibiscus in a combination I named Tres Flores.

This is cheery beverage for those who don't care for eggnog or mulled wine, and it's a festive color, to boot.

Looking for a holiday gift? You've got plenty of time to make your own and have it bottled for gifts for your friends.

You'll find that recipe right here.

Foodhunter's Guide to Cuisine

Theresa from Foodhunter's Guide made Arancini stuffed with Spicy Exotic Mushroom Ragu.

She used the rice from the samples from Marx Foods, and made a sauce with the mushrooms and added some heat with the peppers. Good use of multiple ingredients!

You know you want this recipe, right?

Theresa said, "They were a lot of work but they turned out delicious."

I'm sure you want that recipe, right?

Bite and Booze

Jay from Bite and Booze said, "For Thanksgiving I don't like to cook turkey one way. Instead I cut it up into breasts, wings, thighs and legs and cook it four ways!"

Using the Marx Foods mystery ingredients for the thighs, Jay came up with "Smoked Sea Salt and Puya Chili Oil Seared Turkey Thighs with a Black Trumpet Mushroom Brandy Wine Cream Sauce."

He said, "The crispy skin, juicy meat, and creamy sauce made an excellent combination!"

Would you like the recipe?

Diabetic Foodie

Shelby from Diabetic Foodie said, "I'm doing Spicy Mushroom Swirls - black trumpets, matsutakes, puya chiles, shallots and garlic rolled up in puff pastry with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top."

The interesting thing is that Shelby wasn't a big mushroom fan before she made this dish. She said, "I intensely dislike mushrooms and originally thought my giveaway would be all of the mushrooms. My husband, aka The Grillmaster, objected. I made these swirls for him. (He definitely has something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.) I actually tasted these and they weren't bad. Maybe I've just never had GOOD mushrooms before."

She said this is a perfect cocktail party nibble and something great to serve the Thanksgiving guests who wander into the kitchen, sniffing around the various pots and asking "when's dinner going to be ready?" The recipe is right here.

Not Rachael Ray

Rachel from Not Rachael Ray made cranberry vanilla rice pudding using the "Italian Vialone Nano Rice" and the Madagascar vanilla beans.

There's something about those vanilla beans from Marx ... swoon.

Adding cranberries to the rice gives it a festive color that would work for Thanksgiving or for Christmas, don't you think? And the cranberry season is so short, you might as well use them now, when they're available.

Want to make it yourself?

Thyme in Our Kitchen

Matt Weber from Thyme In Our Kitchen knows that no Thanksgiving Dinner is complete without at least one more dessert. (or two...or...)

He said that he used the "beautiful and fragrant vanilla beans," or a pumpkin bread pudding that's accompanied by a vanilla bean creme anglaise and spicy caramel apple sauce "that will be the perfect showcase to share with your family and friends this year."

While pie may be the traditional choice, he suggested that you get out of your comfort zone this year and make something that will be a little different and have people lining up for more. "Trust me," he said, "this one will be requested year after year!"

You'll be making this recipe soon, won't you?

Miss in the Kitchen

Milisa from Miss in the Kitchen said, "I am usually in charge of the appetizers for Thanksgiving and
this is an adaptation of my sister-in-law's signature appetizer."

The appetizer is made with cream cheese, shrimp, and aji amarillo peppers from Marx Foods.

Milisa said, "Packed with flavor, it is a must for our Thanksgiving feast."

I sure hope she brought enough of those chips, or I'm going to dive in with a spoon. Looks amazing, doesn't it? And the recipe is right here.

FOODIE

Tara from FOODIE made a risotto with mushroom gravy. Mushrooms and rice are one of my favorite combinations, and I like the idea that the mushrooms were in a sauce this time, rather than being scattered in the risotto.

She said, "I'm not even going to have to add butter to finish this risotto... this Italian Vialone Nano Rice has a buttery taste on it's own! I really like it."

You can make it for yourself, too!

30A Eats

Susan from 30A Eats also went with a risotto recipe. It was hard NOT to use that beautiful rice.

Susan said,  "After starring at the luxurious ingredients that Marx Foods sent to me for our Thanksgiving Virtual Potluck, I first felt like I was on the show Chopped."

But unlike the chef contestants on the TV show, Susan was had an out. "I was not forced to use everything in my basket," she said. "and I am allowed to share my bounty with my readers in a giveaway."

Check out the recipe!

Farmgirl Gourmet

Heather from Farmgirl Gourmet wanted to make sure the vegetarians in the crowd were well fed. She brought arborio veggie burgers with spicy vanilla barbecue sauce to the potluck because she knew the kids would dig some kicked up burgers.

She also mentioned that her veggie burgers are quick to assemble if you use the leftovers from Diabetic Foodies or GrooVy Foodie's leftovers. Ha. As if there will be leftovers of anything.

The addition of quinoa and assorted wild mushrooms gives the burgers an earthy flavor that will make you not miss the moo.

Heather said, "Spicy vanilla barbecue sauce may sound like an odd combo, but its perfectly spicy and sweet."

Vanilla barbecue sauce is waiting for you!

Cooking with Books

Nelly from Cooking with Books made a spicy and buttery polenta, served topped with rich mushroom and beef ragu.

She said that this could easily become a vegetarian recipe.

Nelly used dried organic habanero peppers, dried aji amarillo pepper, matsutake mushrooms and black trumpet mushrooms from the Marx supplies.

You want that recipe? It's right here.

Groovy Foody

What do you get when you take one Groovy Foody, a small box filled with delicious Marx Foods ingredients and the pressure of creating a new, from-scratch recipe with only enough for one-shot?

A blogger gone berserk.

Watch what happens when Vanessa Nix Anthony decides to use ALL the random ingredients Marx sent - in the same dish!

But be warned ~ your taste buds could go a little mad (with delight that is) when you whip up her recipe for spicy vanilla mushroom risotto.

Get the recipe right here.

Don't forget to visit ALL of the blogs. There will be some things given away, and some discounts ... so make sure you check them all out! 

BUT WAIT! There's more!

The incredibly nice people at Marx Foods have surprised us by putting up a post on their site about us! Wow! Aaaaaaaaaand ... they're offering a secret prize to one of the lucky Virtual Potluck bloggers. We don't know what the prize is - we had no idea they were doing this. So head on over to the Marx site and leave a comment on this post, cheering for your favorite blogger.

Infused Booze: Tres Flores - and I've got goodies for you, too!

My new blogger family, Virtual Potluck, asked Marx Foods if they might like to play along with us, and they graciously (and immediately) offered to join in the fun. Marx sent each blogger a box of goodies for us to play with - and no rules.

So of course, we made up our own rules.

The general idea is that we've all been invited to a Thanksgiving potluck party, and we've all been asked to bring something - anything - to share. And of course, we're all using at least one of the Marx items to make our special dish. Or, in my case, bottle.

The box I got included Madagascar vanilla beans, two types of dried mushrooms, two types of dried chilis, and some vialone nano rice. And every time I walked past that box, the vanilla beans kicked me in the head. Whoah. These beans are nothing like the sad little beans you find in the grocery store. Nothing. These are amazing.

So I decided to kick those vanilla beans back. With vodka.

Yep, I'm bringing the drinks to this event. I kept thinking that the vanilla beans would be great in a liqueur.

But vanilla wasn't enough. I wanted other flavors - but at the same time, I didn't want them to overwhelm that wonderful vanilla. And of course, if it was a liqueur, I wanted it to be at least a little sweet. I decided to kill two bees with one stone and use honey for both sweetness and flavor.

You know vanilla beans come from orchids, right? Honey's related to flowers, vanilla beans are part of a flower. I wanted one more thing. But what? I was thinking about lavender, but that didn't seem right. I wandered through the spice cabinet. Juniper berries? Maybe. Sumac? hmmmm... but no.

Then I thought of it - hibiscus flowers - also called jamaica. They're a little tart and turn liquids pink. And they're flowers ... so I've got three flower-related elements in my infusion. So, Tres Flores it is.

The honey I used was from a local honey farm and isn't a clear honey - it's translucent, so the beverage a "frosty" look to it. If you prefer a clear drink, us a clear honey. I also suggest using a light-colored honey rather than a dark one. 

Tres Flores

3 vanilla beans, split
2 cups vodka
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup honey
1/4 cup hibiscus flowers

Combine all ingredients in a 1-quart jar. Cover and shake to combine. Let sit for at least a week to steep, shaking daily. Strain and transfer to a clean jar for storage. I liked the idea of leaving the seeds from the vanilla beans in the drink, but if you want to remove them, strain through a coffee filter; otherwise you can simply strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the flowers.

I'd suggest returning the vanilla beans to the jar to continue steeping and adding flavor to the liqueur for as long as you have it.

If you don't want to leave the beans in the jar, don't waste them. Rinse them, let them dry out, and add them to a jar of sugar. There's enough flavor to scent the sugar and give you a vanilla sugar.

Serve your liqueur over ice, or with sparking water, or come up with your own cocktail. This stuff is pretty darned good!

But the fun doesn't end with drinks!

Time for a GIVEAWAY!

You, too, can play with some Marx Foods samples. I've got a package all ready to mail that has one type of mushroom, two types of chilis, and three amazing vanilla beans. I'm not giving details, so you can be surprised when you open the package.

To enter to win, leave a comment here telling me what you'd do with the vanilla beans if you won them. Contest ends Nov. 27 at midnight and is open to US residents only.

The next four are optional, and you can do them in any order, or skip any. Make sure you leave a comment here for each extra entry, so you get credit for it.

For an extra entry, tweet a link to this contest. Make sure you include @dbcurrie and #virtual potuck in the tweet. Come back here and tell me that you tweeted.

For one more entry, follow @virtualpotluck on Twitter, and tweet a link to this contest with @virtualpotluck and @marxfoods in the tweet. Come back here and tell me that you followed and tweeted.

For one more entry, go to the Marx Foods website and tell me what you'd like to buy there.

For one more entry, Go to my Virtual Potluck roundup post that's right above this one, and then go to one other blog post described there, and leave a comment on that blog. Come back here and tell me where you left the comment.

How about a DISCOUNT?

If you want to buy something from Marx Foods, I can give you a secret code for a discount.

Any time between November 21 and 27, if you purchase from Marx Foods, just enter POTLUCK into the Coupon Code field at checkout for 10 percent off of everything. Might I suggest vanilla beans to start?

And the WINNER is ...

And the lucky winner is Lynn! Congrats. I know you'll enjoy those vanilla beans - and the other surprises, as well!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who got the Abrams Books from Virtual Potluck?

It's all over except for putting away the dishes we just finished washing, but before we shove you out the door with your empty plastic containers, there are a few lucky winners to announce.

As promised, each blog gave away a cookbook, and here are the lucky winners (also posted on each blog):

Shelby at Diabetic Foodie is giving How to Cook Indian to Lynn who blogs at Sit. Stay. Cook.

Rachel of Not Rachael Ray is giving Baked Explorations (and a bonus of a brownie mix) to Erin who blogs at Big Fat Baker.

Marnely at Cooking with Books is giving Sugarbaby to Jacquie.

Susan at 30A EATS gave Cooking Without Borders to Michelle.

Heather at Farmgirl Gourmet is giving Home Made to Jenny who blogs at Mad Rantings of a Middleclass Mom.

Milisa at Miss in the Kitchen is giving Delicious Memories to Leann.

Theresa at Foodhunter's Guide to Cuisine gave Dolci: Italy's Sweets to luvchampagne.

I'd love to stay and chat, but I've got to set the tables up for the next potluck!

Ultimate Banana Bread from Cook's Illustrated

I love banana bread. I've made it from a lot of different recipes, and I've created my own recipes as well. So when I got a review copy of The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, the banana bread recipe was on my short list. I wanted to make it immediately, but there was one thing that forced me to wait.

Bananas.

I mean, seriously, when I buy banana to eat, they turn brown as soon as I turn my back on them. And then I bake with them. When I bought bananas specifically to make banana bread, it seemed like it took forever for them to get to that perfect stage of over-ripeness.

Since this was a Cook's Illustrated recipe, I wasn't about to shortchange it by using bananas that weren't up to par. Or maybe down to par, in this case.

I was pleased to see that the recipe used weights for ingredients that can vary when you use volume or "per piece" measurements. It was nice to be able to weigh the flour, brown sugar, and bananas, and know that I had exactly what they asked for.

For fans of Cooks Illustrated, this is the ultimate cookbook. It's got recipes from 20 years worth of the magazine - 2000 recipes in all. I didn't count them - that's what the press kit said. And here's a fun bit of trivia for you - the test kitchen for the magazine spends $523,000 per year on groceries,and there are two full-time staff members who shop for those groceries. That's a lot of food.

Cooks Illustrated Magazine is nothing if not quirky. It's got its own personality. Look at the magazine cover and if you couldn't read the words, you'd still know it's CI. The cookbook follows through. If the cover photo wasn't from one of the magazines, it certainly could have been.

These days, cookbooks tend to have fewer recipes and big full-color photos that make you drool. But this one continues with the CI style of having what looks like pencil drawings for illustrations. It's not a tabletop book that you browse through, it's a workbook.

Over the years, I've cooked a number of recipes from Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen. Sometimes I grumble a bit at some of the fussiness of the recipes. But when the food's done, I'm always happy with the results.

Will I throw away all my other cookbooks? Well, no. But this is going to be an interesting one to work with. It'll be a great one to turn to when I'm making - or messing with - classic recipes.

This is a book that had its own fan base as soon as it was published. People who have back issues of the magazine squirreled away will be able to get rid of those and just have one book. One hefty, heavy book. It's a bit of a monster, that's for sure.

And CI fans who don't have all those copies squirreled away will love the idea that they can have the entire collection in one book. Well, okay, it's not every recipe, ever. Some recipes were re-done and re-worked over the years, so this book only has the newest and the best.

But come on, it's 2000 recipes. I think that's enough for anyone.

Speaking of one - you want one, right? Here's the banana bread I promised you.

Ultimate Banana Bread
From the The Cooks Illustrated Cookbook - used with permission
Serves 10

Be sure to use very ripe, heavily speckled (or even black) bananas in this recipe. This recipe can be made using five thawed frozen bananas; since they release a lot of liquid naturally, they can bypass the microwaving in step 2 and go directly into the fine mesh strainer. Do not use a thawed frozen banana in step 4; it will be too soft to slice. Instead, simply sprinkle the top of the loaf with sugar.

We developed this recipe using a loaf pan that measures 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches; if you use a 9 by 5‑inch loaf pan,start checking for doneness 5 minutes earlier than advised in the recipe. The texture is best when the loaf is eaten fresh, but it can be stored (let it cool completely first), covered tightly with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 large very ripe bananas (2 1/4 pounds), peeled 
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped coarse (optional)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 81/2 by 41/2‑inch loaf pan with vegetable oil spray.Whisk flour, baking soda, and salt together in large bowl.

Place 5 bananas in separate bowl, cover, and microwave until bananas are soft and have released liquid, about 5 minutes.Transfer bananas to fine-mesh strainer over medium bowl and allow to drain, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes (you should have 1/2 to 3/4 cup liquid).

Transfer liquid to medium saucepan and cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat, stir reduced liquid into bananas, and mash with potato masher until
mostly smooth. Whisk in butter, eggs, brown sugar, and vanilla.

Pour banana mixture into dry ingredients and stir until just combined, with some streaks of flour remaining. Gently fold in walnuts, if using. Scrape batter into prepared pan. Slice remaining banana diagonally into 1/4‑inch-thick slices. Shingle banana slices on top of loaf in 2 rows, leaving 11/2‑inch wide space down center to ensure even rise. Sprinkle granulated sugar evenly over loaf.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center of loaf comes out clean, 55 to 75 minutes. Let loaf cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire rack and let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Smoker plus chicken equals dinner

Not too long ago, I won a really sweet Masterbuilt digital electric smoker from the Creative Culinary blog.

To say that I was excited is an understatement. I'd done some smoking before in a stovetop smoker, but having a larger smoker increased my options.

Larger cuts of meat, more items at once, whole turkeys or whole large fish - they were all possible.

I wanted to dive right into smoking, but first I needed to buy a chicken and then I needed to find a recipes. No problem. Well, no problem buying a chicken.

But finding recipes was another story. I had three different books with significant information about smoking, but instead of finding slight differences in time, temperature, or technique, the three were completely different.

While I rifled through the books looking for some agreement, I brined the bird. That part was easy. Then I let it air-dry in the refrigerator. That was easy, too.

Then I looked at the recipes again. It wasn't just that they were completely different, but in some cases one would say "do this" and another one would say "don't ever do that." So which one was correct?I mean, it's possible for there to be several ways to accomplish something, but these books were practically yelling at each other about who was right.

When it came time to put the bird in the smoker, I just winged it. With electric control of the temperature inside the unit and a temperature probe that I could insert in the chicken, I figured I could just cook it low and slow and let it absorb the smoke and take its time getting up to an edible temperature.

I've got to say that it was a heck of a lot easier than babysitting a stovetop smoker. And the remote digital device actually worked inside the house, so I could see the temperatures without having to go outside and check. Pretty slick.

I mean, I couldn't go all over the house with the remote and have it read, but at least I didn't have to get up close with the smoker every time I wanted to see how things were progressing.

The chicken came out of the smoker a beautiful mahogany brown. Pretty as a picture, but I was more anxious to taste than to take photos.The next day, I heated up the untouched half in the oven. I think I might actually have liked it better that way, but I can't exactly put my finger on why.

I didn't use any kind of glaze or sauce - just the flavor of the smoke. I used maple wood, because I happened to have some. I'll be buying some different wood chips later, I'm sure.

Needless to say, I liked the smoked chicken, but it's just a first try.I have a lot more to experiment with. And there are a lot more things I can smoke.

Meanwhile, here's a nice brine for you.

Chicken Brine

40 ounces water
4 tablespoons Morton's kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried sage
5 dried juniper berries
5 dried allspice berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns.

Put all the ingredients in a large pot and heat just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Let the brine cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.

Place the chicken in the brine and weight it down so it stays submerged. Leave the chicken in the brine at least overnight. 24 hours is fine. This brine isn't overly salty, so you can leave the chicken in longer and it won't become over-salted.

When you're ready to cook the chicken, rinse it and pat dry. If you will be smoking rather than roasting or grilling, let the chicken dry, uncovered, in the refrigerator for another 24 hours.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Cranberry Liqueur (aka Infused Booze)

For information about Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top.

I've been playing around with infusing different flavors into vodka and other alcohols. When I saw cranberries, I knew I had to make a cranberry infusion. It's so seasonal.

Up until now, I've been making liqueurs that are rather sweet. Not tooth-aching sweet, but on the dessert side.

This one is a little on the tart side. For one thing, there isn't as much sugar. And for another, cranberries are tart.

This is a more refreshing drink, and would be great over ice or with some fizzy soda. If you're looking for a sweet concoction, just add more sugar, either to the finished infusion, or add sugar, honey, or simple syrup when you make your drinks.

This gets better as it ages, so if you've got the time, you can leave it sit for a month before you strain it. If you're in a hurry, two weeks is good. If you can't wait, you can strain some off after a week and see what you think.

You'll need a fairly large jar to fit all these ingredients, and it should have a tight-fitting lid. I found these sweet 2-liter jars at Whole Foods.

Infused Booze: Cranberries and Cloves

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 12-ounce packages fresh cranberries
2 cloves
4 cups vodka

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir as needed until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries and cloves. Cook, stirring as needed, until most of the cranberries have popped open. You don't need to cook them to mush, and they don't have to all be popped - just the majority of them.

Turn off the heat, let the mixture cool until it's cool enough to handle safely, then transfer it to a clean jar. Add the vodka, cover tightly, and shake it up a bit.

Leave the jar in a cool, dark(ish) place, and shake it every once in a while. I leave mine on my kitchen countertop, in a non-sunlit corner, and I shake it a couple times a day. Once a day is plenty, though.

After 2-4 weeks (you can taste it as it progresses) strain out the cranberries and transfer the liquid to a bottle for storage. If you want a very clear liquid, you can strain it through a coffee filter before bottling.

There's probably something interesting you can do with the cranberries, but keep in mind that they will have absorbed some alcohol - so don't serve whatever it is to the kids.

Whole Foods Friday: Fun with Puff Pastry

For information about Whole Foods Friday, see the tab at the top.

Sure, you can buy puff pastry, but where's the challenge in that? If you bring appetizers to a party and you say that you made the puff pastry, people will be wowed by your talents. Puff pastry is time-consuming. Some might say that it's difficult.

This version, however, is pretty easy. It's not real puff pastry, but no one needs to know that.

You can also make the appetizer recipes with store-bought puff pastry. People will still think you're a genius.

Faux Puff Pastry

1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup room temperature water
1 tablespoon sugar
11 1/4 ounces (2 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold salted butter
1 stick cold unsalted butter

Put the yeast, water and sugar into a medium bowl and stir to combine.

Put the flour and salt into your food processor, and pulse to distribute the salt. Cut each stick of butter into tablespoon-sized piecesf. Put all of the pieces into the food processor with the flour and pulse about 10 times to distribute the butter and break the chunks just a little. You don't want small pieces as you would for pie crust; larger chunks are preferable.

Add the flour and butter to the liquid in the bowl, and fold gently with a spatula until all the flour is moistened and it is well combined, being careful not to break up the butter. The butter should still be fairly hard at this point. The dough will be very wet; don't worry about it. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

The mixture can be used the next day, or kept refrigerated for an additional day if you aren't ready for it. When you are ready, flour your work surface generously, and have more flour standing ready. Turn the dough out onto your work surface, sprinkle some additional flour over the top, and form it into a rough square.

Working quickly, roll the dough out to an approximate 16-inch square. Because it's so wet, it should roll easily, but it might be a bit sticky. Add flour as needed on top and underneath to keep it from sticking. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter.

Then fold it in thirds again, to make a square.

Keep the work surface lightly floured, just to keep it from sticking. You shouldn't need as much as before. Do the same roll-and-fold two more times. You should be able to do this fast enough that the butter won't get too soft and squishy - it should still feel hard when you roll over it with the rolling pin. If the butter does soften, put it in the fridge and continue once the butter has firmed up again.

After the last fold, flatten it a bit, then wrap it loosely in plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator for at least an hour, or up to three days - I actually like it best when it's been in the fridge for at least 8-10 hours.

The dough will rise a bit while refrigerated, so if you're storing it for longer than just an hour or two, it's advisable to put it in a plastic bag, just in case it outgrows your plastic wrap - you don't want the dough to dry out.

So now you've got dough. 
What are you going to do with it?

Here are some recipes to get you started. I'm sure you'll think of more.

Speck and Emmentaler Puff Rolls

1/4 batch faux puff pastry dough (or regular puff pastry*)
Speck or prosciutto
Emmentaler cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the dough to about 6x9 inches. It should be less than 1/4 inch thick. If the edges are terribly uneven, trim them as needed, but save the scraps. With one long edge facing you, lay the slices of speck on the dough, covering the surface, but leaving about 1/2 inch uncovered on the far side. Top with a small amount of the cheese - just a bare sprinkle or slices shaved with a vegetable peeler.

Loosely roll up the dough jelly-roll style and pinch to seal the seam. Cut the roll into 9 1-inch pieces and put them on the prepared baking sheet cut-side up. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until the dough feels soft and puffy rather than firm. It won't rise much, but it should feel soft - about 45 minutes. Bake at 400 degrees until nicely browned, about 15 minutes.

If you had any scraps left, cut them into bite-size pieces and cook them along with the rolls. They make nice party nibbles - or snacks for the chef.

*If you're using store-bought puff pastry, follow package directions. You won't need to roll it out much for this recipe - it's almost thin enough as-is. Cut the sheet to size, then roll it gently so it's a bit less than 1/4 inch thick.

Apricot Walnut Cups

1/4 batch faux puff pastry (or regular puff pastry*)
1/4 cup apple cider
1/4 cup apple pie liqueur
6 dried apricots
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Roll the pastry to about 6 inches square. It should be about 1/4 in thick, or slightly less. Square off the edges, if needed, then cut it in three strips horizonally and three strips vertically, so now you have 9 squares. Fit the squares into small muffin cups or similar small vessels (I used a pan with square holes).

Or, if you prefer, you can bake them flat. Dock the bottom of the dough to keep it from rising and set aside until the dough feels puffy rather than hard - about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Put the cider and apple liqueur in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until it has reduced by half. Chop the apricots into a medium dice and add them to the pan. Cook, stirring as needed, until the apricots are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick, sticky glaze. Add the walnuts and stir to combine. Take the mixture off the heat and reserve until needed.

When the pastry feels puffy, the centers may have risen - push them down to flatten, and dock again. You want to be able to fill these after they are baked. For added assurance, you can put a small piece of parchment in each cup and put a few pie weights in each.

Bake until the cups are nicely browned, about 12 minutes. Removed them from the pans. If you have any that have risen too much in the center for them to be filled, just indent the pastry to make a space for filling. This filling is sweet, so you don't need a lot of space for it.

If you had any scraps left, cut them into bite-size pieces and cook them along with the rolls. They make nice party nibbles - or snacks for the chef.

Fill the cups with the filling - about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per cup. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*If you're using store-bought puff pastry, follow package directions. You won't need to roll it out much for this recipe - it's just about thin enough as-is, so just cut the sheet to size, and if you need to roll it gently to flatten the creases, don't get too carried away.

Puff-Wrapped Asparagus

1/2 batch faux puff pastry (or regular puff pastry*)
1 bunch asparagus
Eggwash (1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water) optional

Cook the asparagus using your preferred method until it is just cooked through. Then drain off any liquid and set aside to cool room temperature on a rack or paper towels so they dry thoroughly.

Meanwhile, roll the pastry out so it's about 1/4 inch thick, or slightly less. Square off the edges, then cut the pastry into enough strips so that you have 1 strip to wrap each asparagus spear. My bunch had 21 spears.

Beginning at the cut end of the spear, wrap each spear in the puff pastry strips, just up to the beginning of the tips - you want those poking out after these are baked. If more shows, that's fine. If there is extra dough, cut it off.

Put the spears on your baking sheet, leaving a bit of room  between them, with the spears facing the center of the pan - this will avoid having those tips overcook. Depending on how many pears you have - and how large they are - you might need 2 baking sheets to keep them from being overcrowded.

For a prettier finish, brush the pastry with eggwash.

Bake at 400 degrees until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*If you're using store-bought puff pastry, follow package directions. You won't need to roll it out much for this recipe - it's just about thin enough as-is, so just cut the sheet to size, and if you need to roll it gently to flatten the creases, don't get too carried away.

Red Pepper Hummus

All that butter in that puff pastry needs to be balanced with something a little more healthy, don't you think? And I can't think of much that's healthier than hummus. Okay, sure, you've got oil, but it's healthy olive oil. And most of it is beans. Chickpeas, actually.

The other really great thing about hummus is that almost everything is optional or easily interchangeable with something else. If you have a can of chickpeas, you can whip up a batch of hummus any time you want it. And if you don't have those chickpeas - well, I've seen white bean hummus, too. Traditional hummus includes tahini, which I never have on hand. Peanut butter, on the other hand, is always around. it's gotten to the point where I don't consider peanut butter a substitution any more, since it's what I usually use.

1 15-ounce can chickpeas
2 fire-roasted piquillo pepper
2-4 tablespoons tahini or peanut butter
2-4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt - or to taste

Blend everything in your food processor or blender. You can also use a stick blender. Start with the minimum amounts of each, and add more to taste. If you're planning on using the hummus as a spread on cracker or more solid chips, you can make it much thicker and use less oil. If you want something more like a dip, use more oil to thin it out. Blend until it's the consistency you like - some people like it silky smooth, while other prefer more texture. It's really up to you. Taste it and add more salt if needed.

Substitutions:
  • Instead of chickpeas, you can use white beans, or really any canned beans you have on hand. The color will be different, and the flavor will be slightly different, but if you need a dip in a pinch, use what you have on hand. If you've got plenty of time to plan ahead, you could use cook some dried chickpeas or other beans.
  • If you don't have fire-roasted piquillo peppers, you can use fire-roasted red peppers (from a jar or the salad bar). You can skip the peppers, if you prefer. 
  • For the tahini, if you don't have peanut butter you can use almond butter or any other nut butter. Nut allergies? Sunflower butter or anything you use as a peanut butter substitute will be fine. You could also add a drop or two of toasted sesame oil. Or skip this entirely.
  • Instead of lemon juice, you could use another citrus juice or use lemon-flavored olive oil for one tablespoon of the oil you use. If you don't have anything lemon-flavored, you can skip it.
  • Garlic can be omitted, or you can use garlic oil for one tablespoon of the oil you're using.
  • Instead of olive oil, you could use another oil, or use a flavored oil instead of a plain oil.
Puff pastry
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