Saturday, February 27, 2010

Daring Bakers Challenge - Tiramisu

It's that time of month again!

The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

When I first saw the challenge, I was very excited. Tiramisu? Delicious. I have even made a version of it a few times, and it was always very well received.

Then I read a little further. This wasn't just constructing tiramisu. This was making every component. From scratch. Including the marscapone cheese. Umm... making cheese? Yeah. A little daunting. Add to that making savoiardi biscuits (lady fingers), pastry cream and zabaglione (zabagli-what? yeah, that was my first thought, too...) and I quickly moved from excited to, well, still excited, but pretty nervous, too.

My apologies, once again, because this will be a long, picture-heavy post.

One of the first considerations I had for this challenge was time. There were five components that had to be made for this challenge, three of which need to be chilled completely before the final product could be constructed. So I had to determine when each would be made, and make time for each step, to ensure that I could have time for a re-do if I goofed anything up majorly. Which was a big concern I had.

I decided to start with the marscapone, since it was what I was most nervous about, and since it has to be refrigerated for the longest amount of time - overnight to 24 hours. I have never even had (to my knowledge, anyway) marscapone, much less made it. The tiamisu I have made in the past? Yeah, uses cream cheese instead. The process of making marscapone is actually quite straightforward - heavy cream (as pure as you can find) is heated in a bowl placed into a pan of simmering water until it reaches 190 degrees Fahrenheit, at which time lemon (or lime) juice is added to help thicken the cream. Simple enough, right? Well, I hit a snag that, from what it seems on the Daring Baker forum, was pretty common. My cream would not come to 190 degrees. It was supposed to take 15 minutes. I was standing and stirring for over 45 and I still could not get any higher than 170. Turns out that my equipment was the problem. I thought maybe my candy thermometer was broken, but it seems that the pyrex bowl in which I was heating the cream was actually insulating it too much, and therefore preventing the cream from heating any more. But I found that out later. What did I do at that point? Figured I might as well push my luck and add the lime juice to my 170 degree cream and cross my fingers. It seems that luck was on my side that night, because only a little bit of stirring later, my cream was thickening beautifully, with only the faintest hit of a curdle, and I knew my cheese was ready to be drained. Several layers of cheesecloth in a sieve over a bowl, and I had officially made my very first cheese. This went into the fridge to chill.

The next morning, I decided to tackle components two and three - vanilla pastry cream and zabaglione, which I looked up, and is an egg-custard, usually flavored with marsala wine. These were made in the morning, because they require at least four hours to chill, so I figured I would aim to make them both first thing. Little miss was very happy to help me whisk together the ingredients for the pastry cream, and as this is cooked over low heat (and I was standing right there), I let her take a turn. When it was time for the zabaglione, though, I did that one myself, since it is cooked in a double boiler - didn't need anything going off balance and near-boiling water splashing on her. I used coffee (decaf) instead of marsala, to ensure that this would be a family friendly dessert. And I am not a big wine fan, anyway. The double-boiler picture here actually shows how frothy the zabaglione was as it was coming together. It actually cooked up quite a bit darker, and was a really nice, thick, custardy consistency. That's the finished product, over on the left. It only took about an hour to make both of these, and soon enough, they were in the fridge chilling.

In case you are wondering what little miss was up to while I was stirring, stirring, stirring hot custard, it was this:

Yup. The kid loves to do dishes, so if I need a few minutes I put some warm soapy water in the stoppered-sink, give her a new sponge, and throw all kinds of plastic cups and bowls in there for her. She loves it. I only hope she loves it as much in 10 years when she has to do it as her chore, rather than for fun...

But I digress.

The next major component for this challenge was the savoiardi biscuits, or, as I know them, lady fingers. I was never a fan of lady fingers - I only ever bought them when I was making a tiramisu, and, in my opinion, they were basically a placeholder for all the creamy goodness. Until now. These biscuits are, for lack of a better word, lovely. Light, airy, delicate cookies, I can't even begin to explain to you how much better they are than their store-bought counterpart. They come together so easily, even considering that eggs have to be separated. With a sprinkling of powdered sugar before being popped into the oven, they are just fantastic. They are stand-alone worthy, no longer relegated to placeholder status. I could tell, though, looking at my completed biscuits and then at the pan in which I was planning on making my tiramisu, that one batch would not be enough to make all three layers that the recipe called for, but this was really no problem. I quickly made another batch, and was very happy to know that I would have extra biscuits for snacking on. Yay!

And can you believe all of that was done by lunch time?

After dinner that night, I got ambitious, and decided that we should finish up the tiramisu so that it could chill overnight and be dessert for the next day's dinner. Which happened to be Valentine's day. Aaww.

So after dinner, I whipped up the final component, and the only one that I have made before. Fresh whipped cream. Yum. The whipped cream was gently folded into the combined marscapone, zabaglione and pastry cream to make a quadruple-y delicious and, somehow both rich and light cream. The next part was the part little miss was looking forward to all day. Dipping the biscuits in cooled, sweetened coffee to create delicious layers of biscuits and cream. Then the whole thing went back in the fridge.

And the result?

So good. So much better than my old version of tiramisu.

So good, in fact, that I decided to make another, only to get a little more, well, daring.

Yes, there is more.

For my second tiramisu, I decided to try a different flavor, rather than another traditional coffee tiramisu. I chose berries.

To do this, I took a bag of frozen mixed berries and cooked them down and strained them to make a concentrated berry juice. I used this berry juice in place of the coffee used in the traditional one to flavor the zabaglione and for dipping the biscuits. Such a little change, but wow.

This was just as good as the first one, and had such a fresh taste to it, thanks to the berries. I even took a piece of this one in to the gym for my taste-tester to try, and she said "wow" a few times, with a big smile, so I am thinking it went over pretty well.

Deeba, Aparna, I cannot thank you enough for this challenge. I learned something new with each component, and can guarantee you that I will be making this again. And again.

Full recipes can be found here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pseudo Snow Day

The forecast for today was for snow. Lots of snow. Heavy, wet snow. And considering how much snow we have had recently, and how major another foot of snow would be for the area, the local area school districts canceled school for today. Which meant that preschool was canceled, too. We woke up to only a thin coating (well, you know, over the mountains that still haven't melted from last time...), but big heavy flakes falling from the sky. Snow day plans in effect.

We started the day with celebratory snow day pancakes. Little miss helped make them, then also helped pick out the snowman cookie cutter. Because it was a snow day.

After breakfast, we did lots of crafting, including cutting, coloring, stickers, glue and general messiness. When it was time for a break from the crafts, we decided to go outside and build a snowman. The only problem with this was that there really wasn't really all that much new snow. It wasn't sticking at all to the sidewalks or roads, and there was still only a light coating over what had already been there. The good news, though, was that what was there was very easy to pack together, and even the old snow, with the temperature above freezing, was easy enough to gather together and sculpt into a little three-year-old sized snowman. Or... mutant snow monster, considering how it wound up looking. Either way, we managed a muddy snow man out of the slush.

After lunch and more crafts and a whole lot of playing, I continued with my snow-day meal plan, despite the fact that, as of that time, and despite the fact that big flakes had been falling from the sky all day, there was probably a bit less snow on the ground than there had been at the start of the "storm."

What could be better on a chilly and (supposedly) snowy day than homemade chicken soup? Little miss helped me chop veggies (with her toy knife and toy cutting board - I promise I don't let her touch the real knives) and put them in the pot. Carrots, celery, potato, onion and leek, along with some stock simmering on the stove, I also let her pick what shape noodles she wanted. She picked small shells. Add in the remainder of this week's leftover chicken, and this turned into quite a hearty meal.

So according to my kitchen, it was a snow day. According to what I saw out my window? It might as well have been rain. But this storm is supposed to last through noon tomorrow, and the snow has finally starting to stick. So the weather people have another 16 hours to prove that this wasn't all just hype.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It was supposed to be an easy dinner...

I have quite a bit of leftover chicken in the fridge, from various cooking endeavors over the last few days, so I knew, going into the week, that we'd be having leftover chicken in different forms this week. The plan for tonight was BBQ pulled chicken. Easy and delicious.

Well, not quite as easy as it could have been... because I didn't have any rolls in the house. And BBQ pulled meat goes on rolls, right? I usually make rolls using the Amish White Bread recipe, making one loaf and six rolls rather than two loaves. But I was in the mood for something a little different today, so off I went, searching for a roll recipe that would speak to me.

After a few minutes, this one did. It's funny. It spoke to me through a small thumbnail picture on foodgawker, and then I was confused when I clicked through to the actual recipe and found that, rather than a recipe for rolls, it was a recipe for challah, that was also made into rolls. Not to be deterred, I decided to stick with this choice, and little miss and I proceeded.

My helper was very involved today. And I think she had a pretty good time, too. Usually she helps me whisk together dry ingredients for recipes, but today, for this one, she helped me whisk the wet ones. And had a lot of fun with the new method I taught her for whisking - rolling the whisk between her palms rather than the traditional whisk-stirring. Hey, we had to get the honey mixed in well, right?

Ingredients whisked, and KitchenAid mixer enlisted to do the majority of the heavy kneading for this, we had a couple of hours to play and dance and generally have a good time.

Once the dough rose, there was lots to do, and little miss was happy to help.

The dough had to be punched down:

Then, once divided into smaller portions, it was rolled:

and shaped into rolls:

which, after being proofed, were basted:

at which point they were finally ready to go into the oven, and, finally, they were ready:

They smelled heavenly, the color was really nice, and tasted pretty good. The only complaint I have is that the crust was pretty thick, so not exactly the perfect sandwich rolls, but all in all, pretty good!

So, rolls ready, chicken shredded and simmering in BBQ sauce, I thought I was all set. Until I realized that I didn't have a side dish! I mean, BBQ sandwich and veggies is, technically, a fine meal, but I always have a side, some kind of starch. With only 35 minutes until dinner, my options were kind of limited... I didn't want rice, but what else was there time to make? Then I remembered a friends blog post the other day for breakfast potatoes. Which, when I read it, reminded me of a heftied-up version of hash browns that I sometimes make. Easy! I'll make the hash browns! I usually use leftover baked potatoes (I usually bake extra potatoes just to be able to make them), but, having none, I quickly scrubbed a few potatoes and threw them into the microwave. I have never actually microwave-baked potatoes before, but it came in super handy today! While they cooked, I heated some extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and added in some roughly diced onion. Once the potatoes were done, they were also roughly diced, thrown into the pan, and gently spiced with garlic sea salt. That's it. Just keep them moving enough so that they don't burn, but let them get nice and crispy. Instant side! And I finished with a few minutes to spare!

So that's what happens when an easy meal turns into a not so easy one, but winds up not to difficult after all!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The family that bakes together...

I wasn't planning on baking today, really I wasn't. But then my sister came over, and said that she wanted to make some breakfast bars. Considering she brought most of the ingredients with her, how in the world could I say no?

Little miss helped to press the dough into the pan. Other than that, she mostly helped entertain my sister's nine-month-old baby, Baby A. Man, when Baby A can walk and talk, I think my sister and I are totally in for it - I think these two will be a lot of fun together.

Although I think we managed to overcook them a bit, these came out tasty! These would be great for a playdate, as they are kind of granola-bar-esque. If you are interested in the recipe, check it out here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Crumb Cake

We used to go to this bakery that had DELICIOUS crumb cake. Then the bakery closed. Other bakeries have crumb cakes, and they are good, but I have not found one that was as good as that bakery's.

I may have come close today.

Both my husband and I spend a bit too much time on foodgawker, and there are fun times comparing what catches our eye. And then there are times when we both stop on the same picture. This was one of those times.

Several weeks ago, there was a posting for New York Style Crumb cake on this awesome blog. This weekend, my husband requested that I make this cake. I have been hoping for an opportunity to do so, so I absolutely said yes.

For the whole recipe, look here.

An interesting thing about this recipe is that it called for a couple of things that I don't normally stock in my kitchen - cake flour and buttermilk. Luckily, both of those ingredients are ones for which there are very simple substitutions. For cake flour, you can use all purpose flour, replacing two tablespoons per cup of flour with corn starch. Basically, measure a cup of all purpose flour, then measure out two tablespoons of that cup of flour. Then replace those two tablespoons with two tablespoons of corn starch. Super simple. For buttermilk, there are several things that you can do, all of which are pretty easy. You can use plain yogurt in equal measure, but I almost never do that. What I do is just "sour" some milk using either white vinegar or lemon juice. For each cup of buttermilk needed, just put one tablespoon of vinegar (or lemon juice) in your one-cup measure, and fill to the one cup line with milk. Then just let it sit for about five minutes. Instant buttermilk.

Substitutions ready, this cake came together really easily. The only difficulty I had was with the topping. For some reason, my topping dough came out drier than I am pretty sure it is supposed to. How do I know it was drier? Because I had a hard time forming the little pea-sized pieces. They didn't seem to want to hold their shape, even after I added a little extra melted butter. Though my helper certainly had a good time helping me try. We did the best we could, and piled the topping onto the cake dough. I was pretty sure it would be yummy anyway.

Another fun thing about this cake is that I could pass it off as a breakfast item. Which is great, because I wanted to share it with my family, many of whom have given up dessert for Lent. So when I brought this to share at our family dinner this evening, I made sure to remind everyone that this is just a breakfast item. That I am asking them to taste. After dinner. But it's not dessert.

Everyone was on board.

WOW. Yummy it was. Oh. My. Gosh. It tastes like real crumb cake! I know, a funny thing to say... but it was so close to bakery crumb cake... I was amazed it came from my kitchen. This will definitely be breakfast tomorrow morning. For most of the family, I think.

New York Style Crumb Cake

For crumb topping:
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup ground cinnamon
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted, still warm
1 3/4 cups cake flour

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup buttermilk, room temperature

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and set oven rack to the middle position. Spray an 8 inch square baking pan with non-stick cooking spray and line it with a strip of parchment paper or foil that is just narrower than the width of the pan, yet long enough to overhang the sides of the pan. Spray the parchment or foil with cooking spray also.

In a medium bowl, stir together the crumb topping ingredients until they form a smooth dough. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes as you prepare the cake batter.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, stir sift together the cake flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. With the mixer running on low, add chunks of the butter one at a time, allowing each one to incorporate into the dry ingredients before adding another. Once all the butter has been added, and when the mixture resembles even, moist crumbs, add the egg, egg yolk, vanilla and buttermilk, and increase the mixer's speed to medium. Beat batter until it is light and fluffy, about two minutes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans.

Break apart the crumb topping into large, pea-shaped pieces, rolling them slightly in between your fingertips to get them to hold their shape. Spread the crumbs in an even layer over the batter.

Bake the cake until the crumbs are golden and a cake tester (or toothpick) inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Cool the cake, in the pan, on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Use the parchment or foil handles to lift the cake from the pan. Dust the cake with confectioners sugar before serving, if desired.

Friday, February 19, 2010


For various and sundry reasons, I happened to have a few extra egg whites in the fridge. I don't mind separating eggs, but am sometimes at a loss for what to do with the un-called-for portion of the egg. You know, like when you make an angel food cake using a dozen egg whites - what do you do with a dozen egg yolks? Well, this week, I had the opposite situation - I needed three egg yolks for my recipe, and was thus left with three egg whites. Which were just calling out to me to be made into meringue cookies.

I have made meringues a couple of times, and always enjoy them, but the recipe that I use calls for two egg whites, and I had three. Rather than adjust the recipe up by 50% (I know, not tough...), I took the opportunity to look for a new recipe. Because I am silly like that.

The thing I found, when looking at meringue recipes, is that they are all pretty similar, and that the main differences have to do with flavorings and scale. I wanted simple, so I chose this recipe.

This is yet another time when I love my KitchenAid mixer. Using the whisk attachment, making these cookies was a breeze. I chose vanilla extract, rather than almond, since I love vanilla. I also don't have a pastry bag or any of the fancy tips that go along with it, so I just spooned the meringues onto my baking sheet, so the shapes aren't quite as pretty as those in the link, but they turned out really well. They are seriously addictive, and everyone in the family loves them. It's a good thing I have three more egg whites now, just waiting to be used!

Meringue Cookies
(only slightly adapted from All That Splatters)

3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup superfine or caster sugar (or granulated sugar, given about 30 seconds in the blender or food processor)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and place the rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until the meringue holds very stiff peaks. Beat in the vanilla extract.
Shape the cookies with a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4 inch star tip or with a plastic zip top bag with the corner snipped off, or you can use a teaspoon to spoon the batter onto the prepared pan.
Bake for 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hours, rotating the pan halfway through. The meringues are done when they are pale in color and fairly crisp. Turn off the oven and open the door just a crack. Leave the meringues in the oven to dry fully, a few hours to overnight.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Chocolate Bottom Banana Cake

I don't know if you've noticed, but I think I have mentioned bananas on here quite a bit. I think all little kids like bananas, and little miss in no exception to that. And we tend to buy our bananas at Produce Junction, because you get a great price per pound. The only problem is that you get many pounds for your price. So we do our best to go through them, but we always wind up baking with the last several.

In looking for yet another fun, new banana recipe, I was intrigued by this one, which I came across completely by accident, while I was looking at some other recipe (though I can't remember what that other one was right now...). Bananas and chocolate? That sounded different, so I was definitely up for it!

My helper was on board to help me mash the bananas, but wasn't really in the mood to do much else. We had just come in from sledding and she didn't have much of an attention span for baking. I mean, she wanted to help, but if you have seen a wired-from-sledding-three-year-old's version of "help," you'll understand that it's probably just as well that I handled most of the measuring and mixing myself this time...

The batter as a little bit thicker than I had expected, which made spreading each layer across the pan a little more work than I had anticipated, and I did opt out of using the chocolate chips mentioned in the recipe, rationalizing that this way the cake could serve as breakfast in a pinch... (just agree with me...). This smelled really good baking. And puffed up beautifully, as well.

We cut into this for snack time today, and it was really cool to see how the layers came out. Looks kinda like waves, doesn't it? I don't think I could have done that on purpose no matter how hard I tried. And of course I brought some to the gym for one of my favorite non-family taste testers to try. She loved it, and so did we. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Chocolate Bottom Banana Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 bananas)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9" x 13" baking pan.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the egg, vanilla and mashed bananas, mixing thoroughly.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix well.
Divide batter in half. Add the cocoa powder to one half of the batter. Spread the chocolate batter in the bottom of the prepared pan. Spoon the remaining half of the batter on top of the chocolate batter. You can gently swirl the batters together with a knife if you want. Sprinkle chocolate chips on the layers of batter.
Bake for 30 minutes or until cake tests done (with toothpick or tester). Allow cake to cool.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine Sugar Cookies

Apparently I signed up to send in a snack to little miss's preschool class tomorrow. I didn't realize I had, but when the monthly calendar came home, her name was on it for tomorrow's date, so I must have volunteered. Not that that's a problem - I signed up for a few dates, so what's one more. Now I just had to figure out what to send in...

With all the snow last week, her school wound up being canceled last Thursday, the day that the kids were supposed to have their Valentine's Day celebration.

I know, that seemed like a random thought to throw in there, right? I swear it's related.

I don't know if another kid (or, realistically, another kid's mom...) was scheduled to send something in as a snack for the party, and, if they were, if they will send something in tomorrow, the re-scheduled date of the party. So I decided to play it safe and make cookies. In the shapes of hearts. That way, if another mom sends in cupcakes or something, these will be different, and if no one does bring in some other snack, the shape will show the intention of celebrating Valentine's Day. Right? Either way, the shape of the month in the class is, appropriately enough, a heart, so can't go wrong. Or something like that.

Little miss requested gingerbread cookies, but I have no molasses, so I asked if sugar cookies would be an okay substitute. Since they still involve rolling, cookie cutters and sprinkles, she was okay with the substitution. There are a ton of sugar cookie recipes out there, and I don't actually have a go-to one. So today I picked this one. I mean, she calls them the best ever. Sounds good to me!

Any cut-out cookies are fun, and these were no different. Little miss helped me cut out the shapes, and decorate the cookies. And is very excited about telling her teachers and classmates that she made these.

We only rolled out half the dough, since a three-year-old's attention span, even when doing something fun, can only last so long. And because there are only 9 kids in her class. Now I just hope that the flurries we saw earlier this evening don't accumulate, and that she gets to bring these in tomorrow!

The fact that we only baked half of the cookies, by the way, means that I have half a batch of sugar cookie dough in my fridge to be rolled and baked within the next couple if days. I actually trying to think of other things I might be able to do with it... So stay tuned!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

February Daring Cooks Challenge - Mezze

One baking challenge done, it is now time for my foray into the land of daring cooking!

The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.

Before reading this challenge, I was completely unfamiliar with what "mezze" was. Turns o
ut, rather than a specific item of food, it is actually a style of eating. Mezze is a Middle Eastern dining style that encompasses a variety of small dishes, rather than one single main dish. What made this a fun challenge was the freedom involved - mezze can be served as a snack, as appetizers, or as a meal in itself. And it also does not have a specific set of required dishes. The only requirements were to make both pita and hummus using the challenge recipes, and then to create a mezze table of our own.

I am going to apolog
ize in advance, because this post will be a little long and a little picture heavy... but this challenge was a lot of fun for me, and involved quite a few fun dishes.

In my history, pita and hummus is often times accompanied by falafel, none of which I had ever made on my own before, so I decided that, in addition to the required pita and hummus, falafel would definitely be on my mezze table. Both the hummus and falafel are chick-pea dishes, so I decided to challenge myself further by doing something else I had never done before - using dried beans. Any time I have used any kind of beans in any kind of recipe, I have always used canned. Not this time - I reconstituted dried garbanzo beans to use in both of these recipes. Not that this is a difficult thing to do, it is merely something that I had never done before.

Chick peas soaked and (half of them) boiled, it was time to make the hummus and falafel. Both recipes call for the chick peas to be mashed to various degrees, and the recommended method for doing this is to use a food processor, which (as I may have mentioned once or twice before...) I don't have. So for the falafel, I used my potato masher and mashed the soaked chick peas with the associated onion, garlic and a variety of spices as smoothly as I can manage by hand. This mixture was then placed into the fridge, to be rolled and baked (rather than the traditional frying...) on the day of the meal.

Since hummus is suppsed to be more of a spread, I decided to use my mini-blender, rather than attempt to mash a smooth paste by hand. In addition to chick peas, hummus is made with garlic, some lemon juice, some salt, and sesame paste, also known as tahini. Which can be difficult to find in some stores. But I found it, and blended and blended and blended until I had a huge bowl full of fresh hummus. Which also went into the fridge, since it only tastes better after being given some time to rest and chill.

The two chick pea dishes prepped and resting, it was time to think about what else would be on my mezze table. I knew I wanted to use fresh vegetables, since that was something I always associate with Middle Eastern fare. I decided on three vegetable dishes.

First, I made a roasted eggplant, grape tomato and onion dish. This is actually something that my in-laws prepare on a semi-regular basis, so I can't specifically call the recipe Middle Eastern, but the taste and spirit of the dish matched my ideas for this challenge, so I used it. So easy to prepare. Diced eggplant, roughly chopped onion, grape tomatoes (pierced, so they won't explode), a splash of olive oil, a sprinkling of garlic sea salt. That's it.

For my next vegetable dish, I thought I would try roasted red pe
ppers. And not from a jar. Oven roasted. I have never roasted my own peppers, so thought this would be a good time to try it. This was actually quite an interesting and straightforward process. All you have to do is coat fresh red peppers with cooking oil and pop the under the broiler, turning them every ten or fifteen minutes to ensure that they are evenly charred on all sides. That's right - charred. In a matter of about half an hour, you go from this:

to this:

The blackened skin is peeled off, and the peppers are sliced and stored in olive oil. I can't even describe to you how delicious the kitchen smelled while these were roasting. Definitely worth doing again.

As for my other vegetable dish, I thought I would make a simple Israeli salad - something that I always scooped into my falafel sandwiches! While I have seen it made a few different ways, Israeli salad always consists of tomatos and cucumbers diced into very small pieces. I also included some red pepper in mine, and made a simple dressing with lemon juice, to preserve the fresh flavor of the vegetables.

Most of my dishes prepared, it was time to tackle the other required element of the challenge - making the pita. I was really excited to see how this one would turn out. When the ingredients are first incorporated together, the directions specify to stir the mixture 100 times. While I am not used to bread recipes being quite that specific, this did give little miss some practice with counting, so 100 stirs we stirred. The dough came together so nicely, and rose beautifully. What started as a little ball like this:

Turned into a beautiful, airy, puffy ball like this:

Which, much to little miss's delight, had to be punched down, like this:

The next part was both fun and interesting. The dough was divided and rolled into flat circles, and baked directly on the pizza stone in the oven, where they (for the most part) puffed into beautiful balloons. This was really fun to watch, and I took way more pictures of it than I normally would. The breads cooked up pretty quickly and beautifully, and smelled so good.

The last piece of my mezze table was some grilled chicken. Or, well, it would have been grilled if I had a grill pan. So it was sauteed, in a splash of olive oil with a light seasoning of my favorite, garlic sea salt.

After three full days, all of the componants were prepped, cooked and ready to go. I was now ready to put together my mezze table. What do you think?

At the top is the hummus, and, following clockwise, the Israeli salad, chicken, baked falafel, roasted red pepper, and the eggplant dish.

This was a really different dinner for us, and I will definitely be remaking several of these recipes. The pitas were delicious, and made fantastic pita-chips over the next several days. The hummus was brought to our Super Bowl celebration, and I was told by several family members that it was the best they had ever tasted. I was really pleased with how well these dishes went together, and how much fun this meal was to eat.

Thanks, Michele for a fantastic challenge!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Day - part two

Well, we had another snow day today! Luckily it finally stopped snowing last night, but there was still the little matter of clearing things up. I happen to have the best group of neighbors in the world, and everyone has been super great about helping each other out and making sure that no one is stranded. Seriously great people.

Little miss wanted more crepes for breakfast, so I decided to try bananas as a topping today. My helper asked if she could slice the bananas for me, and, since they are soft and can be cut with a butter knife, I decided to let her give it a try. I asked her to try to make the pieces as close to the same size as she could, and, I have to tell you, she did a really good job! And she only tasted a couple slices...

Instead of maple syrup, I used brown sugar, and these cooked up beautifully. The flavor was just... fantastic. As I said yesterday, these will definitely be made again. Little miss wants to try to make fillings out of pretty much every fruit you can think of, so we will have lots of variety, too! I love it when recipes work out this way.

Anyway, breakfast done, it was time to go out in the snow. While I shoveled, little miss did some mountain climbing:

and a little shoveling:

And after a couple of hours, it was definitely time to come in for some cocoa.

But, like a normal kid, there's only so long you can keep her out of the snow, so after some lunch and a little bit of down-time, over to the sledding hill we went. And, despite some protests, I did make sure that she knew that bringing the sled back up the hill is a necessary part of the sledding process, and, while I know it is easier for her if I do it, it is something I had faith that she could do.

I finally convinced her to come in (my toes were ice cubes!) by promising to make mac'n'cheese for her for dinner. I love that my kid loves comfort food on a cold, snowy day! I always let her pick what shape pasta she wants, and tonight she picked shells. Good choice! And the leftovers will make a great lunch tomorrow.

All in all, a couple of good snow days, but I must say - I am definitely looking forward to venturing out in the world tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Day!

Remember that snow I mentioned over the weekend? Yeah. That was part one. A couple more feet of snow decided to join the piles of snow that were already here... so we are officially in a winter wonderland.

The first order of business today was making sure that we were ready for our after-snow cocoa. Which, of course, meant that we made a batch of marshmallows. And in case you're wondering how a preschooler can help make marshmallows, this is how:

Licking the beater is a very important job.

Once the marshmallows were set, we got down to some serious breakfast business. There's nothing like a snow day for trying out a new, fun breakfast recipe. I happened across this posting for caramelized apple crepes, and today was the perfect day to try them out. I have never made crepes before, and little miss has never had them before, either... but I told her that they were like flat pancakes, and that was all she needed to hear.

These were DELICIOUS. It took me a couple of tries to get the crepes right - not too much batter, the right amount of butter in the pan, the right amount of time... but once I got the swing of it, it went really smoothly. And the maple-apples were fantastic. These would be great as a topping for anything - crepes, pancakes, waffles, ice cream... yeah, really good. We have plenty of extra crepes (which little miss wanted for lunch, too, since she loved them so much!), so I think I will maybe try a caramelized banana filling for them. And maybe we'll add some vanilla ice cream and make them a dessert item...

The rest of the day was filled with shoveling, sliding down mountains of snow, cups of hot cocoa (with the marshmallows, of course!) and lots of playing.

We'll see what tomorrow's snow day has in store for us!
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