Sunday, May 31, 2009

Daring Bakers: Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Ok, I might be a few days late... but I managed to make the Daring Bakers challenge for May this afternoon. Even thought the posting date was May 27, I think if I'm posting before the end of May it should still count, right? :)

This challenge was exactly the type of recipe that I joined the Daring Bakers for. It was a classic recipe that I would never pick out on my own. I was completely intimidated by the initial reports from other Daring Bakers, and I thought there was no way I would be able to get the dough spread as thin as I was supposed to. Yet I gathered the ingredients, followed the directions carefully, and made the most beautiful strudel I've ever seen! I didn't get as creative as some other bakers with the flavors, but I was so pleased with the classic apple strudel I produced. And the taste... slightly sweet, flakey and buttery... Yeah, it was pretty darn good!

If you're interested in the Daring Bakers or Cooks, check out the website!

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (I used Golden Delicious)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary. Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can. Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Asparagus, Fingerling Potato, and Goat Cheese Pizza

As is the case with most avid cooks, I have a pile of cooking magazines that I don't utilize nearly often enough. I love my subscription to Bon Appetit, so I try to make at least a few recipes each time I receive a new issue. Joe and I love making pizza, and I've enjoyed the recent discovery of potatoes as a pizza or focaccia topping (see this recipe for proof). Asparagus just screams springtime to me, and goat cheese makes any dish better. So... this pizza sounded like my idea of heaven!

I decided to be adventurous and make this pizza myself. Since Joe worked at a pizza place in college, I usually give him my flavor preferences and let him be in charge of actually constructing the pizza. But I decided it was time for me to try my hand at pizza making. I used the well known Wolfgang Puck recipe for the dough, which I found on his website. The dough came together nicely, and I managed to toss it as I was shaping the dough, like a true pizza pro! The dough spread out nice and thin, but I did expect it to rise a bit more as it cooked. Maybe it was the recipe, maybe I'm just inept with dough. Either way, I loved the pizza toppings, but would try a different dough recipe next time.

One change I made-- I added fresh thyme. I sprinkled it on top before baking, and the thyme-flavored bites tasted extra delish! So I would highly recommend adding fresh thyme if you try this recipe.

Asparagus, Fingerling Potato, and Goat Cheese Pizza
from Bon Appetit, May 2009

5 ounces fingerling potatoes
Cornmeal (for sprinkling)
Pizza Dough (I used Wolfgang Puck's recipe-- not my favorite, but feel free to try it!)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, pressed
4 green onions, thinly sliced, divided
1 1/3 cups grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
4 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, crumbled
8 ounces asparagus, trimmed, each spear cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 2- to 3-inch pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place potatoes in small saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Sprinkle with salt. Bring to boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Cool. Cut potatoes into thin slices.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Sprinkle rimless baking sheet with cornmeal. Roll and stretch pizza dough to 16x11-inch oval. Transfer to baking sheet. Mix 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic in small bowl. Brush garlic oil over dough. Sprinkle 3/4 of green onions over, then mozzarella, leaving 1/2-inch plain border. Top with potato slices and goat cheese. Toss asparagus and 1 tablespoon oil in medium bowl. Scatter asparagus over pizza. Sprinkle with Parmesan, then lightly with salt and generously with pepper.

Bake pizza until crust is browned and asparagus is tender, about 18 minutes. Transfer to cutting board. Sprinkle with remaining green onions. Cut into pieces.

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad

Are you itching for summer to start? I know I am! Last weekend we had some beautiful sunny weather, but the temperature is just not up to summer standards yet. And as a result, the local produce is still very much spring-oriented-- and really it will for another month or so. I remember last year I kept waiting for the farmers markets to have berries, tomatoes, and other warm weather produce, and I also remember that it felt like summer was halfway over before this type of quintessential summer produce finally made its debut!

At this point I really want to start making summer dishes like caprese salad, but I know the tomatoes I buy will not be up to par. But the Barefoot Contessa gave a great suggestion in her Back to Basics cookbook that came out at the end of last year, when she offered up the suggestion to roast tomatoes in the oven to make a variation of caprese salad. There is still the issue of the negative effects on the environment when you buy food from far off lands, but we can't be perfect all the time, right? I do my part to eat local and reduce my waste and meat consumption, but sometimes you just have a craving that you can't get around! Now that I have had this roasted tomato version, I can probably resist buying more tomatoes until they start growing a little closer to home.

Roasted Tomato Caprese Salad
from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, by Ina Garten


12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, seeds (not cores) removed
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 ounces fresh salted mozzarella
12 fresh basil leaves, julienned


Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.

Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with the garlic, sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 2 hours until the tomatoes are concentrated and begin to caramelize. Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature.

Cut the mozzarella into slices slightly less than 1/2-inch thick. If the slices of mozzarella are larger than the tomatoes, cut the mozzarella slices in half. Layer the tomatoes alternately with the mozzarella on a platter and scatter the basil on top. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Serve at room temperature

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Craving a burger?

Just when you thought you'd seen everything the cupcake craze had to offer, check out these awesome slider cupcakes! My friend Matt made these recently, and when he sent me the pictures I just had to share them. He told me how they made them, so hopefully I got this right...

They are vanilla mini cupcakes for the bun, with slices of chocolate mini cupcakes in between for the burger. The ketchup and mustard are food colored frosting, and the lettuce is coconut colored green. The sesame seeds on top are the final touch. Aren't they fun? Now I'm thinking I need to host a cookout for friends just so I have an excuse to make a batch of my own!

Thanks for sharing Matt!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Daring Cooks maiden voyage!

Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter

The moment we've been waiting for has finally arrived... the first Daring Cooks challenge! I have really enjoyed being a part of the Daring Bakers, because it's pushed me to bake things I would never attempt on my own. But I really am a cook more than a baker, so I jumped at the chance to join this group as soon as the idea was first announced. I can't wait to see what types of creative and complex recipes we attempt as this group gets going!
Shaped and ready to cook.

Our first recipe was Ricotta Gnocchi, which is the most well known dish at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. I hadn't heard of making gnocchi with ricotta before, but once I started looking online I discovered that this is the signature dish at Zuni Cafe. I managed to find the Zuni cookbook at the library the weekend before I tackled this challenge, and I had fun reading up on the restaurant before starting on this challenge. Zuni Cafe sounds like a really special restaurant, and I would love to visit next time I have the opportunity to visit San Fransisco.

Sadly, I really didn't end up liking the gnocchi this way! Everyone on the Daring Cooks message board commented on how light tasting these gnocchi were, but I decided upon tasting that I really prefer the heavier, traditional potato version. I also attempted to make sage brown butter to toss with the gnocchi, and I don't think I did a very good job with it. The gnocchi had a nice sage flavor, but tasted kind of bland and greasy to me. I did freeze half the recipe, and I am interested in seeing if I like them any better with some kind of tomato sauce. Even though I didn't love the recipe, I enjoyed the chance to try a new recipe that was different than I usually cook. I can't wait to see what other recipes this group decides to tackle!

Fresh ricotta

If you're interested in trying the recipe, you can find it here. Also, I made my own ricotta, which I would recommend trying! It was simple and fun to see the milk turn into creamy cheese. I used a recipe from Epicurious, and it worked really well. Click here for the ricotta recipe.

If you try this recipe, this picture is a great example of why it's important to test a single gnocchi before forming a lot. This was the result of my first test... not good! I added a couple tablespoons of flour to make the gnocchi hold up better, and the second test was much better!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chicken and Spinach Cannelloni

The Tomato Sauce Version

This pasta dish is another recipe I have to credit another blogger for. Kristin, of Dine and Dish, made a variation of this for her recent Italian dinner party, and it just sounded too good to skip. Kristin did it as manicotti, but I followed the original recipe and used wonton wrappers to make cannelloni. It was fun to roll the pasta up, and the filling was really well balanced. I thought the amount of sauce called for in the original recipe sounded kind of insane, so I didn't use all of it. I did freezed some of the cannelloni without sauce, too, and then cooked them later with homemade tomato sauce instead of the cream sauce. I ended up liking it better this way, and in the future would make the cannelloni exactly the same, just with a different sauce. I made this just for Joe and I, but think it would be an impressive dish for a dinner party.

The Original Version

Chicken and Spinach Cannelloni

1 1/2 lbs boneless chicken (I use a mix of breasts and thighs)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 dry white wine
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 lb frozen spinach, rinsed and drained well (optional)
1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup low fat cottage cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 cups milk (I sometimes use evaporated skimmed milk for a creamier taste)
1 package egg roll wrappers
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese


In a large skillet, simmer the chicken, onion, broth, wine, and thyme, until chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a plate and allow to cool slightly. While the chicken in cooling, strain the broth to remove the thyme and onions. Reserve the broth in a large saucepan.

Place the onions and thyme in a food processor. Cut the chicken into large chunks, and add to the food processor. Plus the chicken until finely chopped, dividing the chicken into two batches if necessary.

Squeeze all the liquid out of the spinach. Place in a bowl with the chicken mixture, the ricotta and cottage cheese, ½ cup parmesan, nutmeg, and white pepper. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

In a large saucepan, met the butter. Whisk in flour, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. Wisk in the reserved chicken broth, stirring constantly. Add the wine, and then the milk, stirring constantly, until sauce is snooth. Simmer, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes, while you start to assemble the cannelloni. (I will totally skip this step next time, and will just use a red tomato sauce)

Pour approximately one cup of sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish, or spread between a couple smaller baking dishes. Tilt the dish so the sauce spreads on the bottom of the dish.

To assemble the cannelloni, lay an egg roll wrapper on the counter. Place a few spoonfuls of the chicken filling onto the center of the wrap, and carefully roll up. Repeat with all the filling and wrappers. Arrange the cannelloni in a dish, and top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle ½ cup Parmesan cheese on top.

Cover with foil, and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. During the last 10 minutes, remove the foil. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A contest worth entering

Check this out... North American Import and Export is hosting a pretty great contest right now. Enter by going to their blog,, and telling them how you would spend $200 dining out in your area. I said I'd go to Tru, but it's really hard to decide!