Saturday, May 30, 2009

Savory Puff Pastry Heaven

Puff pastry is our friend so don't wait for company or a frou-frou party for an excuse to make these taty tarts. Elegant, easy-to-use and above all versatile it instantly elevates any ingredient. Earlier this year I made Ina Garten's tomato goat cheese tarts and was smitten at first bite. Today, I put together spring flavors and pantry staples. Served with a simple salad this made a perfect lunch.

The first approach uses rectangular puff pieces covered with sauteed beer mushrooms and Parmesan. The second uses Neufatchel with fresh herbs topped with two asparagus springs.

Mushroom Tart
Servings: 3 tarts

1 piece of puff pastry, defrosted, cut in thirds, lengthwise
Parchment paper
1 lb. button mushrooms, stemmed and diced
1/2 cup ale beer
1 large shallot, minced
1 teaspooon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons butter

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pan heat the butter. Add minced shallot cook until fragrant. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat until mushroom are golden about 15 minutes. Deglaze with the beer. Meanwhile using a sharp knife draw a 1/4 inch border on each puff pastry piece. Take a few large spoonfuls of the mushroom mixture and place inside the puff pastry border. Top each rectangle with 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and puffy.

Asparagus Neufatchel Tart
Servings: 9 tarts

1 piece of puff pastry defrosted cut into 3x3 squares
Parchment paper
18 stalks of asparagus, ends trimmed
4 oz. neufatchel, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon parsley
1 teaspoon rosemary
pinch of salt and pepper

Pre heat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, combine neufatchel and herbs. Smear 1 about 1 tablespoon of the cheese on each puff pastry piece. Top with 2 stalks of asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roasted Michigan Asparagus with Two Dipping Sauces

In season asparagus roasted with simple seasoning is one of my favorites. It often appears as a side dish on our dinner table. I decided to make two different dipping sauces as I found beautiful locally grown asparagus. Both sauces played on traditional acidic pairings. The first highlighted the sweetness of balsamic vinegar and the second the tartness of lemon. While both were really good, I preferred the lemon vinaigrette.

Roasted Asparagus with Dipping Sauces
2 Servings
1 stalk asparagus cleaned with ends trimmed

Balsamic Honey Reduction
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tablespoon good honey
pinch of salt and pepper

Lemon Vinaigrette
1/2 cup of the best olive oil you have
juice of half a lemon
few pinches of minced parsley

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Place asparagus on baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes for thicker stalks or 10 minutes for thinner stalks. Meanwhile, over medium-low heat, heat and simmer the balsamic vinaigrette until it becomes syrupy. Add honey, salt, pepper and keep warm until ready to serve. For the vinaigrette, place olive oil in bowl and beat in lemon juice until emulsified. Add parsley, salt and pepper.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BB: Lemon Cakes... Sort Of

Lemon is used is just about everything I make. My husband has an unnatural love of lemons to the point that I don't throw lemons out after juicing as he will eat them like apples. This bonus BB recipe selected by McKenzie or Kenzies Kitchen, profiled lemon in a big way and I didn't take the bait. The recipe sounded challenging but more lemon didn't so very interesting so I substituted orange zest and juice.

The cakes were similar to a pound cake and truly profiled the fresh orange flavor. The recipe was challenging for a novice baker but the directions were concise easy to follow.

Other than using orange I made a few adjustments: added only 1 1/2 cups of sugar as opposed to 2 cups; poked holes so the syrup would seep into the cake; made only 1/2 the glaze.

We brought this cake with us on our road trip to Montreal and it was a perfect snack! Once again you delivered, Thanks Ina! I am on vacay for a bit, hopefully I return with some blog worthy inspiration.

Lemon Cakes
Barefoot Contessa Parties!, 2001
Servings: 2 loaf sized cake, 20 servings

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (6 to 8 large lemons)
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided
3/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. You may also line the bottom with parchment paper, if desired.
Cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, and the lemon zest.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla. Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.
Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. When the cakes are done, allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the cakes from the pans and set them on a rack set over a tray or sheet pan; spoon the lemon syrup over them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.
For the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and the lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the tops of the cakes and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

NYT No-Knead White Bread

Bread, oh how do I love thee. While many the low carb phenomenon, I still love you and can call no meal complete without you.

From an early age I was very much aware that bread is the glue of every meal. The vessel to sop up that olive oil from my mom's braised green beans. The perfect scoop to reach every last drop of soup. Even though my various travels have brought me to fine dinning establishments throughout the world, I still contend there is no greater meal then fresh crusty bread, good feta and olives from Messinia.

I hate to stand on a soap box but, Wonderbread and it's evil spawns have single handily smeared (no pun intended) the reputation of bread. While the move toward artisan breads, that blows the wonder stuff out of the water, is a step in the right direction, the cost can be prohibitive. As an avid bread consumer the weekly bill for various loaves range from $15-$20 a week. I have therefore taken steps to have reduce purchases to only 1 loaf per week and supplement with homemade bread.

While both my mom and yiayia made bread at home, I have opted for a more standardized recipe that creates a wonderful, nutritious, cost effective crusty white bread but above all is so incredibly easy.

No-knead bread came in fashion in 2006 when the New York Times profiled this recipe adapted from the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Thankfully since then there have many well written books that cover the subject of easy homemade breads. I look forward to trying many of these recipes!

No Knead White Bread
New York Times, Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising
Yields 1 loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw

The first time I consumed coleslaw was freshman year in college. Such a dish was never in the rotation at Greek family picnics, because my mother never cooked with or had mayonnaise in the house. Although I wouldn't be classified as a mayo fan, I have acquired a taste for coleslaw. A local chicken and ribs place, Chicken Shack, has my current favorite and it dawned on me to try to make a homemade version.

I searched far and wide for a recipe and found the range and variety a bit overwhelming. I was looking for something slightly sweet with a little tang. I stumbled across a coleslaw recipe on a beautifully photographed, well written site, The Way the Cookie Crumbles, which adapted a version from Cook's Illustrated, a tried and test publication that is efficient in testing recipes and techniques. The ingredient list was straight forward and used a small amount of mayo which was a plus- this recipe was a keeper.

I deviated from the recipe and grated the cabbage with a box grater, because I wanted the texture to be similar to the Chicken Shack version. The results were great because the cabbage was crisp- not soggy, the parsley brought freshness and the mayo was not the star. This recipe satisfies my coleslaw cravings!!

Creamy Buttermilk Coleslaw
Cook's Illustrated July 2002
As Seen On: The Way the Cookie Crumbles
Serves 4

1 pound cabbage (about ½ medium head), red or green, shredded fine (6 cups)
table salt
1 medium carrot, shredded on box grater
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
½ teaspoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Toss shredded cabbage and 1 teaspoon salt in colander or large mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Let stand until cabbage wilts, at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Rinse cabbage under cold running water. Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. Place wilted cabbage and carrot in large bowl.

2. Stir buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, shallot, parsley, vinegar, sugar, mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper together in small bowl. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss to combine; refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. (Coleslaw can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

BB: Tuna Salad- The Real Stuff

I was thrilled that Tuna Salad was selected as the first Barefoot Bloggers May recipe. Kate of Warm Olives and Cool Cocktails, authors a fabulous blog and she could not have picked a better dish! Regardless of the price and extra effort in finding fresh tuna, the flavors truly delivered.

I was a bit concerned about the lime juice in this recipe as I am more accustomed to lemon with seafood. However, I found it truly complemented the tuna. I think lemon would be a bit harsh. The avocado brought creaminess to the party, while the red onion and scallion a bit of crunch. I did not know what to expect from an aesthetic perspective, because I had not seen a picture of this dish, but after the first bite, it tasted so good, I did not care what it looked like. This was prepared at my sister's home, and wish I would have brought a stainless steel pan as she only has non-stick coookware which did not give the sear I expected. Although the seared color was not pronounced, the flavor more than made up for that fault. I found the tuna to be perfectly rare while my sister indicated to cook for only 45 seconds as opposed to the 1 minute.

Please be sure to visit Warm Olives and Cool Cocktails for the full Ina Garten recipe and note I omitted the hot sauce and used reduced sodium soy sauce.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Scallop and Asparagus Lemon Spaghetti

If I had access to super fresh affordable seafood, I would likely integrate some element from the sea in every dish I consumed. In the Detroit area, one has to search to find fresh and reasonable seafood. I never understood why markets in the the "Great Lakes State" sold overpriced and old fish. Such actions are a disservice to the fishing industry in this great state.

I found a market, Papa Joe's, that supplies the freshest seafood in town. What I like best about Papa Joe's, is that they know their stuff and humor my quest to find only the best at the right price. I never buy seafood without first smelling the product, and they do not blink when I ask to see and smell my selection. There are so many ways to spruce the color of a fish, but it is difficult to mask the odor of old fish. However, this market has some of the highest prices in town, but they often have sales and is one of the only places that does not only put their "old" stuff on sale. This special this week involved one of my favorite ingredients- sea scallops. At $14.99 per lb as opposed to the normal $20-24 per lb, it is still quite expensive, but very much worth it.

When it comes to cooking seafood the more simple the approach- the better. Good stuff does not take a lot of work. Usually I just sear the scallops and serve either over lettuce or rice. In this case, I had some lovely asparagus and I was craving pasta. I really enjoyed the white wine/lemon/shallot sauce. The sauce held the dish together and complemented the buttery scallops. The roasted asparagus gave the dish a smokey flavor. I was afraid that the asparagus may over power the delicate scallop flavor. Nevertheless, I was surprised that the asparagus brought out the scallop flavor. My husband commented that a few red pepper flakes would have added some needed heat. This dish is definitely a keeper.
Scallop and Asparagus Lemon Spaghetti
Generously Serves 4

1 lb. fresh sea scallops
1 16 oz. box of spaghetti
2 shallots finely chopped
1 bunch asparagus, cleaned and cut in to thirds
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place asparagus on sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and roast for 10-15 min. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. Slice scallops horizontally, wash and pat dry. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Add half the scallops and cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook remaining scallops. Keep slightly warm. In pan used to sear scallops, add 1 tablespoon butter. Add shallots and cook until slightly soften a few minutes. Add wine and lemon juice. Cook until sauce reduces by half. Check the seasoning. Toss pasta and asparagus. Top with scallops and wine sauce.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

Blueberries and lemon are a classic combination that bring out the best flavors of spring. You cannot go wrong with cheesecake. I found the cheesecake bars to be more simple than a traditional cheesecake. I was looking for something light and fruity for a Mother's Day lunch dessert. If you follow my blog you know that I am not a seasoned baker, so I did not want to take too much of a risk. I have come to the conclusion that I usually fail at sweet items that require flour.

The bars were smooth, slightly sweet and tart. I followed the recipe as written and made a few adjustments. I liked the thickness of the bars since cheesecake can be so rich.

Happy Mothers Day to all!!!

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars
Tyler Florence, Food Network Website
Yields 10 bars

For the base:
Butter, for greasing
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
9 graham crackers
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted (used 2 tablespoons unsalted butter)

For the filling:
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 eggs (used 1 extra large egg)
2 lemons, zested and juiced (combined lemon zest with sugar)
About 1/2 cup sugar, eyeball it
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Powdered sugar, for dusting (omitted)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
For the base:
Grease the bottom of a 9 by 9-inch baking pan with butter. Then place parchment paper over the top, pressing down at the corners. In a food processor, process the sugar, cinnamon and graham crackers until you have the texture of bread crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse a couple of times to fully incorporate. Pour into the lined baking pan and gently pat down with the base of a glass. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes until golden. When done set aside to cool.

For the filling:
Add cream cheese, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice and sugar to the food processor and mix until well combined. It should have a smooth consistency. Pour onto the cooled base and then cover with blueberries. They will sink slightly but should still be half exposed. As the cake bakes they will sink a little more and break down. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until the center only slightly jiggles. Remove from the oven and cool completely before refrigerating for at least 3 hours. Once set, remove from pan using the parchment lining and slice into 10 rectangular bars.
Dust with powdered sugar.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Muffin Tin Potato Moussaka

There seems to be a correlation between growing as a home cook and acquiring cooking/baking products. For a recent barefoot bloggers recipe, I ran out to buy a muffin tin. Yes, that's right folks prior to trying this recipe I never needed a muffin pan. I sadly have no intent of making muffins in the near future and I scoured my brain to find ways to use this item in savory recipes like Moussaka Muffins.

Moussaka is one of those things that take time and patience but the rewards are immense. It's often reserved for gatherings where the large quantities equal a large guest list. Omitting the eggplant and concentrating on the thigh bulking items such as potato, ground beef and bechamel- this often laborious recipe becomes manageable and it's certainly easier to serve in 12 equal proportions.

This dish is comprised of three (Potato, Kima,seasoned ground beef or lamb, and Bechamel) separate but equal elements that with the exception of the bechamel can be prepared in advance. The beauty of using the muffin tin as the cooking vessel is each individual piece can be customized. Add zucchini to one, eggplant to another, omit the meat sauce in the next. The combinations are limitless.

You will note that egg is a traditional component in the bechamel based topping for moussaka and pastitiso. Although once again my mother thinks I am crazy, I find omitting the egg(s) makes a less custardy topping which I like. By all means include the egg if that's your preference.

Potato Moussaka
Serves 4

12 count muffin tin
2 large russet potatoes
1 1/2-2 cups bechamel sauce
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk, scalded
1/2 cup kefalotyri or parmesan cheese
pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon white or black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Peel potatoes and cut 24 slices 1/4 inch thick. Place potato slice on a baking sheet. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook until slightly brown about 15 minutes, flipping half way through. Place to the side.

Kima (Meat Sauce)
Grate one small onion and one clove of garlic. Heat 2 tbl. olive oil in large pan, add onion and cook for 1-3 minutes over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Brown the ground sirloin for a few minutes, add spices and wine, cook for an additional minute until alcohol evaporates. Add tomato paste and mix in, add tomato puree and water. Mix thoroughly and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 30-45 minutes on low. Check seasoning.
Bechamel Sauce
In a sauce pan melt butter over medium low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, until mixture bubbles. Slowly whisk in the scolded milk, mixture should thicken rather quickly. Turn the heat off, add the cheese, nutmeg, pepper and salt (if needed).

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 potato slice in each muffin slot. Top with a tablespoon of the meat sauce. Top once again with a potato slice. Pour in enough bechamel to cover the potato/meat sauce. Bake for half hour and serve warm.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Leek Orzo with Feta

Orzo has the texture of pasta in the shape of rice. It is my go to starch when I need something quick and with numerous combination of flavors, orzo can complement the main dish or be the feature attraction.

The combination of leeks, cooked with a splash of white wine, feta and orzo creates a light and tangy dish. Served on a warm day this had a distinct onion flavor and was filling without being heavy.

Leek Orzo with Feta
Serves 4 as a side dish

1 cup uncooked orzo
1 leek, chopped and cleaned
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup feta

Cook orzo according to package directions, place in a large bowl. Heat pan of over medium heat. Add olive oil heat for an additional minute. Add cleaned chopped leeks and saute for about 5-10 minutes until leeks soften and brown. Add white wine and cook for an 3-5 minutes until wine is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the orzo and leeks. Top with crumbled feta. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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