Saturday, May 29, 2010

10 Minute Crackers - Simple Saturday

Sometimes I can't keep my opinion to myself. The other day, in the middle of the grocery aisle, I blurted out, "You have GOT to be kidding me" upon viewing a box of "gourmet" crackers for 8 bucks. It rattled a few of the cart pushers around me, but come on. You can easily make crackers that do NOT cost that much, and take less time than finding your car keys to drive to the store.
10 Minute Crackers
I will be the first one to gladly pay for top ingredients, divine technique, local farm produced pesticide free vegetables, and talented chef's creations. But sometimes, folks, it's just the packaging they're selling. There are wonderful recipes for Lavash, and Yeast crackers that are well worth the time and effort, but for just a quick basic cracker that you can turn into "Your Made Gourmet", this quick recipe rules.

I've added a few ideas to jazz it up, but just open your pantry and try stuff; it's the best way!

***Warning*** You may get hooked on experimenting with seasonings and toppings on these very easy and addictive crackers.
RECIPE: 10 Minute Crackers

1 cup AP Flour (but experiment with other flours, too)
1/2 cup grated cheese
1/4 cup Butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. Salt
water (or milk, or experiment with other liquids)

1- In a Food Processor - Pulse the flour, salt, cheese and butter for about 15-20 hits until it's crumbly. (You can also do this by hand and work the butter in until the dry ingredients are crumbly.)

2- Add the water a little at a time, pulsing between additions, til a soft dough gathers up in the bowl. You may not need all of the water.

3- Place the dough on a floured surface and do either of these:


1) Roll into a log the diameter you want your crackers to be.
2) Roll the log in seasonings of choice (ie, mushroom powder [recipe below], fleur de sel, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dry herbs, etc.)
3) Cover in plastic and chill the log for at least 1 hour
4) Slice into thin rounds
5) Place on a parchment covered baking pan and bake at 400F for 5-10 minutes depending how thin the crackers.
6) Cool and keep in an airtight container.



1) Roll dough out thin onto a parchment paper that you then place on a baking sheet.
2) Sprinkle onto the sheet of dough: seasonings (as mentioned above, or nuts, or seeds)
3) Score the dough with a sharp knife or pizza cutter into squares or shapes as desired.
4) Bake in a 400F oven for 5-10 minutes depending on how thin the dough has been rolled.
5) Cool and keep in an airtight container.

RECIPE: Dried Mushroom Powder
Using Dried Wild Mushrooms - place in a coffee grinder or spice grinder and pulse for 30 seconds at a time until you reach a nice powder form. Use for rolling the cracker dough log in or for sprinkling on the rolled out cracker dough before baking.

You could easily design your own gourmet crackers and can you imagine what your friends will say when you tell them you MADE the crackers you're serving with cheese tonight. Probably something like, "You have GOT to be kidding me!"

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Green Tea Piece Montee (Croquembouche) - Daring Bakers May '10

Who doesn't enjoy a "crunch in the mouth"? That's what Croquembouche translates to in English. Another name for this tower of cream-filled puffs covered in caramel and spun sugar is Piece Montee (mounted piece), and in France it's served as a wedding, anniversary or baptism cake. They can be several feet high, or in the case of my little trio - 6 inches each.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Most of the time, when I've seen these towers of pastry in the United States, it has been during the holidays. Perhaps because the shape resembles a Christmas tree? Or because, like a Gingerbread House, it's an undertaking to gather all the parts of this and a great crowd-pleaser to present.

In my catering gigs, I've made several Croquembouche and I've made the puff pastry balls (Profiteroles) numerous times with different fillings.
Here's one with Rose Tea filling:
I was inspired to try a pastry cream with Matcha Green Tea by the amazingly chic Gail Baral, (a Tea Sommelier, friend and co-creator [with Robb Wain] for the online Tea Shop, ALGABAR.)
Along with her stylish online business, Gail presents unique, educational and contemporary Tea workshops at some of the best events and hotels in the US and beyond. If you ever have a chance to take part in one of her Teas or the opportunity to invite her to yours, DO!

There are three main parts to the Piece Montee: Pate a Choux (pastry puffs),
Cream Filling (ie. pastry cream, mascarpone, or thickened and flavored whipping cream), and the Caramel sauce (used to keep the mounted pieces...well...mounted, and to make the spun sugar threads).

RECIPE: Pate a Choux as given for Daring Bakers

Pate a Choux (Yield: About 28)
¾ cup (175 ml.) water
6 Tbsp. (85 g.) unsalted butter
¼ Tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup (125 g.) all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

For Egg Wash: 1 egg and pinch of salt

Pre-heat oven to 425◦F/220◦C degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Preparing batter:
Combine water, butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally. At boil, remove from heat and sift in the flour, stirring to combine completely.

Return to heat and cook, stirring constantly until the batter dries slightly and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Transfer to a bowl and stir with a wooden spoon 1 minute to cool slightly.

Add 1 egg. The batter will appear loose and shiny.

As you stir, the batter will become dry-looking like lightly buttered mashed potatoes.

It is at this point that you will add in the next egg. Repeat until you have incorporated all the eggs.

Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large open tip (I piped directly from the bag opening without a tip). Pipe choux about 1 inch-part in the baking sheets. Choux should be about 1 inch high about 1 inch wide.

Using a clean finger dipped in hot water, gently press down on any tips that have formed on the top of choux when piping. You want them to retain their ball shape, but be smoothly curved on top.

Brush tops with egg wash (1 egg lightly beaten with pinch of salt).

Bake the choux at 425◦F/220◦C degrees until well-puffed and turning lightly golden in color, about 10 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 350◦F/180◦C degrees and continue baking until well-colored and dry, about 20 minutes more. Remove to a rack and cool.

Can be stored in a airtight box overnight.

When you are ready to assemble your piece montée, using a plain pastry tip, pierce the bottom of each choux. Fill the choux with pastry cream using either the same tip or a star tip, and place on a paper-lined sheet. Choux can be refrigerated briefly at this point while you make your glaze.

RECIPE: Matcha Green Tea Pastry Cream (adapted from recipe as given by Daring Bakers)

1 cup milk
2 Tbls. Cornstarch
2 Tbls. Matcha Green Tea Powder
6 Tbls. Sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
2 Tbls. butter
1 tsp. Vanilla

1- Mix 1/4 cup milk with the cornstarch and 1 Tbls. of Matcha Powder.
2- In a saucepan, heat the rest of the milk, sugar and 1 Tbls. Matcha Powder
3- When the milk just begins to form bubbles around the edges, remove the pan from the heat.
4- In the bowl with the cornstarch mixture, add the egg and the egg yolks, whisk til smooth.
5- Pour just a bit of the warm milk into the egg mixture and whisk constantly so the eggs do not cook.
6- Then pour the egg mixture into the pan with the rest of the warm milk and return to Med/High heat.
7- Now, using a spatula, or wooden spoon - stir constantly until the mixture is thick and begins to boil.
8- Remove from heat and beat in the vanilla and butter til smooth.
9- Place in a ceramic dish, cover with plastic wrap that you press onto the pastry cream.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days.

RECIPE- CARAMEL (for mounting and spinning sugar)

1 cup sugar
2 squeezes of lemon juice
1 Tbls. Water

In a saucepan, bring all three ingredients to a slow simmer while stirring over Med. heat.
Using a pastry brush dipped in water, wash down the inside of the pan on occasion to avoid having the sugar crystallize.
When a boil is reached, stop stirring and allow to boil for about 5 minutes or until a slight caramel color appears. Remove from heat and stir while sugar cools.

Using the filled cream puffs, carefully dip each one into the caramelized sugar as you build your tower.
Start with the round base and gradually move to the next layer, using less puffs as you go and moving inward to a cone shape.

As the sugar cools and becomes taffy-like, use a fork to pull strings up and drape around your tower of pastry puffs.

If at any time the sugar gets brittle or too hard to work with, just reheat and start again. It can be used over and over by reheating.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Austin, Awww Yeah! (Recipe: Braised Short Ribs w/Texas Rub)

I'm packing for a return visit to the great city of Austin, Texas. A few months ago was my first time there and a lovely friend of mine showed me why it would be worth returning. Obviously she was right. I thought you might like to see a few of the highlights and I'm including a recipe for Braised Short Ribs with Texas Rub.
Braised Short Ribs
with Texas Rub
Austin, Texas is not only the capital of Texas it's also a center for amazing music, food, art, sports, racing and business. The people I encountered were a great mixture of country friendly and city savvy.

Downtown is sprawling, but approachable with beautiful parks and bridges. The folks are active and exceptionally dog-friendly.
There's a feeling of movement and health that surrounds the whole area. Maybe it's to balance all the good food that is constantly in front of you.

One of my first stops in Austin (because I'm a food nerd) was to see the ground breaking Whole Foods. If there was ever an organic food theme-park, it might look like this store. They had free samples for the kids, the expected (although vast) selection of fresh produce and goods, and it was all surrounded by food courts and semi-restaurants. My friend and I spent a couple hours food-bar hopping enjoying Italian Bruschetta, Calamari Steak, and Tabouleh stuffed Tomatoes -- then perched for awhile sipping on a nice Pinot Noir and catching up.
One of the places we made sure to visit was Kerby Lane.
This is one of the more famous places to find a great plate of Migas (Tex-Mex spiced scrambled eggs with tortillas and veggies and plenty of cheese),
Cinnamon and Banana drenched French Toast and mouth-watering cheesy Queso.
Of course, no one can go to Texas without having Ribs and in Austin that means a trip to the Salt Lick Bar-B-Que Restaurant.
For under a cool "Fifty" we had a table filled with Brisket, Ribs, Sausage, Beans, Potato Salad, Pickled onions, Texas bread, Slaw, Coffee and Pecan Pie Ala Mode! And it '
wuz guud!

Austin is right in there with the Food-truck world, too. In fact, over on the Avenue that is now called SoCo (for South of Congress) you can find several trucks, mobile booths and pretty sweet looking campers that even include local musicians. In Austin, there is always music served up, no matter what else is happening. It's a great thing.
For a quick morning, that is authentically Austin, we stopped for a Breakfast Taco at Nueva Ondo.
By the time I finished reading about the healthy ingredients, I was convinced that I was doing a good thing by eating another tortilla with eggs, cheese and mushrooms.
One of my favorite T-shirts in Austin said, "Keep Austin Weird". It's an example of how much diversity there is in this city. Beyond the Tex-Mex and the Ribs and cheese, you can also stop in classic Tea Shops, like The Steeping Room.
They have a wide choice of teas, luncheon small plates and desserts, like this Camomile Almond Torte.
What's left to do in Austin, you may ask? I'll get back to ya on that, real soon.

(you can take a short cut by ordering rub from Salt Lick online or try my mixings)
Preheat oven to 375F.

6-8 Beef Short Ribs
16-24 oz. Light stock (Chicken, Veggie or Veal)
1 onion chopped
RUB: (1/4 cup Paprika, 4 Tbls. Brown Sugar, 1 Tbls. Chipotle Chile Powder, 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon, dash of salt and pepper. Mix all together.)

Apply the RUB on each Short Rib and let rest at room temp. for 30 minutes.
In a large, deep sided skillet, heat about 2 tbls. of oil on Med/High. When it's hot and just before smoking, place each Short Rib into the skillet, but do not crowd. Cook a few at a time, if needed. Brown on all sides, then remove to a plate and hold until all pieces are well browned.

Reduce the heat to low/med, add the onion and cook til tender (about 5 minutes). Pour in a little stock and stir to combine onions, the tasty bits from the skillet and the stock (about 3 minutes).

Return the meat to the skillet, add enough stock to cover meat half way up. Bring to a boil, cover and put skillet in oven for 2 hours. Turn meat over once about halfway through. Cook until meat is tender and almost falling off the bone.
Remove meat from skillet. Carefully strain the sauce and serve.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Almond Butter Cookies - Simple Saturday and Gluten Free

Is there a word that means "more simple than the simplest"? If there is, this would be the picture that goes with that word.
Almond Butter Cookies
I can't remember who told me about this recipe so many years ago, but anytime I've been camping I always use it. There is literally only two main ingredients (Almond Butter and an egg) plus the optional, but toasty, brown sugar.

Almond butter can be found in almost any regular grocery store these days, but you can also use peanut butter. I've made these plain, sandwiched them with more almond butter or ganache, dipped them in chocolate, and rolled them in coconut. If you read much of my blog, you know I LOVE to have options and I really encourage you to experiment and tell me about it, too.


*1/2 cup Almond Butter (preferably organic)
*1 egg
**optional 1/4 cup brown sugar

1-Beat all ingredients together in a small bowl until very well combined.

2- Drop heaping teaspoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet

3- Place in the freezer for 1 hour (this helps with making the pressed fork prints later)

4- Remove from freezer, lightly press each cookie down with a fork.

5- Bake in a preheated oven 350F for 5-10 minutes. Remove and let cool on pan.
If you're camping, obviously you can't put these in the freezer first. Just drop spoonfuls onto an oiled camping pan and place over the grill. Turn each cookie over once during the cooking, pressing just slightly. Let cool and try sandwiching a campfire marshmallow between them. Now, I've made
myself hungry.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rhubarb-Pineapple-Coconut Conserve

Rhubarb is one of those foods that cause me to ask: Who or when did someone pick this out of the ground and say, "Hey, I think we should eat this red and green stalk"? I'm so glad they did.
Rhubarb-Pineapple-Coconut Conserve
Rhubarb has been used for about 5000 years, and in my reading I found credit given to the Asian world, India and then the English for bringing it over to American soil. Here's the part that raises that same question, though. The LEAVES are toxic. So, who found that out (poor soul), and who decided to keep trying it even after that? Also, rhubarb has been used for purifying, cleaning cookware, adding color to hair and even as an insecticide. But hold's also used to raise metabolism and help in weight loss. You'll never use Formula 401 for that (hopefully). I've tried rhubarb in the raw form and when it's fresh and crisp the taste is tart and sparkly like citrus crossed with a crunchy celery stick. It makes a nice appetizer with a creamy yogurt dip.
When it's cooked, it becomes a wonderfully acidic marinade for fish, or balance to the sweetness of corn and potatoes. I think it's at its best when added to other flavors: strawberries, bananas, etc. This conserve-like-spread took me back to a visit in Hawaii, and the rhubarb was the perfect balance to the sweet flaky coconut and the tangy pineapple. It's a quick one to make and very addictive. Hope you'll try it. Mahalo!

Rhubarb is one of the ingredients for May's TigressCanJam round-up. Take a look (here) at the varied ways to prepare the versatile and seasonal Rhubarb plant.
Recipe: Rhubarb-Coconut-Pineapple Conserve
*1lb. rhubarb (cut into 1/2 inch chunks)

*12 oz. sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (Combine these in a stainless steel pan overnight)
*Add to the pan:
1 (15oz) can Pineapple, drained
*Cook on med. til sugars are dissolved.

*Increase heat to full rolling boil and a temp. of 222F (check for jam)

*Remove from heat and add:
1/2 cup flaked or shredded coconut.
*Stir to combine.

*Pour, carefully, into sterilized jars, seal and water bath process for 10".