Monday, February 26, 2007

Sweet Cinnamon-y Deliciousness!


Dough, glorious dough!

The guys at work love when I bring in baked goodies, in fact, I think they come to depend on me bringing something in once a week. So I figured, why not cinnamon rolls? It’s been a very long time since I’ve made or had cinnamon rolls. However, the fact is that I did not already have a recipe for them, so I went to the Joy of Cooking website (I do not own the cookbook, my mom does though, and I remember that most all recipes from that cookbook always come out well.) And there it was, the lovely cinnamon roll recipe that I was about to dice up and modify to fit my needs. The dough rose and was nice, fluffy and moist, however, my cinnamon roll efforts were a bit dry because I crammed too many rolls into a pan, and then baked them too long. So make sure you give your rolls plenty of room to cook properly, and don't overcook them. Here it is, my modifications to the Joy of Cooking Cinnamon Rolls.

Walnut Cinnamon Rolls

In a small pot heat until warm (you know, that temperature that yeast likes):
1 ½ cups milk

Pour milk into a very large mixing bowl and add:
½ cup sugar

If the temperature is just right, then add:
2 packages (1/2 ounce) active dry yeast

Allow the yeast to bloom and bubble and get all moist. Now add and mix well:
½ cup butter, softened

½ tsp salt
5 eggs, beaten

Now gradually add flour into yeast mixture.
7 cups flour

I first add in one cup at a time with a wooden spoon, then I switch to using my electric hand mixer with dough hooks, and then finally turn dough onto a floured counter and knead the rest of the flour in. You want a nice elastic dough, not sticky, but not tough and hard. Once the dough is all mixed together and kneaded, place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. I usually fill a pan with boiling water and place it on the lower rack of my oven while the dough in the bowl is on the rack above the hot water.

Meanwhile, make the cinnamon filling by mixing the following in a medium bowl:
1 cup + 2 tbl packed brown sugar

6 tbl flour

¼ cup ground cinnamon

1 cup butter, softened
2 tbl milk

You will also need:
1 ½ cup walnuts
When it’s time to assemble the cinnamon rolls.

You can also make the powdered sugar icing. In a medium-sized bowl stir together:
¼ cup butter, melted
2 cup powdered (confectioners or icing, 10x) sugar

2 tbl milk
1 tsp vanilla
This should be a nice spreading consistency.

Once the dough has doubled in size punch it down. Divide dough in half (just to make it manageable) and place it on a floured surface and roll it out till a ¼ inch thick. Roll out second piece of dough. Spread both dough flats with the cinnamon fillings. Sprinkle filling with the walnuts. Roll dough into a roll and pinch to edges to seal. Slice into 1 inch or so thick pieces. Grease two 9x13 inch glass pans (or whatever pans you happen to have), and place the rolls in pans, leaving room for rising. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap and let rise till double in a warm place, about 1 hour. You can refrigerate the rolls overnight and bake them fresh in the morning. Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush rolls with milk. Bake rolls for 20 to 25 minutes or until light brown and rolls sound hollow when you tap them. Be careful not to overcook them, they can burn easily and become dry. You can cover the rolls with tin foil for the last few minutes of baking so as not to burn the tops. Take rolls out of the oven and spread with the powdered sugar icing.

How many rolls does it make? A crap ton. Really the number or rolls are up to you, roll the dough out thick or thin, cut the rolls thick or thin, you control the number.


Cinnamon filling & powdered sugar icing

Roll 'em out

Time for the last rise...

Time to eat!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dinner at Tapas 177 is anything but a boor...

Last night was a celebration dinner night, I shall be going to Honda and he shall be going to Toyota.

We went to Tapas 177 last night, a restaurant who has an amazing and innovative chef no doubt. Just reading the menu makes you say 'wow, that's a good idea' or 'never thought of that flavor combination before' I have never ever ever been disappointed with my meal at Tapas 177. The decor/ambiance is very lovely, earthy, muted and romantic. Due to this decadent and low lit venue though, I regret that I will have to do what I absolutely hate, write a post without pictures. I know, I am sorry, it can't be helped. I tried taking a picture with my little camera phone (that right there is half the problem Maria, all the photographers are saying), but they were far to dark and blurry. So I shall do my very best to use my words to describe last night's amazing dinner.

I started with a glass of Rioja, which was a deep red, rich, peppery, spicy, tasting of big red fruit, and he had his good old favorite drink standby, tequila and ginger ale. A toast to the Japanese automotive industry for hiring us as their newest engineers (clink). This is shear enjoyment. The walls are a lovely burnt reddish-brown stucco, lots of candles (votives on the table, sconces on the walls, large candle holders on top of empty wooden barrels and the bar), a brown silky cloth hides the ceiling from view, I am sitting on a comfy cushioned bench with pillows (I think restaurant's should explore the idea of lounging and eating more in depth, like the ancient Romans did), Nick sits across the table from me. Deep dark browns, reds, golds illuminated with all that candle light (no, or very minimal electric lighting).

We both began with the soup du jour, which was a Chicken Tortilla soup with Saffron Rice. It was really good, had a kick of spice, a good tomato-ey base, hearty vegetables, chicken, saffron rice, but no tortillas (I'm at loss, is tortilla soup supposed to have tortillas?). Well either way, it was really good and warming, especially with as freezing cold and brutally windy as it was last night.

Now, onto one of the most uniquely (in my opinion) flavored entrees ever. First off, I am looking at Tapas' menu, going through the wonderful choices, Pan Seared Ostrich , Venison Osso Bucco, Paella, Scallops, then it caught my eye. Texas Hill Wild Boar Chops. Now I am excited, I have never had wild boar before (something that isn't common in Kenya or America). Now your probably saying, but Maria, it's only a pig, you know pork, ham, bacon, pancetta, etc. Well yes, but it's a special pig, and here's why, Asterix and Obelix, the greatest comic book to ever be worth while to read (well, you can add Tintin in the greatest comic book ever category too). I spent my entire childhood reading Asterix comics, and I happen to own a lot of them, and they are definitely one of my fondest childhood memories. So what's the connection? Well, any and every time that Asterix and Obelix were hungry, a guest in someones home, or simply celebrating with the village the end of another great adventure, there would always, always, always be wild boar. And I always, always, always wanted to try wild boar since I was a kid, see what all the hype was about, why did Obelix dream of wild boar? So that being said, my entire childhood came flooding back to me at this celebration dinner when I saw wild boar on the menu.

So of course, I just had to order the wild boar. Oh won't my sister (who absolutely loves Asterix also) be so jealous of me! So I did. And it was amazing, I was not disappointed. Now I do need to be honest here, the wild boar did taste like pig, but really delicious pig. Basically like a really good pork chop. However, that wonderful chef at Tapas 177 had an amazing idea of how s/he was going to prepare it in such a way that it would still be momentous on this very occasion. Get ready for this flavor combination. Three 3oz. wild boar chops (chopplets!) grilled, with pesto, cheddar cheese, and a blueberry compote/reduction! Wow, let me say it again, pesto, cheddar, and blueberry! I have thrived on food that has not fit into the good old meat-n-potato category all my life, but this seemed to me a very odd but special combination. Now these chops were served on top of a very delicious mound of roasted garlic mashed/crumbled potatoes, with steam whole baby carrots that were lightly glazed (tasted good even though I'm not a cooked carrot person at all), and all of this was topped with shreds of leeks that were fried till crunchy.

The verdict, out of this world!!!! The boar chops were perfectly cooked, the pesto, cheddar, and blueberry compote were the perfect blend of sweet, salt, herb, everything. The potatoes and carrots were really good, I think this is a meal I shall definitely recreate at home. The blueberry compote really interested me, as it seemed to be not only blueberries turned into a sauce but it had soy sauce in it, which who-da-thunk? Blueberries and soy sauce- excellent combination, I shall have to experiment with this and get back to you all at a future date.

Anyways, dinner last night was very pleasurable, a true taste sensation. Nick had the pan seared salmon which was served with a really good spinach and Parmesan rice pilaf, grilled asparagus and topped off with tarragon citrus butter sauce.

We ended our dinner with a cappuccino and a latte. Once again a good dinner at Tapas 177 and I feel truly inspired to create dishes of new and unexpected flavor combinations. Now I must get back to writing my paper, if only I could write that paper the way I just wrote this post, I'd have it made!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Anise & Almond Muffins, and what happened while I was making them…

So I saw Elena of Experiments had a new food event called Muffin Monday, and I thought ‘Oh how fun! I do love a good muffin.’ So I figured, I should whip up some muffins and participate, but what sort of flavor combination for a muffin could I come up with? That’s when I thought of the anisette toast (biscotti) that I often make around Christmas time. Anise and almonds, superb. So that was my flavoring inspiration for my muffins.

Now, what happened while I was making these lovely little muffins? Well, I got a phone call, a phone call that I have been waiting for and hoping against hope that it would be a good news phone call. And I am happy to say, I AM ECSTATIC!!! The phone call was from Honda, and the good news is a job offer! YEAH! So in June, after I graduate, I shall be employed as an engineer in the engine research group at Honda! Oh, I am so happy!

So there I was just making my muffins, ho-hum. And then, all of the sudden, I have a career lined up; I think these muffins shall become very memorable muffins for me now.

I doubled the recipe, and made a total of 34 muffins, so I could bring them to work tomorrow morning. These muffins are lower in fat than some other recipes you might find (low fat yogurt, low fat milk, a little less oil). I got some of the basic measurements from a yogurt muffin employing recipe from the Mr. Breakfast website (he’s got all sorts of breakfast-y recipes). I don’t happen to have anise powder, so I took whole star anise and ground it up in my little food processor with a ¼ cup of the sugar. So without further ado, the Anise & Almond muffins:

Anise & Almond muffins

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line muffin tins with muffin papers, or grease and flour your muffin tins (I used 17 muffin cups, however, if you have larger muffin tins, you might only get 12 muffins out of it).

Sift together in a large mixing bowl:
2 cups flour
1 Tbl baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

In a separate bowl mix:
¾ cup plain low fat yogurt
½ cup low fat milk
6 Tbl oil
1 tsp anise extract or 1 Tbl anisette
1 tsp anise powder
1 egg

Mix the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture (make sure not to over beat it, you just want everything incorporated) Then fold in:

1 cup toasted almonds

Spoon batter into prepared muffin tins (again, I got 17 muffins out of this). Sprinkle muffins with extra toasted almonds. Bake muffins at 400°F for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are golden and when you insert a toothpick it comes out clean. Let muffins cool, and enjoy. As far as jelly/jam recommendations go, I bet an apricot or peach jam would be good with these muffins.

Getting under the skin, A Mundane Dinner Perked Up a Tad

Looks like the makings of a roast chicken...

The intense smell of rosemary and lemon roasting fills the apartment with a wonderful aroma. On a cold winter evening in upstate NY, one cannot resist the warmth of roasted chicken and potatoes. Roasted chicken, a good ol’ standby in everybody’s recipe repertoire. Simple, hearty, delicious, toss your ingredients of choosing on a chicken and shove it into the oven with potatoes and whatever other veggie you please. My thing with roasted chicken is that all those great herbs and seasonings that some people put on their chicken are all on the outside. Leaving the meat on the inside sort of flavorless. So, what to do? Get under the skin! Shove that seasoning/herb blend under the skin and all over inside the chicken cavity. (And if you really want to get it in there you can even buy a needle and syringe to ‘inject’ the bird with flavor, but I’m not at the injecting level just yet.) So here’s my take on the roasted chicken.

Lemon, Garlic & Rosemary Roasted Chicken

In a little food processor (or you could go with the pestle and mortar method) blend together:

The leaves of 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary (this is an estimate, use as much as you like, for that mater, everything here is an estimate)
7 cloves of garlic, peeled
The zest of 1 lemon
The juice of the said lemon
3 Tbl olive oil
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper

Now, you take your rosemary mixture and coat the inside of the chicken’s cavity. Then pull up the skin and massage the mixture into the chickens flesh (its lots of fun). Lastly, massage the rest of the mixture into the skin. Place chicken on a roasting rack in a pan. That lemon that you zested and squeezed, cut it up into wedges and stuff those into the chicken cavity, along with garlic cloves (cut in half) and sprigs of rosemary.

Now put your bird in the oven, I did mine at 450°F for ten minutes, and then lowered it to 375°F for another long while. I suspect cooking your chicken at 375°F for about 1hour and 15 min would be enough, however I cooked mine longer. Why? Because I thought my dinner date was going to come home at 6pm, not 9pm. So if my chicken looks a little overdone, it’s because he was hanging out in the oven for longer than he probably should have been.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Czech Torte SHF#28

Ah, Czech Torte....

This is my first time participating in Sugar High Friday, so here's my shot at it.

I realize that this month's theme is Sweet Seduction (in keeping with Valentines), but this post is going to be more along the lines of delicious sentimentality.

Ever since I was a little kid, I can remember my mom making this torte, usually for my dad's birthday. And I remember helping her and watching her, making all those crunchy layers and chocolate filling, thinking that my mommy must be the best cook in the world, because as a kid this torte looked so complicated to make. This is my first time to actually make the torte on my own, and it's pretty simple really, a slight bit time consuming, requires a delicate hand, but I still think my mommy is the best cook in the world.

I made this torte for my boyfriend in a sort-of post-valentine dinner date. He loved it.

There is a few tricky things that I should mention when making this cake. If you happen to forget to butter and flour the bottoms of the pans (as I just happened to do), it's OK, don't panic. However, this means you have to gently pry the edges of the layers from the pan right after you take it out of the oven while still hot & soft, otherwise it will harden to the pan and be very difficult to get off the pan when cool. Another thing, if you do at some point make a hole or crack in your layer, you can still use it, just don't make it the bottom layer or the top layer. Use the cracked layer somewhere in the middle. So here is my mother's Czech Torte with a few modifications of my own.

Czech Torte

For the crunchy layers:

Sift in a large bowl:
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt

Then cut in:
½ cup butter

Now add:
½ cup sugar
1 tbl honey mixed with 1 tbl water
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350° F.Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead for a minute or two to combine all the dough together. Divide dough into 6 equal sized balls. Grease and flour the upside down bottoms of 9" or 8" cake pans. (I have three 9" cake pans, and I can fit them all into my oven so I cooked three layers at a time in two shifts, you could do two pans in three shifts). Take a dough ball and roll it out onto the bottom of the cake pan. (The layers will be thin, so watch out for holes and cracks, you can mush them out with your fingers.) Bake layers for 7 to 10 minutes, keep an eye on them as you don't want them to burn, they cook up fast. When they are nice and golden brown on the edges, remove them from the oven, let them sit for a minute, then pry up the edges and slide them onto a cookie rack. Cool completely.

For the chocolate filling:

Heat and stir until dissolved in a heavy sauce pan:
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup milk
1 cup heavy cream

In a bowl beat until thick:
5 egg yolks
2 tsp cornstarch
small pinch of salt
dash of vanilla

Stir the egg yolk mixture into the the chocolate mixture and continue to cook over low heat, stirring constantly until thickened, simmer for a minute or two. Take off of heat, and let cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. When it is cool, pour into a mixing bowl and beat in:

1 cup unsalted butter

Beat until it's well mixed.

Place one layer on a plate and spread it with some of the chocolate filling. Top it with a second layer and more chocolate filling, continue this till you have used up the layers and end with the chocolate filling on top.

Hazelnut time!

¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped
¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, whole (or more if necessary)

Decorate with the whole hazelnuts along the perimeter of the cake, and the chopped hazelnuts sprinkled over the top of the cake.

Refrigerate overnight to allow to crunchy layers to soften up a little. Be sure to take the cake out of the refrigerator a couple of hours before you serve (like before your guests come over for dinner), otherwise the cake will be very, very, very hard to cut (and your date/guests will not be impressed with your cake serving skills, haha)

Sweet, luscious, chocolaty, hazelnutty goodness!