Friday, December 22, 2017

Panettone (Italian Christmas Bread) – Hard to Make, Or At Least That’s What We’re Telling People

I’ve never tried to make panettone before, mostly because of how notoriously difficult it is to make, or so I was told. Turns out that wasn’t the case, unless people are factoring in the time, as this does take three days to complete, but other than that, I thought it was a pretty straightforward bread recipe.

I think bakers like us regular folks to believe everything is super hard to make, so as to elevate their standing in society; or, maybe this is difficult, and I just got lucky, but regardless, I was thrilled with how this came out.

I may add a bit more vanilla next time, and possibly a few extra tablespoons of sugar, as it wasn’t quite as sweet as I imagined, but other than using all the fruit, I don’t think I’d change much else. Speaking of the dried fruit, there are so many other things you can include, such as nuts, and chocolate chips, just in case this seems too healthy.

You'll find the panettone baking molds at places like Sur La Table, or other kitchenware stores at the mall, but they're also inexpensive and easy to find on Amazon. You'll see both in this size, and also the more traditional, tall, coffee-can shape. It might be a little late to start this, and finish by Christmas, but I would try it anyway. Just don’t let your guests know how easy it was to make, unless they’re professional bakers, then do. I really hope you give this special occasion bread a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for one 7-inch Panettone:

The night before…
For the panettone starter:
1/4 cup sourdough starter (click here for recipe)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cold water
NOTE: If you don’t have sourdough starter, mix 3/4 cup flour with about 1/3 cup cold water, or enough to simulate the thickness of the one seen in the video, and add a pinch (1/16 teaspoon) of yeast. Mix, cover and leave overnight, just like the one in the video.

For the dried fruit:
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried cherries, quartered
1/2 cup diced dried pineapple
1/4 cup rum for soaking fruit

For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry active yeast
2 large eggs
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
all the starter from above
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
6 tablespoons softened butter

For egg wash:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Lobster Thermidor – Not Your Parents’ Thermidor

I don’t remember that much about the lobster thermidor I ate in culinary school in the early eighties, other than not really being able to taste any lobster. Instead of the nice, light sauce I used here, the meat was hidden in a thick, eggy, cheese sludge, which looked great broiled to a bubbly, golden-brown, but wasn’t the best method if you actually wanted to know you were eating lobster.

Lobster is sort of sweet, and rich tasting to begin with, so covering it in a super heavy sauce never made much sense, which is why I like this approach so much more. Our sauce is just heavy enough to coat the chunks of meat, without hiding it, and while we’re not adding handfuls of cheese, or a bunch of egg yolks, we’re still going to enjoy a fairly decadent dish.

Not only is this great for a fancy dinner party because it looks and tastes great, but you can also do all the prep ahead of time, and then just pop them in the oven when you’re ready for service. If you go that route, they’re going to be much colder, so you’ll probably need to give them a few extra minutes in the oven. Remember, everything is already cooked, so just roast until the meat is heated through.

The classic version is made with a whole, split lobster, which admittedly tastes better, but is a hundred times messier, and harder to do, not to mention probably more expensive. Frozen lobster tails can be surprising affordable, and there isn’t any waste. Either way, I really hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 large or 4 appetizer size portions:
4 lobster tails (about 4 oz each about)
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons minced shallots
salt to taste
1 1/2 cup diced mushrooms
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or heavy cream
1 generous tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
cayenne to taste
2 teaspoon dry breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons melted butter for the top

Friday, December 15, 2017

Chocolate Bark – Temper, Temper

In addition to sharing an easy, and beautiful edible holiday gift idea, I wanted to make this chocolate bark so I could test a simplified technique for tempering chocolate without a thermometer. It sounded too good to be true, but worked fairly well, which is the problem. Is fairly good, okay? 

Properly tempered chocolate will snap when broken, and retain that gorgeous glossy sheen. Poorly tempered chocolate is sort of dull grey, and the texture is soft, and waxy. This was somewhere in the middle.

Using this method, you will get close to properly tempered chocolate, and you might get lucky, and actually end up with perfectly tempered chocolate, but in hindsight, since using a thermometer isn’t really hard, and the extra steps required not that strenuous, I’ll probably just do it the right way next time.

In fact, I may do a future chocolate truffle video as an excuse to show you the “professional” method, but in the meantime, check out this great article I found on Allrecipes, as well as this video from Monarch Media that does a good job of explaining the steps. There are also hundreds of other videos online that take you through the procedure. Regardless of which method you go with, quick and imprecise, or deliberate and exact, I stand by my assertion that this would make a great holiday gift. I hope you give it a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 36 pieces of Chocolate Bark
1 1/2 pounds dark chocolate (70% cacao)
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 cup shelled, roasted, salted pistachios
1/2 cup dried gogi berries
about 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Butternut Bisque – To Roast or Not to Roast

That is the question, and for me the answer depends on what else is on the menu besides this delicious butternut bisque. 

When you roast butternut, you caramelize, and concentrate the flesh, and get something sweeter, starchier, and richer, which is perfect if you’re enjoying it as a meal, but maybe not such a great thing if it’s going to be followed by additional courses.

The last thing you want when you start a big holiday meal with a soup course are your guests feeling full when they finish. Of course, as with all things food, this is highly subjective, but I did want to share my thought process on skipping the roasting step.

I really enjoyed the festive, seasonally appropriate garnish seen herein, but if you are going for more of a stand-alone meal, it’s pretty amazing embellished with a handful of crispy bacon, and spoon of crème fraiche. So, whether you roast or not; whether you’re going to serve at some fancy feast, or just some chilly Tuesday night, I really hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 portions:
1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs)
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 quart chicken broth
pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup heavy cream or crème fraiche (plus more to swirl on top)
2 tablespoons maple syrup, or to taste
chives and pomegranate to garnish

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tourtière – A Meaty Holiday Main Course That’s Easy as Pie

Many holiday main course recipes involve expensive ingredients, and/or time consuming, complicated techniques, not to mention the anxiety that comes along with worrying whether all that time and money will have been worth it. I’m looking at you, dry, overcooked beef wellington.

If you want to avoid all that, maybe consider making tourtière. This French-Canadian meat pie is hearty, satisfying, easy to make, visually impressive, relatively affordable, and since it’s best served at room temperature, doesn’t require any kind of precise timing.

You can also easily tailor this to your own tastes, since other than the ground meat and mashed potato, pretty much anything goes. Or, make it just like this. I’ve only had tourtière a handful of times, so I’m certainly no expert, but I thought this came out extremely well, and I wouldn’t change anything when I make it again.

Although, I may try it with some beef gravy, as a few of my Canadian friends have suggested. Some even suggest ketchup, which I did try on a cold slice, and not surprisingly it was delicious. But, no matter how you serve this tourtière, I really do hope you give it a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for one 9-inch Tourtière:

For the crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, sliced, frozen
7 tablespoons ice cold *water
2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar
*add a little more if dough isn’t pressing together

1 large russet potato, boiled in enough salted water to cover (reserve water)

1 tablespoon butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup potato water, plus more as needed

For the spice blend:
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon  ground ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
pinch cayenne

For the egg wash:
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

Please note: Once your filling has cooled, taste for salt, and adjust before filling the crust.

- Bake at 375 F. for 1 hour, or until browned

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Holiday Cheese Board – Finding Michele

After posting the long, and relatively complicated croissants video last week, I decided to take a little mental break, and do a video for how to put together a holiday cheese board. I’ve wanted to do this one for a while, and since we’re in the middle of entertaining season, I thought the timing was perfect.

It’s always stressful to have people coming over this time of the year. You want to please, and impress, but there never seems to be enough time to get everything done, especially in the kitchen, and that’s when a well-designed cheese board can save the day.

They’re fast to put together, and you don’t need any special skills, other than being able to talk to strangers at the fancy grocery store. Most feature extensive cheese selections, and it’s been my experience that the people who work in those departments love helping you pick out your cheese. 

I know this, since I’m married to one of those people. Michele used to sell cheese in various shops and charcuteries, and her selection/pairing skills are legendary. Customers would simply tell her how many guests were coming, as well as what was being served, in particular, which adult beverages, and she would work her magic.

I gave you our basic approach for composing one of these boards, but there are many different ways you can go, so I encourage you to find the “Michele” at whichever place you’re buying your cheese. You won’t regret it. No matter which cheeses you end up with, or how you garnish them, I really hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!


Le Mothais sur Feuille - Goat Cheese 
Fuyu Persimmons 
Bread - Rye Krisp 
Knife - Combo (spread, slice, stab) 

Manchego Membrillo - Sheep Cheese
Quince paste
Bread - water crackers 
Knife - slice and stab (knife with holes) 

Stilton - Cow Bleu Cheese 
Candied Pecans 
Bread - sliced baguette 
Knife - spreading

Note: Allow for at least 2 ounces of cheese total per guest, as a portioning rule of thumb.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Croissants – Slightly Easier than Flying to Paris

I wouldn’t describe homemade croissants as an easy recipe, since there are multiple steps, and it does take a least half a day, but it’s really not that hard either; and certainly simpler than flying to Paris, which is the only other way to enjoy these amazing pastries.

Sure, some of you may live near an authentic French bakery, maybe even one of the few that still use pure butter, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume that you don’t. Besides, sitting next to a basket of homemade croissants raises your foodie street cred like few other things.

Despite taking a fair amount to time, this is actually the quick version, in that we’re not leaving the dough to rest overnight, before laminating with the butter. I don’t think there’s a huge difference, but I did want to mention in case you’d prefer to start the dough at night, and do the rest of the work the next day.

The technique is pretty straightforward, but be sure to pay attention to the temperature of your butter.  If you’re slab is too soft, it will just blend into the dough, and you won’t get the gorgeous layering seen herein.  And if it’s too cold in firm, it won’t spread between the layers of dough like it needs to. It should basically have the firmness of clay.

So, take your time, and when in doubt, pop the dough in the fridge for a few minutes to chill it down as you’re working. You’ll notice I didn’t serve anything on my croissants when I did the final shots, and if you make these, you’ll understand why.  I really do hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Makes 12 to 16 Croissants:
This recipe was adapted from one by Bruno Albouze, from The Real Deal (which he is)
For the dough:
1 cup warm water (about 100 F.)
1 packet active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt (1 3/4 teaspoons if using fine salt)
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
6 tablespoons room temp butter for the dough

For the croissants:
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted European-style butter for the slab
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for the egg wash