Category Archives: Baking

in the red {les culinettes}

After a few months’ hiatus, les culinettes (a potluck dinner club of like-minded ladies) was back in full force a few weeks ago with a red-themed dinner at Emily’s beautiful Woodbridge home. Because of the length of time that passed since the last dinner (September! yoinks…), we were all extra-excited and inspired this time around. Since the green-themed dinner went over so well, Emily decided to do a similar theme but with red food. Once again, I was impressed by the variety and breadth of people’s contributions- red pepper hummus (Emily), an African curried chickpea stew (also Emily), Spanish stuffed ancho chiles (Abigail), a salad with lots of red accents (Meghan), beet ravioli with brown butter & sage (Sarah), roasted red pepper & tuna tapas (Amy), fries with homemade ketchup (Christina), a red onion vegetable tart (Molly), and even cherry-pomegranate bourbon jello shots (Molly again)! You’ll forgive my phone photos, I hope… I forgot to bring my camera, but can’t resist sharing some shots of this amazing food.

I had a bunch of pitted tart Michigan cherries in the freezer left over from some Beau Bien jam-making, so I offered to bring dessert. I made a buttermilk ice cream, and to go on top, cherries in a light syrup infused with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. I thought it might be nice to have something to soak up all the sauce, so I also made shortcake-type biscuits, and sprinkled them with a little red sugar to get in the spirit of things. By the time we got to dessert, I was shocked anyone had room left, but then again, I always am! Luckily everyone rallied, since it would have been a difficult dish to take home for later.

Sarah had a couple visitors in town from Chicago who were couch-surfing for the weekend, so she asked if she could bring them. Of course with that much food, it was almost a relief to have extra mouths to help us eat it. I was seated next to Romain, a visitor from Berlin who is spending a few months in Chicago. We chatted about European vs. American schools, travel, and how cheap cities facilitate art and musical creativity and entrepreneurship (he’s originally from an industrial town that also has suffered from lost jobs and subsequently abandoned areas of town). It’s always interesting to see Detroit through a first-time visitor’s eyes, especially one from another country; the point of view around here can verge on myopic (tending to eternal pessimism on the one side and relentless boosterism on the other) and it’s great to get some perspective.

Dessert was served with some exciting news from one of the guests, which I won’t divulge here but which had us all toasting and cheering. Ending the evening on that high note, we bundled up and headed to our cars with the warm glow of contentment.

If you can’t wait for tart cherry season (and who could blame you), try to hunt down some frozen tart cherries for this. You could use sweet cherries, but I’ve always found them rather insipid for cooking, and the tartness of the sour cherries pairs so well with the buttermilk. I used this ice cream recipe from Smitten Kitchen via Claudia Fleming’s book The Last Course, using 6 egg yolks and adding about a half teaspoon salt, and a recipe for shortcake biscuits from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

Tart Cherry Sauce for Ice Cream
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1 lb pitted tart cherries and their juice (fresh or frozen and thawed)
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
pinch of cinnamon

If using fresh cherries, place them in a bowl with the sugar, mash lightly with a fork, and allow to macerate 30 minutes or so, until they begin to release their juices.

Place cherries, sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Simmer gently until the cherries begin to break down and the liquid becomes slightly syrupy, about 20 minutes. Remove vanilla bean and add a pinch of cinnamon to taste.

Serve warm over buttermilk ice cream and shortcakes.

black walnut, maple & calvados tart

From the sugar and butter content of some of my recent cooking, you’d never know that I’m a seldom-at-best baker/ maker of desserts. Yet there’s something about winter and holiday time that brings out my inner Martha in the kitchen. Maybe it’s that there’s almost always a reason to take said desserts out of the house rather than have them hanging around tempting us… I get to experience the fun of baking something, try a little piece or two, and not have leftovers.

Although I didn’t get to do a ton of baking during the holidays, the urge still lingered, so a couple weekends ago when we were invited to a friend’s to watch the Lions/Saints game slaughter, I decided that baking a tart was in order. I had just been to Eastern Market that morning, where I’d come across local black walnuts, already shelled, for $4 per half-pound bag. At the next table they were selling them whole, but knowing how difficult they are to shell, I decided $4 was a small price to pay for unstained hands and time saved (not to mention the fact that if I wanted to shell my own, I could forage them for free). I wanted to showcase the walnuts in a tart, so I did a riff on pecan pie, with maple syrup and golden syrup subbed in for corn syrup, and a healthy slug of Calvados for extra oomph.

Although the Lions let us down, at least we had good eats as a consolation: bacon sandwiches, carrot salad, some Romanian cured sausages, and bread pudding, not to mention good drinks and company. The tart was a success, with the funky, almost cheese-like flavor of the walnuts complimented by the maple and apple. To accentuate the Calvados, I made a Calvados-spiked whipped cream to top the tart; a dash of cinnamon on top of that would not be amiss. And although it may be a dessert more suited to autumn or Thanksgiving, your valentine (or a football buddy) just might appreciate it as well.

Black Walnut, Maple & Calvados tart (adapted from Bon Appetit)
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Notes: If you can’t get your hands on any black walnuts, the tart will still be delicious with regular walnuts. If Calvados proves difficult to locate or too expensive, bourbon may be substituted.

for crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small (about 1 cm) dice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk

for filling:
½ cup golden syrup
½ cup maple syrup (grade B is fine)
½ cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup calvados
1 ½ Tbs all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
½ lb shelled black walnuts

for topping:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 Tbs maple syrup
2 Tbs calvados

Prepare crust:
Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk egg and milk in small bowl to blend, then add to processor. Blend until moist clumps form. Place dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Gather corners of plastic wrap around dough to assist with forming dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap well and refrigerate 1 hour. (Dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. Let dough soften slightly before rolling out.)

Prepare topping:
Combine all ingredients and beat in a stand mixer or with electric beaters until mixture has body and has approximately doubled in volume but is not stiff. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Prepare filling:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, bourbon, flour, vanilla and salt in large bowl to blend.

Assemble tart:
Roll out dough on floured surface to 14-inch round. Transfer to 10 or 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom (9-inch glass pie dish can also be used). Press dough into pan and press around the top of the tart pan to cut off excess dough (if you have a lot of extra dough, save it for mini jam tarts or other free-form fruit tarts). Pour filling into prepared crust and sprinkle walnuts evenly on top. Bake until crust is golden and filling is set in center when pie is shaken slightly, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely in pan on rack. To serve, remove tart from pan and transfer to a serving plate. Serve with maple calvados whipped cream and cinnamon, if desired.

meyer lemon pound cake with lemon cream

My in-laws are serious eaters. At all the gatherings I’ve attended, the quantities of food would make the Two Fat Ladies blush, and we always come home with several containers of leftovers. This Christmas was no exception! My mother in law hosted Christmas Eve, as is getting to be the tradition. She veered away from the usual Puerto Rican fare this year (roast pork, arroz con gandules) and went Mexican, making posole, ceviche and nopales (cactus) salad. One of his cousins brought an interesting new (to me) PR dish of chicken gizzards cooked with green bananas and a few green olives (something like this except it was served warm instead of like a salad). The dish is an unglamorous greyish color, but the flavor was great and the gizzards were much more tender than when I’ve made them. It re-inspired me to try making gizzards again after an unsuccessful attempt last summer.

With all this great food in such abundance, it’s always hard to know what to bring. My MIL never wants to assign me a dish; she always demurs, saying that there will be enough food, or to just bring “whatever I want”.  I know this is because she doesn’t want to impose, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about it… she knows I like to cook; I’m part of the family now; shouldn’t that warrant a side dish assignment? To be fair, for all I know she does the same with all the other relatives and they just bring whatever they feel like. But a small part of me would be flattered to be entrusted with something specific.

In the end, I just decided to make a dessert… you can never have too many, especially with his family’s sweet tooth! I didn’t feel like leaving the house for groceries, so I “shopped my pantry” and made a Meyer lemon pound cake with a lemon cream (lemon curd + whipped cream) to go on top. Although I’m not the biggest dessert/ cake person, I do love citrus (see these posts) and almost always have lemons in the house! I wasn’t sure if its simplicity would be appreciated, but to my delight it was almost gone by the end of the night, when richer and sweeter offerings remained.

This recipe is from The Gourmet Cookbook, one I turn to often when I’m looking for a recipe that’s traditional yet updated. The method is simple, and you can certainly serve the cake as-is with the lemon glaze rather than making the lemon cream (although you need to zest all those lemons anyway, so you may as well use them). I did an easy curd where you mix everything and cook it together rather than tempering the eggs; it seemed to work about the same. You’ll want to strain it for textural reasons, but that’s about the fussiest part of the recipe. And I know a heavy cake recipe is probably the last thing you’re looking for right now, but you never know when you might decide to have people over for tea, or when you might need an easy recipe for your next get-together with your in-laws.

(Meyer) lemon pound cake (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl)
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I made this cake with fragrant Meyer lemons, but regular lemons will do just fine. However, you will likely need more lemons for the curd if you don’t use Meyers, which tend to be much juicier.

for the cake:
2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
zest of 5 lemons (about ¼ cup)
2 sticks (½ lb) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup whole milk

for the glaze:
1 cup plus 1 Tbs powdered sugar
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Lightly grease and flour a 2-quart kugelhopf pan or bundt pan (a neutral-flavored cooking spray works well to get in the nooks & crannies). Knock out excess flour. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325°.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients and zest. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer or with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; then add vanilla. Reduce mix speed to low and beat in ⅓ of the flour, the milk, another ⅓ of the flour, the lemon juice, and the remaining flour, beating until just combined and scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Pour the batter into the prepared pan (place on a baking sheet for easier transport in and out of the oven) and bake until top is browned and a skewer or knife inserted into the center comes out clean (original recipe specified 45-55 minutes but mine took about an hour and 10 minutes). Meanwhile, make glaze by combining powdered sugar and lemon juice until sugar is fully dissolved.

Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes (see photo- a wine bottle works well for this). Invert on a rack and allow to cool completely before glazing. Put cake on a serving plate and pour glaze over top, allowing it to drip down the sides. If storing for later use, allow glaze to set before covering. This cake keeps well for several days if wrapped and refrigerated; allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Lemon Curd/ Lemon Cream (adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
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Note: in Dorie’s book, she uses the term “lemon cream” to refer to a variation on lemon curd containing a higher ratio of butter.

1 ¼ cups sugar
1 egg
6 egg yolks
6 Tbs butter, cut into 6 pieces
freshly squeezed juice of 4 lemons (use 5 or even 6 if lemons are dry)
optional: 1 pint heavy whipping cream

Whisk together all ingredients in a medium heavy saucepan. Place over medium low heat and cook, stirring vigorously and constantly, until butter melts and mixture starts to thicken (original recipe says 4-6 minutes but I’ve never had mine cook that fast). The curd is done when you can make a track with your finger on a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track. It will look thin, but thicken as it cools. If desired, for a smoother texture, strain curd while still warm through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Press plastic wrap over the top so a skin doesn’t form, and cool in the refrigerator.

To make lemon cream, whip cream with beaters or a stand mixer until it has body, but before it becomes firm. When curd has fully cooled, stir in whipped cream to taste- less for a more pronounced lemon flavor and more for a milder, creamier flavor.

summer tomatoes and a savory zucchini bread {les culinettes}

Summer tomatoes may seem like an odd thing to post about right now, as most other North American food bloggers are fully in fall’s sway. But now that I have this silly wedding business behind me, I’m catching up with a few odds and ends- blog posts I’ve been sitting on; photos I’ve been meaning to edit; recipes I wanted to share. Besides, the particular recipe I have for you today- a savory zucchini-tomato bread- is actually more suited to this time of year, because who wants to turn up the oven on a sweltering August day? (Oh, that’s right, I did.) This bread, though- if you still have a glut of zucchini but are tired of sweet zucchini bread, this is the ticket. It’s rich, eggy, cheesy and perfect for a cool fall day, and it keeps for a few days because of how moist it is. Also, if you’re grabbing bushels of Roma tomatoes to make these roasted Romas, this is a great use for them. Mine were from last year (roasted and frozen in olive oil) but they held up beautifully. If you don’t have tomatoes you can throw in a handful of black olives, or even a little diced ham.

The last meeting of our cooking club took place on August 12 and as we have a seasonal bent, we celebrated the tomato. Once again, I wondered how we would pull off 8 or so dishes with the same ingredient in common and not have it be “too much”, and once again, I needn’t have worried. From just-picked to barely cooked to long-simmered to roasted, the permutations were as creative as they were delicious. Sarah skewered fresh tomatoes with melons, basil and mozzarella for a salad on a stick. Molly puréed tomatoes from her garden with peaches and a little yogurt and garnished it with tarragon for a chilled summer soup, a riff on a Mark Bittman recipe. Amy, ever the fancy-pants (I say this with the utmost admiration!), stuffed squash blossoms with seasoned diced eggplant, fried them and set them on a bed of barely-cooked tomato sauce. Heavenly.

Speaking of heavenly, I want to digress just for a moment here to talk about our hostess Abigail and her stunning Ann Arbor home, which you can see a tiny glimpse of in a couple of these photos. I hope it doesn’t embarrass her if I say that I was absolutely enamored with her house and its decor, a perfect blend of old world/antique and whimsical modern. The house itself is in amazing condition, with original woodwork throughout, a gorgeous fireplace and many other cool details. And the landscaping- let’s just say gardening is Abigail’s labor of love, and it shows. Much of Abigail’s decor, including the “most beautiful chandelier in the world” (as she told her husband to convince him they needed to buy it and ship it back) was purchased during their time living in Italy. I’m guessing the heavy linens on the dining table were of European provenance as well- you just can’t buy stuff like that at a department store.

Of course it’s no surprise that such impeccable taste would carry over to the kitchen. Our hostess made two knockout dishes, one an appetizer with multiple components, the other a homey potato gratin (in a vintage enameled casserole, no less). The appetizer was composed of a whipped chive goat cheese and a deeply savory tomato-shallot-vinegar compote topped with a basil leaf, on little almond biscuits. The sweet cookie-like biscuits were unexpected but totally worked. It was a struggle not to devour too many, as we all wanted to save room for dinner.

It’s been well over a month since this dinner and I’m struggling to remember what Emily and Meghan brought- please forgive me, ladies! I believe the roasted tomatoes with capers and mozzarella were Meghan’s contribution, and Emily brought a simple salad of tomatoes from her garden. She was understandably much too busy to prepare anything more complex (not that she needed to anyway), as she was getting married the following weekend. Congratulations Emily! I don’t think I would have even been able to attend any social events the week before our wedding, as I was so busy taking care of last minute details, but she seemed much more organized than I.

As usual, we had a grand old time eating, drinking and making merry. We were privileged to have been joined by Abigail’s old school friend Chiara, who was visiting from Brooklyn on her first weekend away from her kids. I hope we showed her a proper good time. Kids, if you’re reading, she was fighting back the tears pining for you the whole time. Really!

Some say a bride experiences a let-down after the wedding, when there is no longer a big event to focus on, and the attention dwindles. I don’t feel this way in the slightest, at least not yet- on the contrary, I’m really excited to have time once again to cook and have dinner parties. I will of course post about the wedding very soon, once I get our photos and have some time to digest everything, so to speak. The ultra-short summary is that we had the time of our lives and the food was to die for. But I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen, so here’s hoping we’ll plan another Culinettes party ASAP!

Savory Zucchini Bread with Roasted Tomatoes and Parmesan
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The inspiration for this recipe is the savory “cakes” served in France as part of the apéro (pre-dinner drinks and snacks). The first time I made it, I used roasted tomatoes and black olives, but wanted to adapt it to make use of the overabundance of zucchini in gardens and markets at the end of summer. The results are a delicious departure from sweet, muffin-like zucchini breads.

Prep: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 large loaves or 4 small loaves

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 ounces Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
5 large eggs
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup roasted Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup grated shallot or onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (or other fresh herbs of your choice)

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease 2 loaf pans or four mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cheese, salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the wine and olive oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the egg/wine mixture in. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet until fully incorporated; do not over-mix. Lumps are fine. Fold in the vegetables and rosemary. Divide the batter evenly among the pans and bake until the top is golden and crusty and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes for small loaves and an hour for large loaves (please note that I didn’t make large loaves so I can’t vouch for the timing- keep an eye on them and test to be sure).

mushroom tart for a bordeaux wine tasting

Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal.  You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends?  Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!).  There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc.  Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question.  I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.

And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods.  I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection.  Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine.  I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.

I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t).  I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth.  I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable.  A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch.  The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.

As for those wines?  Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes!  A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!)  All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential.  (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.

Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity;  I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines.  This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar.  I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.

Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
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1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)

1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese

Directions:
Put some water on to boil.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.

Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding).  As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice.  About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry.  Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.

Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms.  While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly.  (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well.  Remove from heat.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream.  Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.)  Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell.  Grate a light layer of cheese over the top.  Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Tart Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
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Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes.  Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining.  Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds).  Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.

To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden.  Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil.  (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)

a locavore meal: steak & mushroom pudding (daring bakers)

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I’ve never been one f0r deadlines.  I was always the kid who was up all night with a pot of coffee the night before a big exam, or mysteriously sick the day a term paper was due.  While I love the idea of Daring Bakers and have participated in several (most even on time!), the posting date always sneaks up on me and I usually find myself scrambling. I’ve missed the last couple DB challenges (shh, don’t tell the blogroll moderator) and thought I would miss this one as well, but I got a last-minute burst of inspiration.

Our hostess gave us a choice between a sweet or savory pudding (note: in Britspeak, “pudding” has a much more general meaning than in the U.S.), and gave total free reign with the fillings/ flavorings.  The dessert puddings looked much more foolproof, but the savory ones appealed to me more.  Besides, I was fascinated by the idea that you could steam a pastry crust and it would come out browned and/ or flaky.  I decided to go with a fairly simple steak & mushroom filling;  I used the hostess’s dough recipe and then made up my own filling based on looking at a few other recipes.  I went to Western Market in Ferndale for the ingredients because they recently started carrying local beef (from C. Roy Meats in Yale, MI).  I was also able to pick up organic lettuce and MI asparagus and mushrooms there.  (The mushrooms were Aunt Mid’s, which I know is a local brand- not sure if they’re grown here or just packaged here.)  Last but not least, I used Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout both in the recipe and to quaff along with dinner.  Cheers!

The main part of the challenge was to make a pastry dough using suet.  When I asked for suet at the butcher counter, they gave me (for free) several hunks of beef fat; however, I’m not really sure if it qualified as suet based on the description given in the challenge.  The challenge hostess made it sound as if you could just crumble it up as-is; however, what I had needed to be rendered to be usable, as it still contained a lot of connective tissue and even a bit of meat.  But I just set it over low heat and filtered the liquid fat through cheesecloth, then stuck it in the freezer to chill.  The pastry “recipe” was really loose, with specific amounts given for the fat and flour but not for the water.  I think I added too much water because I ended up with a pretty sticky dough which I had to flour quite a bit in order to roll out.

For the filling, I just used cubed chuck steak, mushrooms, a yellow onion, salt, pepper, some fresh thyme, a few dashes Worcestershire sauce, and a bit of stout to moisten it all.  I tossed the meat in a couple Tbs of flour so that a gravy would be produced when the meat & veg released their juices, and it worked perfectly.  Fortunately the quantities I used were also just the right amount to fit perfectly into my 2-quart bowl!

For my steaming apparatus I just used a stockpot with a pasta insert- this worked great because I could easily monitor the water level and lift the insert (with the pudding in it) in and out of the water.  The directions said to steam the pudding for anywhere from 2 ½ hours to 5 hours… I steamed it for about 3 ½ but by then it was getting late and we needed to eat before it got ridiculously late.  Unfortunately my crust didn’t get fully cooked, I’m not sure if a longer cooking time would have helped, or if it was simply because I had used too much water in the dough.  It had the consistency of a dumpling more than a flaky crust.  Still, the filling was so good that we just picked around the dough and mostly ate the meat and sauce. I have a little leftover dough that I may use to make some other small pie, but I may try baking it instead and see how that turns out.  Cheers to Esther for a great challenge!

Steak & Mushroom Pudding with Stout
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a 2-quart bowl, at least as tall as it is wide
a stockpot with a pasta insert (barring this, you may have to improvise some sort of rack to keep the bowl off the bottom of the pan- an overturned plate, a trivet, etc.)
1 quantity suet pastry (you can get Esther’s recipe here, just scroll down)
1 lb cubed chuck (approx. 1-inch pieces are good)
8 oz button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (if larger, cut them in sixths or eighths)
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
about 2 Tbs flour
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
about ⅓ cup stout beer
salt & pepper

Notes:
I did have some difficulty getting the suet crust to turn out via the steaming method, but as I said, I’m not sure whether it needed to cook longer or whether I just used too much water in the dough.  You may want to read around some of the other Daring Bakers posts to get some clarification!  I can, however, fully vouch for the filling, which was delicious.

Directions:
Fill the stockpot with water enough to come about a third of the way up the sides of your bowl (put the insert with the bowl in while you’re filling it so you can check the level).  Remove the bowl and insert and set the pot of water to boil.

Put the mushrooms, onion, and thyme in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, sprinkle the flour over the steak until well-coated (I like to use a tea strainer so there are no lumps).  Add the steak to the mushroom mixture.  Sprinkle in the Worcestershire (I’d say a scant tablespoon).  Season generously with salt and pepper, tossing to mix.

Grease your bowl.  Set aside ¼ of the dough.  Roll out the remaining dough and line your pudding bowl with it (you will likely have extra if you use the recipe I did).  Place the filling in the bowl and pour the stout over the top. Roll out the remaining dough and place it over the top, sealing it around the edges.  Take a large square of foil or wax paper and place it over the top of the bowl; secure with string or a rubber band. Arrange it so that it “poufs” up and does not touch the dough (mine did touch, and tore the crust when I removed it. Boo!) .

Place the bowl in the pasta insert and lower it into the boiling water.  Put the lid on and steam until the crust is cooked, 3 to 5 hours (it will turn from a pasty white to a golden brown).  Check the water level a couple times and top off if necessary; it shouldn’t fall below the bottom of the bowl.  When done, invert the bowl onto a plate and serve.

coulda-woulda-shoulda meyer lemon coconut crepes & lemon meringue tarts

Although I’m a busy gal, I try my best to find time to do a little something special for my friends on their birthdays.  My best friend recently turned *ahem* 23, and although I didn’t get to make her a cake or dinner, I offered to have her for brunch and then go shopping.  Everything was rather last-minute, but I managed to throw together a decent little spread with what I had on hand.  However, I felt like a birthday merited something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill omelette.  Rooting in the fridge, I had a burst of inspiration when I came across some Meyer lemons I’d impulse-purchased the week before- I’d make lemon curd.  But what to pair it with?  She was coming at 11:00 and time was of the essence.  Then it hit me.  Crêpes!  I could throw the batter in the blender and they’d only take seconds to cook up.  The lemon curd would be used to fill the crêpes.

Fabulous idea, but by the time we had eaten our omelettes (and consumed generous amounts of mimosas), we were too full to think about eating anything else.  I figured maybe we’d have the crêpes as a post-shopping snack, but we ran short on time.  Over the next several days I guiltily ate my way through them, feeling bad that my friend had been deprived of her rightful birthday treat.  But even after finishing them off,  I still had a fair amount of lemon curd left over.  The wheels started churning again… lemon curd, plus the egg whites left over from making the curd, plus graham cracker dough in the freezer from this Daring Bakers challenge= lemon meringue tarts!  Better yet, I was meeting up with my friend again that weekend, so I got to deliver her a tart as a belated birthday surprise.  I had enough dough and curd to make three individual tarts, so one went to her, one went to another birthday friend (lots of Aries in my crowd!) and the third was eaten greedily by myself and Marvin.

A few cooking notes: The graham cracker dough worked beautifully as pie crust.  It was slightly challenging to roll out because of the high amount of butter, but I ended up just pressing in into the pans and it was fine.  I actually preferred it as pie crust rather than eating it straight as a graham cracker because it’s so rich.  The lemon curd I had made was too thin to be pie filling as-is, so I just warmed it on the stove, adding a bit of cornstarch (dissolved first in cold water) to thicken it, and it was perfect.  For the crêpes I just smeared it on, throwing in some shredded coconut I had on hand.  I’m not going to print a tart recipe here because I kind of pieced together three different recipes and ad-libbed things, but the graham cracker dough recipe can be found in the aforementioned Daring Bakers post. If you want a recipe for lemon meringue pie, my fellow MLFB pal Mom of Mother’s Kitchen just posted one that looks good.

A lemon tangent: I’m still not convinced Meyer lemons are so superior in cooked dishes such as lemon curd, especially given the price difference, but that’s what I had on hand.  I will say, though, that they seem to yield a higher amount of juice than Eurekas so you can use less of them.  Also, as another update to last year’s lemon post, my preserved lemons turned out great, I still have a supply in the fridge that I’ve been working my way through slowly.  I’m glad I didn’t use Meyers for those as some recipes suggest, because the part you use is the skin, and the skin on Meyer lemons is so thin that you wouldn’t end up with much of anything to use.

Meyer Lemon & Coconut Crêpes (batter recipe paraphrased from Crêpes: Sweet & Savory Recipes for the Home Cook by Lou Seibert Pappas)
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2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs rum, brandy, or other flavored liqueur that pairs well with your filling (optional)
2 Tbs butter, melted, plus 2-3 tsp for coating the pan

To serve:

1 recipe lemon curd (see below)
sweetened shredded and/or toasted coconut, optional
powdered sugar

Put all the crêpe ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, about 5-10 seconds.  Scrape down the sides if necessary and pulse 1-2 more times. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (2 is preferable) or up to 24 hours. (Note: I made crêpes from the same batch of batter over the course of several days and they were fine.)

Heat a nonstick crêpe pan* or skillet over medium-high heat.   Gently stir the batter (it likely will have separated).  When hot, lightly butter the pan (the best method I”ve found is to quickly go over the surface with a stick of butter).  Lift the pan a few inches off the burner and pour just enough batter to coat the pan, quickly tilting and rotating it to distribute the batter. The volume of batter will obviously depend on the size of your pan but try to use the least amount possible while still coating the pan.  (This recipe recommends ¼ cup for a 9-10″ pan.)  If there are “holes” around the edges you can dribble a little more batter in those spots with a spoon.  Cook until the crêpe is just set (about 1 minute), then flip and cook until golden- this should only take another 15-30 seconds.  I use my fingers to grab the edge of the crepe and flip it, I find it much easier than trying to use a spatula, but if you’re doing this just be careful not to burn yourself! Set the crêpes aside on a cookie sheet s you go, keeping them covered with a tea towel or piece of foil. When assembling, you want the crêpes to be warm but not so hot that they melt the lemon curd and make it too runny.

Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over half of each crêpe and fold it in half.  Spread another layer of curd, again over half the surface, followed by a sprinkling of coconut if using. Fold in half again. Spread one last bit of curd over half the crêpe and do a final fold, this time bringing the edge of the crêpe only halfway over (see photos). Sprinkle on more coconut and finish with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  (You can obviously put the curd on however you like and it will taste the same, but I like all the layers this creates.)

*I own this crêpe pan and I like it.  I also use it to make omelettes; the low sides make it really easy to flip / roll the omelette.

Meyer Lemon Curd (adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
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Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
6 Tbs butter
1 whole large egg plus 6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Use a whisk to break up the eggs and moisten the sugar.  Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (Dorie says 4-6 minutes but mine always seem to take longer).  The curd is done when you can run your finger down a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track you’ve created.  Don’t worry if it looks thin, it will firm up as it cools.  Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate.  The curd will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.  Makes about 1 ½ cups.