Category Archives: Daring Kitchen

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.

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homemade graham crackers & nanaimo bars (daring bakers)

It’s been a little quiet around ye olde simmer down kitchen for the past month or so, but things are finally starting to kick back into gear.  Two weekends ago I finally made that yuca shepherd’s pie I’ve been wanting to make, and this past weekend I went nuts and made about 5 different Indian dishes.  To be honest, I wasn’t even planning on participating in this month’s Daring Bakers because I  didn’t think I’d have the time, but I found an eleventh-hour burst of energy and decided to go for it, especially seeing as how I missed last month’s gingerbread house challenge.

The challenge was two-fold: to make gluten-free graham crackers, and to use those graham crackers to make a Canadian treat called Nanaimo bars.  Because I was doing the challenge super last-minute (like, um, the day before it was due) I was not able to go hunt down the special GF flours the recipe called for, but luckily the challenge hostess was gracious enough to allow for regular flour, which was cool because I happened to have a bag of graham flour left over from this challenge that I wanted to use up.  Rather than try to convert the GF recipe, I just used the graham cracker recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook (see below).  It was easy but the crackers came out VERY rich and buttery, more like shortbread than what I think of as a graham cracker.  Since the Nanaimo bars only required 1 ¼ cups graham cracker crumbs, I reserved half the dough for future use as a pie or tart shell.

I have mixed feelings about the Nanaimo bars- any of my regular readers probably know I don’t have much of a sweet tooth; I prefer desserts with more complex flavors or a note of sour or bitter to balance the sweet.   The base of the bars, made of butter, cocoa, egg, almonds, coconut and crushed graham crackers, was right up my alley.  I used Green & Black’s organic cocoa powder and the flavor was wonderful.  Where this recipe lost me was on the middle layer.  I originally thought it was a sort of custard, but it’s actually an insanely sweet buttercream.  I tried to do this layer really thin because I knew I wouldn’t like it, but it still ended up too thick for my taste.  I even flavored it with some instant espresso powder to try to counteract how sweet it was, but it didn’t make much difference.  The top layer was just melted chocolate with a little butter to make it spreadable, so no objections there.

It was fun to make the homemade graham crackers, but I will probably be giving away the bulk of the Nanaimo bars- the icing layer just made them too sickly sweet for me.  Or perhaps I’ll end up disassembling some and eating the bottom layer by itself… coconut, chocolate, graham, almonds, yum!

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.


Martha Stewart’s Graham Crackers
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1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups graham flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 sticks (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbs honey

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Put the flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl; stir to combine.

Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  If it’s still on the cold side, you can cut it in chunks and mix it by itself for a minute or two to make it more malleable.  Add the brown sugar and honey and mix until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Put the mixer on low speed and add the flour mixture about ¼ cup at a time until fully combined.  You may want to scrape the sides down once or twice during the process.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Note: Martha doesn’t instruct you to rest the dough, but if it’s at all difficult to work with, 10-20 minutes in the fridge won’t hurt.  Roll out each piece between 2 layers of wax or parchment paper into a 6″x9″ rectangle (I use my bench scraper to coax the dough into the right shape and to even up the sides).  Cut the dough into whatever size crackers you want.  I used a zigzag cutter that came with my pasta maker and cut each rectangle into 12 crackers.   Transfer the dough to a sheet pan (keeping the parchment underneath) and chill in the freezer until firm, 10-15 minutes.  Prick the dough with a fork in a decorative pattern.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the pan(s) halfway through.  These can quickly go from a nice toasty brown to burnt, so keep an eye on them!  Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container.

pumpkin-pecan and turkish delight cannoli (daring bakers)

I actually made my Daring Bakers challenge early this month, woot! Marvin informed me that we were going to a dinner party a couple weeks ago and volunteered me to bring a dessert, so I figured it was as good an excuse as any to roll up my sleeves and get frying.

I was a little skeptical about frying anything in my tiny kitchen without the aid of a deep fryer, but it turned out pretty much ok. I used my Le Creuset Dutch oven, which was deep enough to avoid any splattering.  The only collateral damage was a lingering fast-food grease smell that permeated the house for several days after!  I used pasta tubes for the cannoli forms, which was a little challenging but not impossible.

The cannoli were not difficult to make, but they were time-consuming.  Thankfully I had a pasta rolling machine, which greatly helped in rolling the dough to the proper thickness- I can’t imagine if I’d had to roll it out by hand, yikes.  The dough actually behaved very similarly to pasta dough and the machine worked very well at getting it to a workable consistency.  I hit a little bit of a speed bump when I went to make the dough- it was Sunday morning, I didn’t have any wine in the house, and you can’t buy alcohol until noon.  I didn’t have time to wait, so I poked around the pantry until I came across some Chinese cooking wine.  I sniffed it… it smelled close enough to Marsala, so into the dough it went.

For filling my cannoli, I bought ricotta but also bought some whipping cream which I whipped and folded into the ricotta.  It wasn’t traditional, of course, but it gave a wonderful light texture to the filling.  I divided my filling into two bowls and flavored one batch with about ¼ cup pumpkin butter from Trader Joe’s.  The other half of the filling was inspired by Turkish flavors; I used sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, and a little orange flower water.  The pumpkin-filled cannoli got pecans on the ends, and the “Turkish delight” cannoli got pistachios and apricots.

I doubt that cannoli would be something I’d attempt again at home, not just because of the frying but because they ended up being a little on the expensive side after you factor in the whole bottle of oil I had to use, and the manicotti shells I bought to use as molds.  But it was a fun experience, and after the last challenge, it was nice to make something I had success with on the first try!  (For recipe, please visit our hostess Lisa Michele’s blog at the link below.)

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

a favorite sushi roll, fusion style (daring cooks)

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.

plate of sushi

Once again I am doing my Daring Kitchen post at the last possible second… I was planning to make the sushi last weekend but got busy, blah blah. I’ve made sushi at home before, so I guess I thought it would be no big deal to go to the store at noon-ish and have the sushi made in time to be able to take daytime photos and post by this evening. Long story short, all the sushi got made, but it took over 3 hours and I didn’t even get to photograph the dragon roll. It’s just as well- I was rushing so much that it didn’t look like much of anything worth photographing. It tasted great though- I modified a favorite roll from our usual sushi joint, Noble Fish (a restaurant/Japanese grocery, where I got the supplies for the sushi).

sushi prep

Sushi chefs have been doing California rolls since the ’80s; the chefs at Noble went even further south to Mexico for inspiration.   The Acapulco roll is one we frequently order- an inside-out roll with tuna, avocado, jalapeno, and rolled in cilantro leaves.  Noble Fish uses pickled jalapenos, but I opted for fresh, and added a little cucumber since I had some left over.  I made the first Acapulco roll with the cilantro inside and the avocado on the outside (that was supposed to be my Dragon roll), but wasn’t that thrilled with how it turned out so I made the rest as “normal” sushi rolls.

California roll

In addition to the Acapulco roll, I made a spicy California roll (pictured above- avocado, carrot, cucumber, and shrimp with sriracha mayo) and some salmon and eel nigiri.   I lucked out and found a whole barbecued eel (unagi) in the freezer section- I think they cook it and vacuum-seal it right there at the store.  They even gave me a couple extra packets of eel sauce to go with it.  The eel was a bit pricey but when you compare it to buying nigiri in the restaurant it’s still much cheaper (same for the raw salmon & tuna I bought).  I wish they sold live eels- that would REALLY be a daring challenge to barbecue an eel!  (I actually have had grilled eel before, in Sardinia, and it was delicious, but it was a bit odd watching them writhe around in the bag on the way home from the store!)

unagi

sushi plate vertical 2If I ever get a bug to make sushi again, I’ll be sure to take some nice beautiful shots of my Acapulco roll.  However, I think the verdict may just be that sushi is one of those things best left to the pros.  I saved a little money making it myself, but three hours is a long time for something that gets devoured in a few short minutes!  If you’re thinking about making it yourself, though, I highly recommend the flavor combination of the Acapulco roll.  Cilantro+sushi=yum.

ceci n’est pas un macaron* (daring bakers)

*French for “Giant Macaron Fail!” But I figured the least I could do was pretty them up with a nice seasonal photograph.

macaron fail horizontal

I was so excited about this month’s challenge, really I was.  I’ve been enviously eyeing the beautiful photos of macarons all over people’s blogs for the last little while now, but not having much of a sweet tooth, I needed the Daring Bakers gauntlet to be thrown down to give me the push I needed.  I was a little apprehensive after doing a lot of reading about how difficult and temperamental they can be. But I thought that at the worst, mine might turn out a little flat, or a little browned, but otherwise reasonably resembling a macaron.

Macarons are known for their exotic flavors.  I knew the DB’ers would bring it and that I’d have to be fairly creative to stand out in the crowd.  I rummaged through my cupboards and came up with three flavor ideas: Malted Milk Ball, Ginger Green Tea, and Chai Pumpkin Spice.  Sounds good, right?  The Malted Milk Ball macarons were flavored with cocoa powder and malted milk powder and were going to be filled with a malted milk ganache.  The other two were flavored with powdered dry tea, as per a suggestion from one of the folks in the DB forums.  The Ginger Green Tea flavor was going to be filled with mascarpone with little bits of crystallized ginger, and the Chai Pumpkin Spice was going to be filled with cream cheese blended with pumpkin butter (this combo is really good on an English muffin, BTW.)

Why “going to be filled”, you ask?  Well, all three of my batches of macarons were complete and utter failures.  None of them even came CLOSE to resembling the beautiful macarons on my computer screen. (Did I mention I made THREE batches?  I’m nothing if not persistent! But apparently I had some subconscious need to make good on my “I am not a baker” statement from last month.)  I think I just don’t have that attention to precision and detail (or obsessiveness?) that one needs to attempt a macaron fail 1recipe like this. My macarons were all pathetic, flat, dense little creatures, none of them rose or developed “feet”, nor did any of them have that characteristically shiny shell.  Duncan of Syrup & Tang did a 5-part series on the macaron, which I read diligently (twice!), but it did not unlock any secrets as to why I failed (other than mentioning that the type of recipe chosen by DB had a 50% failure rate).  I have made flourless cake and soufflés before, so I’m familiar with the “folding” technique. I know one batch was definitely overmixed, but with the others I really made an effort to thoroughly combine it without going overboard. (I have to say, though, as I was mixing, I couldn’t help thinking that I didn’t understand how 5 egg whites could possibly hold 2 cups of almond flour & 2 1/4 cups of sugar without collapsing… that’s almost a full pound of solids!)  I thought my last batch (the chocolate ones) actually stood a chance; the batter looked similar to Duncan’s photo of correctly mixed batter and seemed to have the same properties.  But alas, they were just as flat as the rest, if not more so.

I really wish I could have had time to try again and get it right, but I just don’t have the resources (time OR money- that almond meal was $10 a bag!).  I don’t think I’ll ever attempt to make macarons again unless I can get a tutor to come to my house.  Any volunteers?

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S.  She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

ginger green tea cupcakes

P.S. I gave the ginger-green tea flavor a second life as a batch of cupcakes.  I don’t even love cupcakes but I felt I had to redeem myself after the total failure of the macarons!  I took a standard yellow cake recipe, added two teabags of Tazo Ginger Green Tea that had been ground to powder in a coffee mill, and topped them with a lightly sweetened whipped cream/ mascarpone and chopped candied ginger.  I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so these were perfect for my taste- an ever-so-slight bitter edge from the tea and a warm kick from the ginger.

vols-au-vent with custard & raspberries, or “i am not a baker!” (daring bakers)

large vol au vent 2I had a conversation last night that went something like this:

My friend S to me: “Hey, you like to cook, you should join our Cooking Club, we get together every Sunday night and make food and watch Mad Men, it’s really fun!”

S to her friend A, also a member of said club: “Noëlle’s a great cook, she makes all kinds of stuff…”

A to me (apparently trying to suss out whether I was Cooking Club material): “Oh really?  What kind of stuff do you cook?”

Me (with a touch of pride): “Well, I just made puff pastry for the first time…”

Him (interrupts): “Oh, so you’re a baker.”

Me: “No, I mean, I participate in this baking-challenge thingy to try to broaden my skills or whatever, but mostly I cook…”

Him: “No, but you’re a baker.”

Here’s where it got weird, because I then found myself getting strangely defensive, insisting that no, I’m not a baker, I don’t even really like sweets that much, I was probably going to use my remaining puff pastry to make some sort of savory tart, and that 80-90% of the time I spend in the kitchen is spent cooking, not baking.  I really have no idea why it was important to him to stress that I was a “baker” rather than a cook, or why it was important to me to correct that impression, but so it was.

small vol au vent 1

My challenge results this month will back up my point.  I didn’t have too hard a time making the actual puff pastry dough, but shaping it into the vols-au-vent was an exercise in frustration.  I first made a batch that were supposed to be heart-shaped, which I was planning on taking to a bridal shower, but they were all so misshapen that I didn’t even bother.  The photo is of the best-looking ones of the bunch, and even those look pretty funky.  I put a little spoonful of honey into the hollow and topped them with raspberries and walnuts and they were tasty enough, but I wanted to do something more challenge-worthy, so I decided to attempt another batch.  This time I did square(ish) cutouts and made a pastry cream to fill them with.  I still had a terrible time handling the dough- it seems it can’t be at room temperature for more than a minute or two, and then you have to return it to the fridge lest it go all gooey on you.  It took me longer to cut the dough into shapes and assemble them than it did to to bake it and make the filling, because I had to keep stopping and re-chilling the dough.

My finished shells didn’t look like much- they were irregular and had cracks in the bases- but once I got them filled with pastry cream and threw a bunch of raspberries on top, no one was much complaining. I filled the shells about an hour or two before they were eaten, and the pastry held its crunch nicely without getting soggy, so I was pleased with that.  But I’m still not calling myself a baker.

And now a word of thanks for our hostess: The September 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan. (Coincidentally, the recipe I used for the pastry cream was also from Dorie Greenspan, from her book Paris Sweets.)

I do want to thank Steph for throwing down the gauntlet and getting me to make something I’ve always wanted to try but have been too intimidated. Now that I know the dough is doable, perhaps I’ll make it again but just use it for preparations that don’t involve so much handling, such as a tart crust.  For a recipe and instructions on making puff pastry, just click the link to Steph’s blog.

dosas with curried chickpeas & coconut sauce (daring cooks)

dosa plated 3I’m sure most of you have heard of the Daring Bakers, the group of bloggers who bake a selected recipe each month and post about it on a specified day.  The group recently expanded to a new branch, the Daring Cooks.  I think this is the third month of the Daring Cooks and I decided to jump on board.  I don’t know how regular I’ll be able to be, but this recipe appealed to me so I thought I’d give it a go.

dosas & fillingsThe challenge (hosted by Debyi at Healthy Vegan Kitchen) was for dosas, a type of Indian pancake which was unfamiliar to me.  (You can check out my annotated version of the recipe here.)  It’s always interesting to prepare a recipe for which you have no point of reference…  The perfectionist in me has a little bit of a hard time not knowing how something is “supposed to” turn out.

dosa plated side view 1

The recipe for the dosas was fairly similar to that of French crêpes, without the egg.  However, some of the South Asians posting in the forums said dosa batter is typically made of soaked, fermented lentils and rice, which sounded great- similar to the bread in Ethiopian restaurants.  Unfortunately I didn’t plan ahead enough to accommodate the 12-hour fermentation period, so I had to make the flour-based recipe.  I chose a combination of whole wheat and buckwheat flours, and added a touch of cider vinegar to try to emulate the sourness of the fermented version.  I have lots of leftover filling and sauce though, so I’m hoping to get a chance to try the more traditional recipe for the dosa pancakes later this week.

curried chickpeasMarvin was off eating curry of a different sort (curried goat!) in Jamaica last weekend, so I invited a girlfriend over Sunday night to partake in the dosas with me.  I did have a couple small issues with the recipe instructions, but the overall outcome was good (my guest had a second helping- never a bad sign!).  I was happy to break bread with a friend, try something new, and especially to have leftovers for the week.  Cheers to Debyi for hosting an interesting and delicious challenge!dosa plated