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Friday, May 29, 2009

Seeing Stars: 5.29.09

I have decided to create a "Seeing Stars" in order to share my favorite posts from other bloggers that I've stumbled across throughout the week. I've seen other food bloggers do this, and it's turned me on to some really great blogs and posts out there, so I thought I'd pass the joy on to you. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I did!

Bell'Alimento: Paula created a beautiful Napa Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with spinach and mushrooms that had even this mushroom hater contemplating making that mushroom sauce.

Our Best Bites: Sara is worked on a food-as-beauty-products series this week that I loved. I especially liked her Spa in the Kitchen: Facials. This post has tips on steams, exfoliation, masks, and more! And who doesn't like facial products that you can find in your kitchen?!

Playing House: Amy's Made-Up Marinade could inspire anyone to fire up the grill! I can't wait to get back to mine!

Oven Love: Natalie is the host of Pre-Made, Our Way and chose homemade Pop Tarts for this month's challenge. I participated, and although mine turned out very tasty, her Bite-Sized Pop Tarts are just so darned cute!

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Apple Strudel

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

The Daring Bakers must have an ESP connection with the dessert part of my husband's brain. He loves decadent chocolate desserts, cheesecake, and now an apple strudel?! He doesn't really eat cake, so all he asks for for his birthday dessert is an apple pie. And this apple strudel was good enough to hold him over until his birthday next month.

I decided to make four smaller strudels instead of one large one, partially because of spacing issues, but also because I'm just a fan of individual portions. These four strudels easily served 2-3 people each, although I'm almost ashamed to admit that I kept one all to my self...almost, but not quite.

Stretching the dough was the most difficult part, but after a couple of tries, it took only a couple of minutes to get it thin enough to roll. Next time, though, I'd try to make them them a little longer for more layers in the strudel.

I sprinkled on a lot less bread crumbs than called for (maybe about a half a cup total for all four), but I just couldn't imagine so many breadcrumbs for one small strudel. I would do the same again...

I stretched the dough out on parchment paper and used that to roll the strudels. Make sure to put some flour underneath to keep it from sticking to the parchment!

They weren't the prettiest strudels ever, but they sure tasted good! I saw some strudels in a bakery here in Strasbourg today, and they looked similar, if a little better shaped, but had an egg wash on top...I have a feeling that would have made them look a little better if nothing else!

Apple strudel
adapted ever-so-slightly from Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) apple juice
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

Strudel dough
adapted ever-so-slightly from Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour and mix with a wooden spoon or your hands. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary. Knead the dough until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

Take the dough out of the bowl and continue kneading by hand on a slightly floured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.

Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

Cover your working area with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Section your dough into four parts and put one in the middle of the parchment paper and roll it out as much as you can. Pick the dough up and stretch with your hands. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. It will be tissue-thin when it's ready. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors or a sharp knife. The dough is now ready to be filled.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

A Walk in the Alsatian Countryside and Vineyards

On Saturday, we decided to go walk part of the "Route de vins" in the Alsatian countryside. Although other regions of France are more widely known around the world for their wines (Bordeaux, anyone?), Alsace can hold its own with certain grapes. The most well-known are the Riesling and Gewurztraminer varieties, but they also excel in the Pinot Gris, the Pinot Noir (which is more of a rose here), and their crémant, their version of champagne that contains mostly Pinot Blanc grapes. I know it may be sacreligious, but I actually prefer the slightly sweeter crémant to champagne.

After a four kilometer trek through the vineyards between Riquewihr and Ribeauville via Hunawihr, we bought a bottle of crémant to celebrate when we got home from the Giersberger winery. We added a tiny bit of crème de cassis to make it a nice summery drink. Mmmm...I could get used to this life!

In France, it's common to have a little wine with lunch as well, and I've really enjoyed trying the different wines of the region. I think I've started a little love affair with the slightly sweet and light Pinot Gris.

Although it was 90 degrees out, it is still spring here, so the vines aren't heavy with grapes quite yet...we only got a glimpse of baby grapes waiting to become delicious wine.

So, next time you see an Alsatian wine on the shelf, you may want to check it out--it can be surprisingly tasty!

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Berry Galette Experiment

My sister-in-law and her friend are visiting for the next week and a half, and since they arrived at the airport at about dinner time, I made a quiche lorraine earlier in the day and served that with a simple salad. I decided that we needed a dessert as well, and since I really love the frozen berry mix here (which includes what I think are currants), I decided to try a mixed berry galette with a chocolate sauce to drizzle over it.

In theory, this should have been a hole-in-one. I added some sugar and a little cornstarch (to help thicken the juices) and brushed an egg wash onto the folded edges and then sprinkled it with vanilla sugar. After 45 minutes at 350 degrees F, it looked beautiful. I let it rest for about 10 minutes to cool down a little and hopefully thicken up.

But I forgot to put in some sort of cookie layer at the bottom to soak up some of the juices. The flavor was tart and berry-licious, but the middle of the crust was soggy, and juices ran everywhere.

As the juices flowed around the (luckily) rimmed baking sheet, it reminded me a little of blood...which is okay for a Twilight theme party, but not necessarily for everyday entertaining!

So I'm still working on this recipe and will try a couple of things the next time around. The first will be to let the fruit defrost and drain some of the excess juices. The next will be to use a little more cornstarch. And finally, I'll have to find a cookie that might pair well with mixed berries to crush and place as the first layer in the galette to soak up the juices I didn't catch the first time around. Oh well, at least it tasted good!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Monday Mouthful: Olé Olé, Cassoulet!

Okay, so I'm mixing my cultures here, but I am excited to make our next Monday Mouthful dish: cassoulet! I love that ChefE over at Cook Appeal has chosen this dish, as I haven't had the chance to tackle it yet...and I only have a few weeks left in France! I found a recipe on the Food & Wine website if you're interested in seeing a time-intensive recipe, but I'm sure that I'll be making the two-year-old-friendly version (which in my world equals a much shorter cooking time). I'll be on the lookout for a recipe, so if you have a good one, please let me know!

We'll be posting about our cassoulet adventures on Monday, June 1st. As always, if you'd like to participate, then drop me an email with the link to your post!

Also, please check out ChefE's sweet version of spaetzle (our last Monday Mouthful challenge)--it looks delicious!

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Back from Zürich

We've made it back from Zürich and had a wonderful time. The city is beautiful and relaxed...and just what the doctor ordered after a busy semester and year! If you ever get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it--it's right on a lake and has plenty of places of interest both in the city and in the surrounding countryside.

A view of Zürich from a boat tour:

A view of the Alps from Uetliberg, only a 30 minute train ride from the city:

And a picture of my daughter and I in Rapperswil, a small town on the other side of the lake (with a great view of the Alps, by the way!). I think Sophie was trying out a fake laugh in this picture.

The next couple of weeks are going to be busy ones for us (lots of visitors and a new batch of students), so I may not post as often as usual, but I do have a couple of tasty posts in the works!

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday Mouthful: Spaetzle with Meatballs and Mustard Cream Sauce

Okay, I confess. When I decided that we'd make spaetzle for the current Monday Mouthful challenge with ChefE over at Cook Appeal, I already had a dish in mind. One of my favorite restaurants in Strasbourg is La Corde à Linge, which specializes in spaetzle dishes (although I've already mentioned it here before regarding their delicious desserts). Usually, spaetzle is considered a side dish, but at La Corde à Linge, it becomes the main attractions. All of their dishes start with either the traditional spaetzle (which is what this recipe is based on) or a potato version, paired with a meat or veggies, and some sort of finger-licking sauce.

One of my favorites is the meatball and mustard cream sauce spaetzle--the dish I tried to recreate. I don't often cook without a recipe at all (although I often deviate from the ones I do use), and so this was a real challenge for me, trying to recreate a restaurant dish. And it was successful! I think I hit the mustard cream sauce almost exactly, and the meatballs were close, but I still have a little work to do on those. The spaetzle turned out tender and flavorful...and they were surprisingly easy to make, if a little time consuming. You can find the recipe here, but I documented some of the steps below for those of you who may be a little reticent to try making your own noodles.

I'll post a round-up and the next challenge separately, so keep an eye out! (It might be a little late as I am taking a short vacation to Zurich, Switzerland this week!) Okay, so on to the spaetzle...

Before starting, put a pot of water on to boil. After making the dough (to which I had to add a little more water than called for, but only took about five minutes to throw together), break a small piece off (about a quarter of the dough) and smash it flat with your hands to about 1/4-1/2" thickness. It doesn't matter if it's round--you'll just be cutting pieces off of it.

With a sharp knife, scrape pieces off of the dough. You can make them any size you want...I stayed rustic and made them in whatever size came off of the knife.

I scraped them off in batches because you shouldn't have more than one layer in the boiling water at a time. I found that the spaetzle was ready in about five minutes. So, while one batch was boiling, I'd scrape off the next batch. I set up a colander over a paper towel, and used a slotted spoon to remove the cooked spaetzle from the water to the colander. I drizzled just the tiniest bit of olive oil over the noodles, and mix them up with each batch I added to keep them from sticking together.

After boiling them all, I fried them in some butter and pepper. My frying stage was the least successful since I tried to fry them at high heat at first, but it turns out that they fry better at a gentle heat.

After they were done frying, I plated them up with the meatballs and mustard cream sauce! (See below for the recipe for the mustard sauce...I'll post the meatball one when I'm completely happy with it.) I do have to say, though, that I will definitely be making these again...

Mustard Cream Sauce
adapted from Recipezaar

1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used an Alsatian Riesling.)
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
A couple of grinds of pepper

Bring cream to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat, and cook, whisking often, 10 minutes. Whisk in wine , mustard, and pepper, and cook until thoroughly heated.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pre-Made, Our Way Challenge: PopTarts

Last month, I stumbled upon Natalie's blog, Oven Love, and found that she had started a cooking challenge called Pre-Made, Our Way. I really liked the idea of trying to make things that we'd normally just buy in the store from scratch, and when she announced that this month's PMOW challenge was PopTarts, I almost jumped for joy. My husband loves PopTarts and hasn't had any since we moved to France last July. I asked him what his favorite flavor is, and it turned out to be the least simple--brown sugar cinnamon. This was not a version I could just slather with some store-bought jelly, and since I still wanted some fruit in it, I settled for making apple butter.

The process of making these was relatively easy--not as easy as unwrapping a pre-made tart and toasting it--but easy nonetheless. The most time-consuming part was rolling out the dough.

BUT the taste was sooooooo much better than a real PopTart. The crust was flaky and buttery (which was probably due to the fact that I used all butter and left out the shortening, which is hard to find in France), and the filling was yummy apple cinnamon goodness. Instead of using milk for the frosting, I used some of the leftover apple cider from the apple butter recipe--I loved the extra little bit of apple flavor on the outside. My husband, the PopTart conniseur, gave this two thumbs up and will be a little disappointed in the store-bought PopTarts from now on...

Go to Oven Love for the recipe...

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Apple Butter, or in my World, Applesauce

I haven't really figured out why apple butter is called apple butter. Isn't it really just applesauce??? Either way, I made some Chunky Spiced Applesauce, er, I mean Apple Butter the other day in preparation for Natalie's Pre-Made, Our Way Challenge over at Oven Love, and again, I was surprised at how easy it was to make something like this. The PopTarts (for the PMOW challenge) only used up a tiny portion of this, so we've been using it on toast, and it sure is tasty! I think that next time, if I wasn't going to use it as a filling for something, I might cut back on the cinnamon just a touch, but otherwise, this is a great recipe. It calls for some bigger chunks of apples mixed with smaller ones, which results in a chunkier sauce, but if you'd like it smoother, just dice all of the apples.

Chunky Spiced Apple Butter
adapted from Epicurious

1 pound (about 2 large apples) Honey Crunch apples, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 pound (about 2 large apples) Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1/2 cup apple cider
1 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbl lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice

Combine apples and cider in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and boil gently for 20 minutes or until mixture is reduced by half.

Stir in sugar, spices, and lemon juice. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 25 minutes or until mixture is very thick. There should still be some tender apple chunks remaining. Remove from heat. Makes about 2 cups.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bacon, Leek, and Crème Fraîche Tagliatelle--An Easy Weeknight Dinner

In my house, my husband and I normally split the cooking. We don't split it the way couples normally do--by which nights we're free--but by which cultural food we're better at cooking. My husband is generally in charge of Asian and Italian. I'm generally in charge of American, Mexican, Spanish, French, and whatever else I feel like experimenting with. My husband just has a great ability to come up with the right flavors for Asian and Italian, and can cook without a recipe most of the time for these. Since he's been too busy to cook much this semester, I've taken over at least the Italian part of his repertoire. I have two dishes that I think I've nailed--Pasta alla Puttanesca and Bacon, Leek, and Crème Fraîche Tagliatelle. The former takes some time to prep, but the tagliatelle is an easy, flavorful weeknight dinner that can be thrown together quickly along with a salad for those busy nights. Buon appetito!

Bacon, Leek and Crème Fraîche Tagliatelle
adapted from Urban Foodie
Serves 2

1/2 packet bacon
1 leek
butter and/or olive oil
Handful of peas (fresh or frozen)
5-6 tagliatelle nests
2-3 tablespoons creme fraiche

Cut the bacon into strips and place in a large hot pan. Cook until crispy and remove from pan onto a paper towel. While the bacon is cooking, cut the leek in half lengthwise and then slice into half-moons. Place in a bowl of cold water to clean them, and when cleaned, place on a paper towel to drain.

When the bacon is done cooking, add a little butter and/or olive oil to the same pan and add the leeks. Sauté gently in the pan with olive oil and a little butter. Turn the heat down and cook, covered, very gently for about 15 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Try not to brown the leeks.

About 5-10 minutes before the leeks are done, cook the pasta in boiling water for 5 or so minutes, and then add the peas to the cooking pasta for another two minutes. Drain the pasta and peas and mix all ingredients in the leek pan, dolloping in crème fraîche. Add pepper to taste.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Confetti Coleslaw--A Perfect Side for Grilling

Happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers out there!

Mother's Day is a day that I love to eat grilled food--my husband is a great griller, and it is usually warm enough out in Kentucky by now to spend the day outside. We don't have a grill in France, so we had to skip it this year, but if we did, I may have made a coleslaw to go with our yummy grilled meats.

I've been looking for a good vinegar-based coleslaw for a while now because my husband is not a fan of mayo-based salads. I found this recipe at Big, Bold, Beautiful Food, and thought it would be perfect for our family. I made a huge batch of it a couple of weeks ago to be used for two meals, but we all liked it so much that I had to make another batch after dinner for the next night's meal! (And since it's all veggies, I didn't have to feel guilty about it!) It's just so bright and crunchy, even after sitting overnight. I think that next time I might add some herbs like cilantro or parsley (depending on what I'm serving it with) to give it an extra punch.

Confetti Coleslaw
adapted from Big, Bold, Beautiful Food

1/4 green cabbage, shredded
1/4 red cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, slivered
3-4 green onions, sliced diagonally
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 Granny Smith apple, matchsticked
roughly chopped leafy herbs of your choice (cilantro, parsley, etc.)

1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup oil
1 tbs. dijon mustard
1 1/2 tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Place all veggies in a large bowl. Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the veggies. Let sit for at least an hour for flavors to combine. (I let mine sit overnight and the veggies were still crunchy.)

Big, Bold, Beautiful Food also suggests the following, which I may try next time I make Mexican food: "Or if you want a Mexican-style dressing, replace the vinegar with lime juice, add a little paprika, cumin, and oregano, and throw in some matchsticked jicama and jalapeno to your other vegetables."


Friday, May 8, 2009

Pretty in Pink: My First Cake from Scratch

As I've mentioned several times on this blog, I've never been much of a baker. Oh, I've baked things, and I make a mean chocolate chip cookie, but I just don't have the patience for it. And it makes me nervous to serve something I haven't been able to taste first. When you're cooking, you can taste as you can normally taste as you go and add a little of this or a little of that, but with baking, once it's in the oven, there's no going back.

And so I was understandably nervous to make a birthday cake for my daughter. Sophie's 3rd birthday isn't until the end of the month, but by then, all of the college students will be back in the U.S. We're planning a trip to a zoo on her birthday with her aunt who will be visiting, but I wanted her to have a bigger group sing "Happy Birthday," so I decided to make a cake for her a little early while the students were still here.

Since I've never made a cake from scratch before, I turned to two trusted sources: Recipezaar and Twitter. Unfortunately, my computer died a long, agonizing death** before I realized that I had some great suggestions from Twitter friends, so I went with a recipe I found on Recipezaar for Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Birthday Cake and Frosting. I wanted something basic, and this fit the bill. I used the buttercream frosting recipe that was listed with it, but I wasn't impressed by the results and ended up adding a lot more vanilla to hide the sugar taste and out of desparation to make it something spreadable, added a lot more butter. The results were pretty good, but I'll be looking elsewhere next time I have to make frosting. I added a layer of fresh strawberry filling between the layers because my daughter absolutely loves strawberries, and it was a good fruity addition to the rich cake.

The cake itself was dense, rich, and not too sweet. My husband, who doesn't care for cake all that much, even liked it and ate a second piece later in the evening. The recipe makes a huge amount of batter--enough for three layers--but I made a two-layer cake and 12 cupcakes. I'm looking forward to tweaking the base to make some flavored cakes in the future.

I think the decision to make an early birthday cake was a good choice:

Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Birthday Cake
found on Recipezaar

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups self rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and lightly flour three 9 inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flours and add in four parts, alternating with the milk and the vanilla extract, beating well after each addition.

Divide batter among the cake pans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely on wire rack. If you're making cupcakes, line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers. Spoon the batter into the cups about three-quarters full. Bake until the tops spring back when lightly touched, about 20 to 22 minutes. (Mine took about 18 minutes.) Remove cupcakes from pans and cool completely on a rack before icing. When cake has cooled, ice between the layers, then ice top and sides of cake.

I made this the night before and stored the cake and cupcakes in the refrigerator. I took them out the next morning to let them come to room temperature before serving, as many of the comments on Recipezaar suggested that the cold cake is a bit dry.

**Since my laptop is now officially dead, I might be a little slower to post, respond to comments, or comment on your blogs than normal. We're trying to work out a solution, but it might be a little while until that happens...

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