Saturday, August 23, 2008

Easy Like Sunday Morning

Couldn't be Easier: Strawberry Butter
All you need is..
1 Stick of Butter, Softened
1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar
1/4 Cup Sliced Strawberries
Blend the butter and sugar together. Lightly incorporate the strawberries--Make sure that some of the slices remain intact (rather than fully blended).
Use this creamy spread on toast or on hot pancakes!

Friday, July 18, 2008

All Natural

One of my favorite things about my property is its abundance of raspberry bushes and how, in the summer, these bushes provide me with plenty of fresh fruit. Being the avid baker that I am, I take full advantage of these ruby berries by incorporating them into breads, pies, shakes.. the possibilities are endless!

The first creation I w
ent to work on was a Raspberry Tart and while I was worried that my tart shell wouldn't turn out correctly, I ended up being more than satisfied with the outcome.

(You can reproduce the following recipe using any combination of fresh or store bought fruit.)

(For Almond Crust)

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Granulated Sugar
1/3 Dry Roasted Almonds

1/3 Oven Roasted Almonds
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
Pinch of Salt
2 Sticks Cold Butter, Cubed
5 Tablespoons Ice Water

1 Teaspoon Almond Extract
(For Tart Filling)
6 Cups Raspberries
1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
Pinch of Salt
1 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

Zest of 1 Lime
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Start by making the crust--In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, granu
lated sugar, ground almonds and salt. The almonds (both types) must be finely ground in either a food processor or by hand. I choose to use two varieties of these nuts because the smoky flavor combination really comes through in the finished tart. After the ingredients are combined, add in the cold, cubed butter. This must be fully incorporated into the dough--cubes left whole will lead to an excess of oil when the crust is baked. Continue by adding in the ice water and almond extract. Use your hands or a spatula to complete the formation of the dough, which must then be flattened into a disk, wrapped in plastic and placed in the fridge to cool for at least an hour. (Be forewarned, the dough is EXTREMELY sticky, so I suggest flouring your hands if you plan on ditching the spatula.)

After an hour has elapsed, preheat the oven to 400
° Fahrenheit and remove your chilled dough from the fridge. Find a free counter top or cooking board and create a layer of flour. The dough should be rolled out to an even thickness and into a circular shape. Once ready, place your dough in a tart pan (mine was 11 inches in diameter) and press it down thoroughly. Be careful not to fold the dough over the edge of the tart pan because it ma
y initially drip off to the bottom of the oven.. causing unnecessary smoke :( Yuck. Bake the crust for 20 minutes or until it begins to brown. If after removing the crust from the oven, it appears overly buttery, simply sprinkle some additional flour over the center.

Now comes the filling preparation. Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, flour and lime zest (lemon zest can be used in its place)--Gently toss your raspberries into this dry mixture. Place your combined ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat until a sauce begins to form. At this time, add the vanilla extract and cornstarch. Stir lightly. Remove the pan from your stove and pour the mixture into a strainer. After straining the berries, they should be transported into the prepared crust and the entire tart can go back into the heated oven for 40 minutes.

The finished tart should be allowed to cool for at least 2 hours until it is sliced.

Its important that the crust is thick--The nutty crunch works to off-set the citrus from the raspberries.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Almond-Banana Bread

Banana bread is undoubtedly a staple baked good. It is one of the first recipes that I began fiddling with when starting off in my baking en devours. I have experimented with the addition of chocolate, coconut and all of the above; however, there is nothing like the classic loaf. Keep in mind, my classic banana bread contains the not so typical almonds (as apposed to walnuts).

Plan on needing t
he following ingredients:
1 Cup (White) Sugar
1/4 Cup Butter, Softened
3 Ripe Bananas, Mashed
1/4 Milk
1/4 Cup Greek Strained Yogurt
2 Large Egg Whites
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon All Spice
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Whole Almonds

(Oven should be preheated to 350°)

Start by combining the sugar and softened butter in a bowl. Beat these ingredients together at a medium speed until th
ey are well-blended. Proceed to add the mashed bananas, milk, yogurt, egg whites and vanilla extract. These ingredients should also be beat well and eventually set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients--flour, baking soda, salt, all spice and cinnamon. These can be sifted or whisked but must be mixed well.

Prepare almonds by roughly chopping them on a cutting board. This can be done with a sharp kitchen knife--leave the tip of the blade on the stable surface while using the palm of your hand to move the knife rapidly up and down.

- After chopping the almond, be sure to save the small pieces and powder that remains (this will be used later on in the recipe).
- Feel free to substitute walnuts for whole almonds.

Pour the roughly chopped almonds in the batter. Remove the bowl from your mixing machine and fold in the nuts by hand (using a spatula). This will prevent the almonds from breaking down further.

Pour the batter into a 9 X 5 loaf pan after coating it with cooking spray. The powder and small almond pieces that remained from chopping may be used to garnish the top. You may also want to consider using slice almonds (can be store bought for convenience sake).

The batter will be baked for about an hour--when the timer goes off be sure to test the bread with a toothpick (if it comes out clean, then it is done). Let it cool slightly before placing it on a rack. Removing a baked good from the pan when fresh out of the oven may cause it to collapse. After your banana bread is at a reasonable temperature, there's only one thing to do..

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Buddakan NYC - Upscale Asian Dining

     My Saturday night was spent dining at Buddakan on Ninth Avenue and 16th Street in NYC. The extravagant restaurant overwhelmed me with its 16,000 square feet of space and Asian-inspired decor.
     Owner Stephen Starr (who has also opened a Buddakan in Philly), is well known for his drive to take culinary Manhattan by storm through aesthetics that shock and awe. In achieving this goal, he turned to Christian Liaigre, a French designer who graciously took on the task of turning what was a Nabisco cookie factory into an escape into a lavish Chinese experience. The restaurant's center is the "Chinoiserie"--a great hall surrounded by oak wood walls that tower 2 stories high. The ceilings are embellished with grandiose chandeliers while the floor is home to a banquet table, large enough to seat 30 guests. This great hall is connected to a library lined with golden bookshelves and multiple additional dining chambers. The walls of these catacombs are decorated with scenes created to look like cave paintings.
     Chef Michal Schulson dishes out "modern Asian cuisine"--food that is fresh, flavorful and easily tops your average Chinese takeout.
     The menu is divided into
Dim Sum, Appetizers (Cold and Hot), Noodles, Rice, Vegetables, Tofu, Meat, Fish, Poultry. As expected, there is also an alcoholic beverage list that includes Specialty Cocktails and Wine by the Glass (Sparkling, White, Rose and Red).
     I attended dinner with three other people in celebration of my friend Kacie's birthday. Like usual, we chose to order multiple smaller dishes so that we could all dig into various foods. Our choices included
Cantonese Spring Rolls, Pork Potstickers, General Tso's Dumplings, Scallion Pancakes, Boneless Spare Ribs, Vegetable Rice and Asian Green Stir Fry.      After dining at other upscale Asian establishments (including Tao and Ruby Foo's) we expected to be overwhelmed with an abundance of food. This however, was not the case. Each dish came in groups of 3 to 5, except for the rice and stir fry (those were served to us in large bowls). Despite our desire for more, what we ate was delicious.
     My favorite dish was the Boneless Spare Ribs. While I expected the serving size to be significantly larger, the meat was tender and the sauce coating the ribs was rich and flavorful. I wasn't a huge fan of the rice, but perhaps that was because I am devotee of salt. It was not your typical soy sauced infused, sodium over-dosed, fried rice, but was rather flavored with ginger and coconut. The taste was unique--my friends enjoyed it but I wasn't in love.
     Dessert was a let down--not due to its flavor, but because the
Crying Chocolate was about the size of a hockey puck. At $10, the four of us attempted to share the "malted chocolate ganache, coffee icecream, milk caramel" concoction. Needless to say, with four spoons plunging towards the plate, it was devoured in a matter of seconds.
     The meal was brought to an end with cappucinno, espresso and a check for over one-hundred dollars.
     My dining experience at Buddakan was enjoyable--the service was quick and kind and the food was overall noteworthy. While I didn't taste a fraction of what their menu offers, I am not so sure that a trip back this NYC eatery would do my wallet any good.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Summer time has officially and finally arrived. While the majority of my days will be spent chasing 6 year old girls around a day camp.. its good to have time off a school.

Time off of school can only mean one thing: opportunities to bake.