Wednesday, March 30, 2011

White Cake with Rhubarb-Lemon Curd Filling and Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

There are cakes you dream of. The ones that come to you in your sleep. Whether it's a simple family favorite, or the most decadent cake you have ever had the honor of eating. The pieces of this cake rattled around in my brain for a while, trying to find the perfect angle in which they all fit.

This is not a cake you make spur of the moment, it can be an all-day affair. If you're a little bit brighter than I was, you'd prepare the filling in advance, cutting down your cooking time by a bit. However, if you're like me and like to spend a Saturday playing in the kitchen, you can do this all on one day. Just be patient. It's a virtue, I hear.

You'll want a special occasion as well. In this case, I was welcoming spring for my Happy Spring Dinner, which was part of this months 24x24 by Foodbuzz. I had friends and family gathered around my table for some good eats, good drink, and even better conversation. That's all the special occasion I need. I find those kind of the evenings are the ones that are the most perfect.

I've had my taste-testers at my full-time job try this cake out. They've pronounced it the best thing out of my kitchen yet. I can't argue, because when I took my first taste, I had to say the same. It's a special cake, a happy one. It is certainly a labor of love, but one that's definitely worth the end result. I hope you can enjoy this cake as much as I have.

White Cake with Rhubarb-Lemon Curd Filling and Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

We're going to start with making the layers for the cake itself....

Basic (and best) White Cake
Source: Beantown Baker via The Way the Cookie Crumbles

2 1/4 cups cake flour (62.25 g)
1 cup + 2 tablespoons milk, at room temperature (I used 1%)
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool

Put your oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment paper, set aside.

In 2-cup glass measure, combine milk, extracts, and egg whites. Mix with a fork until blended.

Now,  in a bowl, mix together cake flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Now add your butter and using an electric mixer (or stand mixer) on slow speed, beat until the mixture resembles moist crumbs.

Next, take your milk and add all of it, save 1/2 a cup, to the butter/flour mixture. Beat at medium speed (high for hand mixer) for a couple of minutes. Add the last 1/2 cup of milk and beat for about 30 seconds more. Now, scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix on medium for another 20 seconds.

Divide your batter between the two cake pans. Bake for 17 or so minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out cleanly. Allow to cool completely in cake pans on a wire baking rack until you're ready to assemble the cake.

While the cake is cooling, make your fillings and frosting, let's start with the Rhubarb Compote, shall we?

Rhubarb Compote

1 pound rhubarb, cleaned, and sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch of salt
lime or lemon zest (about a teaspoon or so)

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and cook over low-to-medium-low heat until combined. For the cocktail, you want to put this cooked down rhubarb into a food processor and process until smooth. It can be used as-is for baked goods.

Lemon Curd 
Source: David Lebovitz

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Take out a mesh strainer, put it over a bowl and put it to the side, you'll need it later

In a saucepan, whisk together all ingredients except butter (lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt).

Now add your butter cubes and put your saucepan over low heat, keep on whisking until that butter is melted

Once it's melted, turn the heat up to moderate (I did it over medium-high) and keep whisking. The mixture will thicken. As David says, if you can take your whisk out of it and it holds shape, you're there.

Now take the curd, press it through your strainer and then transfer to a bowl. It can keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
Source: Smitten Kitchen

1 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch (you use this because brown sugar is far more moist than powdered, and powdered sugar already has some in it)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

First off, whisk together your brown sugar, cornstarch and powdered sugar and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a regular bowl with a hand mixer), beat together cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add your vanilla extract to the cream cheese/butter mixture. Finally, add your dry ingredients to the mix and beat until fluffy and light. If it's a little thin (mine was not) go ahead and put it in the fridge for a little bit to firm up.
Assembling the cake

Take your cake, still in the pans and cooled, and transfer the first layer to your cake stand or plate. Using a cake knife or bread knife, level the dome off the top of your cake.

Once level, take a heaping amount of your lemon curd and cover that first layer to your desired thickness. Now, pour a good amount of your rhubarb compote on top of the lemon curd and spread to cover and swirl with the lemon.

Next, take your other cake layer and place on top of your filling. You want to again level out the layer using a cake or bread knife. Once that's done, let's create your crumb coat for your frosting. Spread a thin layer of your brown sugar cream cheese frosting across the top of the leveled cake, and along the sides. This layer will pick up any of the crumbs, allowing you to create a smooth coating of frosting on top.

Finally, you can frost away. Cover the top and sides with a thick layer of the frosting (because you can't have enough frosting) and pipe (using a pretty open tip) some along the bottom and the very top (where it meets the sides). I do this because I'm not a great decorator and this covers up all my mistakes.

Finally, after all that work... enjoy it! I know I did!

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Happy Spring Dinner

Welcome to Spring, dear readers. Yes, there may still be snow on the ground where you are, and maybe there's even some in the forecast. It's time to look forward and celebrate all nature will have to offer in the coming months until the freeze comes again. I'm thrilled to share an evening where there were stories told, laughs had, wine shared, and an education in local and seasonal eating imparted. This "Happy Spring Dinner" is part of March's 24x24 event, presented by Foodbuzz. It's 24 events, by 24 bloggers, in 24 hours. I'm honored this special evening was selected to be part of this month's event.

The idea was to invite friends and family from our community into our home and teach them about how to eat locally, and in season as we move into Spring and Summer. The menu was created around local meats, cheeses, and produce as a way to show how easy it can be, even in March, to create a beautiful meal with local or in-season ingredients as the stars. Let's begin with a cocktail to begin, because that's how civilized people do it, right?

Our Spring feast begins with a martini, shaken, not stirred. A combination of early spring rhubarb, vodka, and lemon-infused pellegrino. First you need my recipe for Rhubarb Compote to make this all happen, which is easy enough.

Rhubarb Compote

1 pound rhubarb, cleaned, and sliced
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
pinch of salt
lime or lemon zest (about a teaspoon or so)

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and cook over low-to-medium-low heat until combined. For the cocktail, you want to put this cooked down rhubarb into a food processor and process until smooth. It can be used as-is for baked goods.

Lemon-Rhubarb Martini
Makes: 1 martini

2 teaspoons rhubarb compote
1 ounce high-quality vodka
1/2 cup San Pellegrino Limonata Soda

Place all ingredients into a martini shaker with one ice cube. Shake to combine and pour into a large martini glass, can be served with a lemon twist if you would like. 

I have to mea culpa here. The first course's pictures got eaten by my camera. It was a lovely Roasted Carrot Soup, made possible by the lovely sweet carrots I have gotten in pretty much every share from my Winter CSA at Heron Pond Farm. It was lovely, and a perfect set-up to the main and most-talked about part of the meal, the main course. 

Flank Steak Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Spinach, served with Horseradish Cream Sauce

I knew by mid-week that I'd be getting spinach in our farm share for the week. It all pretty much started there, I explained to my guests that night. Yes, I told them, the whole menu pretty much started off centered around early spring spinach. I love it paired with blue cheese and I knew Great Hill in Marion, Ma. makes wonderful blue cheese, and I can always find it at our local Whole Foods.  Blue cheese and spinach needed a hearty protein, and the flank steak at Tendercrop Farm in Newbury, Ma. is always beautiful, and only 5 minutes from our house.  

 Flank Steak Stuffed with Blue Cheese and Spinach
Serves: 6 (one roll a person)

2 pounds flank steak, pounded thin, sliced against the grain into 6 long strips
salt and pepper
montreal steak seasoning 
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 cup blue cheese, broken into crumbles (I also used some Cabot VT Cheddar)
2 shallots, minced (I also used 1/2 a sweet white onion, it works just fine)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup spinach leaves
6 slices bacon (optional) 
butcher's twine  

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  

Now, take your strips of flank steak and season both sides with salt, pepper and montreal steak seasoning, set aside. 

Now, in a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add your shallots or onions and cook until softened. Next, add your garlic and cook for about 30 seconds before adding your panko bread crumbs to the mix. Finally, add blue cheese and cook until warm, about 2 minutes. Pour mixture into a bowl.

Now take your seasoned strips of flank steak and spread the blue cheese mixture down the middle. Place several spinach of leaves on top of the cheese. Before you roll that pretty little piece of meat up, make sure you've cut a couple of pieces of kitchen twine, and have them ready. Next, roll the meat up tightly and secure the roll with your twine. If you'd like, and the husband did, before you tie the roll up, wrap it in a piece of bacon, it's yummy.

Get out a large oven-safe skillet, and put the other teaspoon of olive oil in it. Heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Next, take your rolls and sear them in the skillet on each side to get that lovely color. Once they're seared on all sides, take the entire skillet and put it in the oven. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 145 or so. Now, take the skillet out of the oven, tent foil over the top and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. At this point, you should have medium-rare meat. If it's not there yet, feel free to pop it back in the oven for a couple of minutes to warm it up and finish it off. Serve with Horseradish Cream Sauce. 

Horseradish Cream Sauce
Makes: 1.5 cups
adapted from: Certified Angus Beef 

1 cup sour cream (I used Cabot's)
1/3 cup prepared horseradish (not sauce)
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 teaspoons dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
heavy cream to taste (I used about 3/4 cup) 

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir until completely combined. If you want a thinner sauce, add more cream. 

Side Dishes: Pommes Anna and Rainbow Chard with Pancetta

When you're leaving winter and getting into spring, most likely you're going to have a lot of potatoes on your hands if you have a Winter CSA share. Pommes Anna is a beautiful, yet simple, side dish to use the pounds of potatoes you have on hand. This week, I told my guests, I was able to pick up two different kinds of red potatoes from Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton, NH. One had a decidedly purple tinge after skinning. It only made the Pommes Anna more beautiful. One of the best things about picking from local farms is the different types of produce you might not come across in your supermarket.

Pommes Anna
Serves: 6
adapted from: Cooking Light

3 pounds red potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
2 1/2 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Using a mandoline, food processor with slicing attachment, or a knife, slice the potatoes fairly thin. Choose an oven-safe 10-inch skillet to use for this recipe. Melt 2.5 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. While that's cooking, melt the other 3 tablespoons butter in a measuring cup. Once the butter in the skillet is melted, start on the outside of the skillet and layer in a circle, overlapping slightly. Continue until the skillet is covered, sprinkle salt and pepper over the potatoes, and drizzle some of the melted butter over the top. Now, create several more layers of potatoes, salt and pepper and butter, finishing with the butter. Once done, place the skillet in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until layers are crisp. 

Rainbow Chard with Pancetta 

Heron Pond Farm also gave us a couple of bags of Rainbow Chard to work with. I love chard, and the simpler the preparation, the better. I knew I wanted to combine the chard with my home-cured pancetta I made for Charcutepalooza. This is a perfect side dish for a crowd.  

5 cups Rainbow or Swiss Chard, washed, stems removed
3/4 cup chopped pancetta (or bacon, if you'd like)
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil 

First, get a pot of water boiling on the stove. Now, get a bowl of ice water on standby. We're going to blanch the chard first so it keeps its beautiful green color. Dump the chard into the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, take chard out and plunge into ice water. While the chard is cooling in its ice bath, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat in a medium skillet on the stove. Add pancetta to the skillet and cook until crispy. Now add garlic and saute until fragrant. Finally, add your chard, salt and pepper to taste and cook until all the flavors are combined. 

Dessert, you may ask? We'll get to that in just a moment.

The Dinner Party

So the cooking was underway or set, so the tulips were placed on the table. The mason jars with their glowing candles set out as well. You know spring is coming when you still have the last rays of light even past six o'clock in the evening. 

We were a party of six for the evening. The goal was to educate about where all the food we were eating that night came from, but to also talk about how it's not hard to start along a local and in-season food path. I went through with our guests the top 3 ways to start eating local come springtime.

Starting down a local path

1. Start at your local grocery store. Inquire or spend time looking for local/regional products. In Newburyport, the normal grocery store carries butter, flour, and cheese from Vermont and Maine. They carry local sausages from Dartmouth, MA. All it takes is a little investigative work.

2. Next, hit your local farmers' market. If you start there, then you can start chatting with the farms and artisans that are selling there. If there's something you can't find, most likely they can help you locate someone locally who has it. You can start with produce, but often you can find local sources of meat and other products as well.

3. Check our small, local food shops, butchers and bakers. Eating local isn't only about produce and meat. You can find small cheesemakers, winemakers, and prepared products. You're not only supporting the product, but the local person in your community selling it all.

The happy guests

Dessert: White Cake with Rhubarb Compote & Lemon Curd Filling, with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

I did say I'd get to dessert. I've already given you one piece of the puzzle, the Rhubarb Compote you've read about above. This cake, is truly, one of my most favorite creations, baking-wise, to ever come out of my kitchen. It screams spring. However, you'll have to wait until later this week to find out just what goes into it. I hope you've enjoyed this Happy Spring Dinner with me. It was a lovely evening filled with a lot of talk, debate, laughs, memories,  and love. Until next time...

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Morning Berry Smoothie

Sometimes you attempt something and you just fail. I tried to go back on a little bit of a detox this week. Not one of those nutty maple syrup and water ones, but one that cuts out common allergens (gluten, soy, refined sugars, etc.) and focuses on whole foods. I did it last year. I felt great afterwards. I had more energy, clearer mind, and it didn't hurt that I lost a few pounds as well. However, I wasn't training my body back into running then. Here comes the fail part.

Any runner knows that if you're going to run, you need fuel. A detox that incorporates more of a liquid type breakfast and dinner, with a hefty protein-packed lunch, probably isn't going to be enough fuel if you're running. I learned that the hard way yesterday. All motivated, I made my smoothies, a healthy lunch of almond-crusted chicken and somewhere around 5pm my blood sugar just started crashing. If you've had it happen, you know what I mean. I got the clammy, cold sweats, the headache, and the feeling of faintness. I chomped through almonds, veggies and my night smoothie before cracking. I rushed home from work to eat a piece of bread.

Then it hit me. I've done this detox once. I enjoy the results, but the overall lifestyle is not for me. I *love* bread, pasta, really, baked goods in general. I love them in moderation. I'm not going to cut them out, because, for me, that's not living my happy life. I do, however, need to practice more restraint. I need to move more, snack less, and make small changes where I can. That's what I took away from the last time I did this, small changes make big differences.

So I'm adapting it what I'm doing for the next week or so. I'm going to cut back on gluten, but not get rid of it, I know from last time, it's not any energy culprit in my diet. I swapped my (dirty secret here) sweet non-dairy creamer and sugar in my coffee (I'm not giving that up again either) for almond milk and stevia. I'm going to work in more whole grains, like quinoa, on more of a regular basis.

Oh and I'm still going to eat bread, and sweets, and pasta - just in moderation.

I am going to keep the smoothie in the morning for a little bit. I like the way it eases my body into the day. This little recipe is simple and super refreshing in the morning when paired with you coffee or tea, or whatever you take in the morning. If you're wondering where Miss Local and In Season got all these berries - I freeze them in the summer so I can use them now. They're not great for eating alone, but in baked goods and smoothies, they're perfect, enjoy!

Morning Berry Smoothie
Makes: 1 to 1.5 smoothies

1/2 cup ice
5 strawberries (frozen or fresh work for all the berries)
1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 cup blackberries
1 cup unsweetened almond milk (you could use sweetened, but omit the agave syrup)
1 teaspoon agave syrup

I know, this is rocket science, right?

Combine all ingredients above in a blender and process until smooth. If you'd like it a little less thick, feel free to add some more almond milk.

Added note - Winner of the Boston Brunchers Giveaway is..... 
"Amanda Maynard said...
Followed, tweeted, etc! I'd love to join. I always feel so jealous when you all are having a great brunch out."

There were only two of you and Jason, you've gotten to brunch with the bunch before and rules are rules so.... Amanda, can't wait to see you on 4/3 at the Biltmore Bar and Grill! :-) Pin It

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pumpernickel Bread and a Boston Brunchers Giveaway

I've got a confession to make, this is really the first loaf of bread I've ever made that has come out well. It's not perfect, but at least it's not rock hard. It couldn't have come at a better time. I needed some pumpernickel or rye for a my Cider-Braised Corned Beef. Frankly, I like pumpernickel better, and I was fortunate enough to have a lovely little recipe from a cooking class I took up at Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine. If you haven't been there, by the way, spend the time to do so, I love it there. 

My friend, Jane, from over at Food and Fiction, once told me that once you nail your first loaf, you'll be hooked on bread-baking. She wasn't wrong. Getting one, fairly close to right, just makes me want to bake a bunch of them. I would, if I weren't out of flour, and I haven't shaken off the cobwebs from the week in sunny Florida that I just returned from. You just wait, though. Once I replenish my stock in flour, I think it's time to tackle several more. Practice makes perfect right?

The husband was fairly excited I finely baked a loaf of bread that wasn't hard as a rock. I'd like to add here that those hard-as-rock loaves were always very nice and tasty on the inside, it was just getting there. A couple of points with this recipe. First, I was too overzealous in coating my towel in flour on the second rise of this bread, be judicious. Second, wait for it to cool completely before slicing. I cut into it while fairly warm still and the crust will still a bit tough. However, when I had a piece slathered in butter the next day, the crust had relaxed once cooled. 

Win a spot for April's Boston Brunchers Event!

Before we get started on the bread, let's talk brunch real quick, shall we? I've been lucky enough to be selected to take part in April's Boston Brunchers event at the Biltmore in Newton. Click on that link, we're talking chive poached eggs, lobster frittatas... and that's not all. Here's the deal, this is all about bringing new bloggers into our little community. I want to meet some new bloggers! Since I've won a spot, I'm going to let you guys win a spot to. So if you're a BOSTON/NEW ENGLAND area blogger and you'd like to come to brunch with me and several other awesome Boston Brunchers (see other winners here) on Sunday April 3rd th at 11 a.m., do the following and I'll randomly select a winnter:

- You cannot have attended ANY previous Boston Bruncher events
- You must have a Boston area blog (does not have to be food related)
- You have to check out the original post for this months event here
- You must follow me @kimmybingham , @bostonbrunchers and @biltmorebargril on Twitter and tweet "I'd love to brunch with @kimmybingham, @bostonbrunchers @biltmorebargril in April!"
- Please like Lighter and Local and Boston Brunchers on Facebook and post about it.
- Leave a comment below that you've done all the above :-)

Now we return you to the bread!

over floured on second rise, but still yummy
Pumpernickel Bread
Makes: 1 loaf

Source: Stonewall Kitchen, adapted from Techniques of Bread Baking 1 at the ICE

1 cup warm tap water, about 100 degrees
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (250 grams)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (60 grams)
1/2 cup whole grain rye flour (51 grams, I used dark rye)
1 tablespoon non-alkalized cocoa powder (example, Hershey's unsweetened cocoa)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon unsulphered molasses
cornmeal for bottom of loaf

Pour warm water into a stand mixer bowl or a general mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast on surface and whisk, letting it stand for five minutes. Now, add your molasses and stir in flours and remaining ingredients. At this point, you can knead by hand or knead using the dough hook attachment for your stand mixer. Either way, knead until you have a smooth, elastic, soft dough.

Now transfer your dough to an oiled bowl and turn dough over so top is oiled as well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or a kitchen towel) and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled (I usually put the bowl on top of a preheating oven because my kitchen is drafty).

You can interrupt the process if you don't have time for a second rise right now or will bake it later on by punching the dough down once doubled, covering it tightly and refrigerating. To continue on, bring the dough back to room temperature until it starts to double again.

Otherwise, once that dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured surface (I suggest having a scraper handy, less of a mess). Press dough with palms of hands to deflate. Gently knead, shaping the dough into a sphere by tucking edges under and in toward the center all around the bottom. Take a round basket or bowl and line it with a heavily floured napkin or tea towel, making sure the ends of the napkin or towel are sticking out. Now invert your dough into the basket or bowl (see picture below). Cover with plastic wrap or towel and allow to rise until doubled.

second rise
When that loaf is almost doubled, preheat your oven to 500 degrees and set the rack at the middle level. Take a heavy duty baking sheet (what I used) or baking stone and set it on the rack.

While the oven/baking sheet it preheating. Sprinkle cornmeal on top of your loaf (technically the bottom) and invert it onto a cardboard round or peel (I used a large dinner plate, worked fine). Using a razor blade or knife held at a 30-degree angle, score an "X" at the top of the loaf. Slide the risen loaf from the plate onto the preheated pan in the oven (carefully, it's hot in there!). Immediately lower oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake the loaf about 20-30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 210 degrees.

Cool the loaf on a rack and do not cut until completely cooled. Pin It

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Charcutepalooza: Brining - Cider-Braised Corned Beef

It's the 15th of the month so that means it's Charcutepalooza time. This month's challenge was brining. Just in time for your St. Patty's Day fun, I have a corned beef recipe for you that is a little sweet along with your salty. You can get corned beef already cured at your local supermarket or farm in most cases. I cured my own, based on the process in the pages of "Charcuterie", by Michael Ruhlman. However, curing takes at least 5 days in the fridge. You can cut the process by a few days, you just might not get the taste you want.

the cooling brine
In my case, I picked up a 5-pound brisket from my local farm, Tendercrop Farm in Newbury, MA. I knew the husband and I wouldn't go through 5 pounds of the corned beef so I cut it in half, tucking the other half away for another time. I put that baby aside and started the process of putting together the brine. Basically when you brine, you're putting together a solution of salt/water, spices, and in this case, pink curing salt to let your piece of meat cure in. The key here is time, you need to be able to make up your brine, cool it completely, before setting your brisket in to cure. I'm impatient, so I threw it out on my very chilly back steps.

this was the first week in March, still snow out there, fun.
Once that brine is completely cooled, I simply dropped my brisket in, placing a plate on top of it so it was completely submerged in the brine and into the fridge it went for 5 days of curing fun. Once you take it out, you rinse it and get ready to cook it in whatever way you'd like. A very traditional way of preparing corned beef is boiling it, however, I've always like the idea of braising it instead. You get a meat that falls apart a little bit more, and is a bit more tender. However, it does take quite a bit of time, so you'll have to plan ahead. So let's get down to it, shall we?

The husband, slicing up the beef, it is easier to slice when more cooled, but we couldn't resist.

Cider-Braised Corned Beef with Cabbage and Vegetables
Inspired by Guinness Corned Beef
Serves: 6-8

2.5 lbs. corned beef
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 16-ounce bottles of Irish Hard Cider (like Magner's)2 large carrots, sliced
2 large parsnips, sliced
1 head of cabbage, heart removed, cut into eighths

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. 

Take your corned beef and rub completely with brown sugar so it's coated on all sides. Place in a large dutch oven (big enough to hold brisket and enough room to later add the liquid and vegetables, I used a 5-qt. round one), fat side up. Add your onions over the to of the brisket and then pour your hard cider over the top. Now, if your liquid isn't covering the brisket, add water until there's about an inch of liquid covering the meat.

Put your lid on that dish and pop it in the oven. I braised mine for 2.5 hours, which was OK, but I found the brisket to still be a bit tough. I'd suggest 3.5 hours of braising time. When you have an hour of cooking left, add your carrots and parsnips. Finally when you have about 20-30 minute left, add your cabbage. In the end, you'll have a sweet, lovely corned beef, full of flavor. Frankly, I loved the veggies done this way as well, they were perfect.

Beautiful cabbage and other vegetables to go with your corned beef
Now, what you do with your corned beef from this point is your business. You can serve it as-is with the vegetables on the side, or you can make one kick-butt sandwich with this tasty meat. I whipped up a loaf of pumpernickel bread (recipe coming in the next few days) and we decided, inspired by Charcutepalooza queen, Mrs. Wheelbarrow, to make Cloak and Dagger Sandwiches. They were insanely tasty.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pantry Mexican Chicken Bake

Straight from the depths of my pantry and freezer to you this week comes the Mexican Chicken Bake. Life is busy here at the bungalow. Vacations are ahead, the husband is busy with classes, I'm busy at work, the pugs are busy sleeping. The budget is tight this month because of said vacations so this is around the time I start looking through the pantry and the freezer for inspiration.

Sounds silly, but if you're looking to save money on food, keep a well-stocked pantry of the basics and you'll, cue Scarlett O'Hara, "Never go hungry again." Fear not, dear readers, I'm planning a whole series on stocking up in general and for winter once the snow finishes receding and the green starts popping out of the ground. I usually end up doing one pantry or freezer meal a week because of all of our crazy schedules in this house. I mean, the pugs MUST sleep 12-18 hours a day, they have to, it keeps them cute.

Side note and tip here is that if you have a massive roasting chicken or a rotisserie one you picked up from the store, you don't have to use it all right away. Pick all the yummy parts of the chicken off the bones, shred and chop and put what you don't use into a tough freezer bag or container. You can freeze that meat for a couple of weeks. When you want to use it, take it out the night before, or in the morning before you go to work, put it in your fridge and it'll be defrosted by the time you come home for an easy weeknight meal.

The best part of this recipe is you can adapt it however you like. Don't like olives (I eat them straight form whatever container they come in)? Leave them out. Want more heat? Add some jalapenos to the mix. You can change up the cheese involved or swap red enchilada sauce for green. This is about whatever you may have lurking in your freezer or in the pantry, so feel free to change it up and get creative. If you find a winning combination, come back and leave me a comment so I can try it!

Pantry Mexican Chicken Bake
Serves: 4

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded and chopped roughly
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup sliced black olives
1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
1 15oz can enchilada sauce (homemade if you'd like this recipe is a good one if you can find the peppers, I usually find a decent version at Whole Foods.)
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed (this almost a 15oz can, I use the leftovers in a salad)
1 cup frozen corn kernels, defrosted
4 flour tortillas, 8-inch
2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese (I used Cabot's 50% reduced fat pepper jack)
more sour cream, salsa and avocado if you'd like for serving

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In large a bowl, combine chicken, red onion, black olives, 1/3 cup sour cream and 1/3 cup enchilada sauce and toss to coat the chicken.

Now, spray a square baking dish with cooking spray and pour a little bit of the enchilada sauce to coat the bottom. Place one tortilla in the dish, cover with the chicken mixture, sprinkle on black beans, corn, and then drizzle a little bit of enchilada sauce over it all. Next, sprinkle your shredded cheese over that layer and place another tortilla on top. Repeat for two more layers.

Place the last tortilla on top of the pile, pour the rest of your enchilada sauce over the top. Finish off with remaining cheese and pop that tortilla stack into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is a tad golden. Take out, allow to cool for 5 minutes or so before serving it up! Pin It

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

King Cake with Blueberry Cream Cheese Filling

I've never been to Mardi Gras, although it is on my bucket list to be among that crowd one of these Fat Tuesdays. Even though I'm not sipping a Hurricane down on Bourbon Street today that's no reason not to celebrate this day of indulgence. And I know it's Fat Tuesday already, but I had to share this with you. Make it, even if it's not Mardi Gras or tuck it away for next year.

I came across a handful of recipes for King Cake last year and was determined to put it on my list for things I had to make in 2011. It doesn't help that the husband has been begging for something "pastry-like". This isn't pastry, but it's kind of a close cousin.

King Cake is part of the festival of the Epiphany which spans between Christmas and Lent. It's roots are in several different cultures, but it's the French variety that made its way down to our lovely New Orleans. The bread is similar to brioche and can be filled or not. The version I've made today is filled with a blueberry cream cheese frosting because really, any excuse to bring cream cheese frosting out and I'm on board.

King Cake with Blueberry Cream Cheese Filling
Adapted very slightly from: Cooking with Christian
Serves: 12

3.5 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages rapid-rise yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 block cream cheese, softened
1 cup blueberries
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon orange extract or lemon juice

Sprinkles (purple, gold and green) to decorate

Take 1.5 cups (187.5 grams if you weigh like I do) of flour, your sugar, yeast and salt and dump in into the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with your dough hook.

In a small sauce pan, warm your butter and milk (your butter will melt into this mixture). Don't let this get too hot (105-110 degrees is great if you have a thermometer handy(.

Now once your butter/milk mixture is warmed, pour it into the dry ingredients in your stand mixer bowl. Mix using the dough hook attachment on low speed. Once combined, add your eggs, one at a time until they're well mixed in (it will take a couple of passes of the dough hook to break your yolks).

Now add another cup of flour (125 grams) and continue mixing with the dough hook until smooth. Now add your remaining half cup of flour and mix with your dough hook until a sticky, fairly wet, dough forms (you won't get a uniform ball, but it will start pulling away from the sides.)

Next, lightly oil a glass bowl and spoon the dough into this bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and place somewhere warm and draft-free (or on top of a preheated oven if it's cold in your house like mine). Allow to rise until it has doubled in size (about one hour).

While your dough is rising, make your filling. Combine your block of softened cream cheese, blueberries and a teaspoon of vanilla extract in a bowl or your standing mixer. Stir until combined. Slowly add 3/4 cup of powdered sugar until completely combined.

Now take your bowl of dough and punch it down (it will be sticky). You can do one of two things at this point, you can cover it and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours for a second rise or forge forward and fill it. It will just not be as puffy without that second rise.

Now preheat your oven to 375.

Pour your dough onto a clean, floured surface and knead until not as sticky (adding in a little flour here and there if you need it). Now, using your hands, make a long rectangle. Spread your cream cheese filling along the middle and gently fold the top half of the rectangle over the bottom half. Now seal the ends together making a long tube. Form that little tube into a circle and place on a cookie sleet with a silicone mat on top.

Baked for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Take out of oven and carefully transfer to an baking rack to cool. Once cooled, make up the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, milk and orange extract. Brush over the top of the cooled cake and decorate with your purple, gold and green sprinkles.

At this point if you'd like, hide a small plastic trinket or a whole pecan in the cake. Whoever finds it will have good fortune and have to make the king cake for next Fat Tuesday! Enjoy! Pin It

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bondir, Newburyport Restaurant Week & N. Shore Picks of the Weekend

When you stroll into Bondir in Cambridge,  you don't feel like you're heading into a restaurant. In fact, you feel like you're walking into a beautiful dinner party at someone's home. On this particular, snowy, Sunday afternoon, it was more like walking into a cozy living room. There was a fire roaring in the fireplace next to a table where the restaurant's china, silverware and some of the wine is stored. It's homey, welcoming, and breathtakingly beautiful to the eye.

I will admit at this point that I'm a bad blogger when it comes to meals at amazing places. I'm too busy savoring every bite of food, or chatting about how wonderful it is with my table mates. I don't take enough photos, but I'm hoping what I did take for this Sunday Bloggers Lunch at Bondir will get you to make your reservation there quickly.

I was lucky enough to be invited by Maggie Batista of Eat Boutique to this lovely afternoon of delicacies presented by chef Jason Bond. Bondir focuses on locally-sourced, in-season, ingredients. Therefore, it's menu, it changes daily to suit what's available. It is truly what Bond does to it, however, that makes this tiny restaurant stand out from all the rest.

Won't you join us?

Ok, I'm fascinated by Bondir's place settings, they're beautiful. I love the homey atmosphere in this place, seriously warms the heart. I took my place at the table with Maggie, Laura and Rob of 2 Palaverers, David of Eat, Drink, RI, Heather of Food for Thought, Katy of and Rachael of Fork it Over Boston. I wish I could have chatted more with: Jen of Tiny Urban Kitchen, Shelby of Lady Gouda, Erin of Erin Cooks, Tania of The Musing Bouche and Lily of Consuming Lily.

Flounder roe and Saffron Risotto
Our end of the table ordered up a beautiful Italian white to go along with our first course (2009 Monte Faliesi, Campania, Italy, falanghina), which was a saffron risotto with a beautiful yellowtail flounder (from Scituate) with the roe served alongside. Seriously, every bite of that flounder roe simply melted. I have to give a shout-out to those biscuits as well, Laura of 2Palavers even said she hasn't had a biscuit that good since they lived in the South.

Wasabi Golden Turnips
This is where I turn into the bad blogger. The second course headed our way; Tamworth ham with collard greens, wasabi golden turnips and potatoes roasted in goose fat and finished with pig's blood. I will say up front, I'm not the hugest fan of ham, I never find it done well. This was perfect. It was brined beforehand, leaving it perfectly tender and moist. The collards were fabulous as were the crispy potatoes, but for me, the golden turnips went above and beyond them all.

Dessert was gobbled up too fast before I could capture it. It consisted of two dishes - wine poached pears with an almond cream, and a pear tart tatin with well-vermouth-spiked creme fraiche. Not too sweet, a perfect end to this amazing meal.

My only regret is not getting to speak to Bond one-on-one about this amazing meal. I will, no doubt, however, be back again.

A huge thank you to the folks at Bondir for offering up such an amazing meal and to Maggie for organizing such a great crowd for a snowy, Sunday afternoon.

Bondir is located at 279A Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139.
For more information: Bondir

Newburyport Restaurant Week 
I know everyone's talking about Boston's restaurant week, so how about trying something new? Sunday, March 20th to Thursday March 24th is Newburyport Restaurant Week. Restaurants from Newburyport, Amesbury and Salisbury are taking part. You've got your choice of lunch or dinner at some spots for $20 or $30 for a three-course meals. You can check out long-standing restaurants like the Grog, Michael's Harborside or Ten Center Street or check out new places like Ceia or the Stoplight Cafe. For the full list of restaurants taking part, check out the Newburyport Chamber of Commerce's website and make sure you make reservations early!

North Shore Bloggers Consortium Picks of the Weekend

Saturday, March 5th 

New England Wine and Spirits Beer Tasting
155 State Street 
Newburyport, MA, 01950
New England Wine and Spirits' weekly beer tasting features craft brews from the Sam Adams family this weekend. Check out their Sam Adams Story Brook Red, Sam Adams New World Tripel, Sam Adams American Kriek

Part of Portsmouth Beer Weekend 2011: 

Smuttynose Brewery Tour at 11am:  The tour lasts about an hour  and includes a complimentary tasting.  Smuttynose is located at 225 Heritage Avenue in Portsmouth. 

Smuttynose Pub Crawl:  We will begin by "Tapping the Barrels" at The Coat of Arms at 2p.m.  The barrels are three cask-conditioned Smuttynose beers, that's the most we've ever had on at one time in Portsmouth!  Stops at The Blue Mermaid, Fat Belly’s, Poco's, The River House, RiRa, and The Press Room will follow.

Sunday, March 6th

6:30pm – 10:00pm
Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport
Party@6:30 pm & Performance@8pm What better way to celebrate the fun and fanfare of Mardi Gras than at a party hosted by the Firehouse? Featuring the sizzling sounds of Doreen's Jazz New Orleans you will discover why this groups's moniker is "The Show Stealers." 
Part of Portsmouth Beer Weekend 2011:
Smuttynose Beer Geek Brunch at The Chef’s Table 
10 a.m.-2 p.m.    
177 State Street, Portsmouth, NH
An open-to-the-public brunch featuring Smuttynose Big Beers, vintage beers, and giveaways. Who doesn't love Baltic Porter with pancakes?

Check out what the other members of the North Shore Bloggers Consortium are doing this weekend!

Choices from all over New England at The Two Palaverers.
The wonderful Jane Ward has some great ideas, over at Food and Fiction. 
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Winter CSA Cooking: Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

Soup is something that beckons to me year-round. I don't put it away in the summer when it's too hot to even think, and I try not to overdo it in the winter when nothing else will take the chill off my bones.

That's why I would like to take one tiny second here to pat myself on the back. One of my recipes, Beer and Baked Potato Soup, was chosen as one of the two winners of Cabot Creamery Cooperative's 2011 Soup Swap. This means, I get the recipe permanently located on Cabot Cheese's website. It's truly an honor to be recognized by the amazing people over at Cabot and the New England Culinary Institute who judged the competition. I've said it before, but Cabot is formed by a wonderful, hard-working group of Vermont dairy farmers. They're continuing a long-standing tradition in that state that sadly has dwindled over the last couple of decades. Their products are amazing, and New Englanders, you don't have to go further than your local supermarket to find them.

I digress, don't I? Today's soup sadly has no beer involved, something the husband was sad to discover. However, it's a thick, stick-to-your ribs type variety without all of the calories involved. This all started when I looked in my produce drawer, and yes, it was full of carrots and parsnips again. Don't get me wrong, carrots and parsnips are two of my favorite things out of my Winter CSA, but they do pile up quick.

I considered my options over a glass of wine, because really, there's not a lot of other ways I'd rather consider my options. I had picked up a small rotisserie chicken from my local farm. Believe me, I know how lucky I am to have such an option. I mean, seriously, who has that available to them all of the time? I thought about classic chicken noodle, adding some parsnips for bite. I thought about a creamy chicken noodle, for a little more heartiness. I then spied a little box of gnocchi in the pantry. I've made my own in the past, but that delicate version isn't going to hold up to this soup, so I picked up that box and went to work. I hope you enjoy the result.

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup
Inspired by wine and this recipe from Tasty Kitchen
Serves: 6

1 lb. box of gnocchi
3 tablespoons butter, unsalted
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup celery (2 large stalks), sliced
1/2 cup carrot (1-2 medium), peeled and chopped
1/2 cup parsnip (1-2 medium), peeled and chopped (or you can just use a full cup of carrots)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour + 1 tablespoon flour
2 cups milk (I used 1%)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups cooked, chopped chicken
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)

Cook gnocchi according to directions (do not overcook, they'll become mushy, if anything, under cook), drain and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven, over medium heat, melt your 3 tablespoons of butter. Once melted, add your onion, celery, carrots and parsnips and sauté until carrots/parsnips soften and onions become translucent. Add your garlic and cook about 30 seconds, until you can actually smell it.

Next, stir in 2 (just two, we have a use for the other tablespoon) of flour. Stirring constantly, as not to burn it, into the vegetable mixture until thickened. Now, take your 2 cups of milk and whisk your final tablespoon of flour into the milk until it dissolves. Once that is done, pour the milk (still over medium heat) into the dutch oven and whisk until the lumps of flour have disappeared into the mixture.

Now, you can add your chicken broth, chicken, your parsley, thyme, salt and pepper to the mix. Stir to combine everything and bring it up to a boil, and then immediately bring the soup down to a simmer. Add your cooked gnocchi at this point and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Serve with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese for an extra little kick of flavor! Pin It