Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bed of Sin-namon Rolls

The sinfully scrumptious cinnamon roll. A buttery temptress, seducing innocent passers-by with her irresistible aroma and layers of delicate pastry-flesh that spiral into an ambrosial abyss. Nothing I have baked in recent memory has sparked such lust, gluttony, and ultimately sloth, as the cinnamon roll. Following a recipe format from Emily Luchetti's Classic Stars Desserts, I made my very own delicious bed of sin in a 9" x 13" pan. It takes time and patience to conjure up such black magic (or shall I say, dark brown sugar magic), but the end result is worth every second of effort. Why wait until Fat Tuesday when you could be sinning with cinnamon right now?

Recipe for Bed of Sin-namon Rolls (adapted from Emily Luchetti's recipe for Cinnamon Rolls - makes 12):

For the dough:

  • 1 tbsp (a little more than a packet) of yeast
  • 3 tbsp warmed milk
  • 2 + 3/4 cups of flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 eggs (room temperature)
  • 12 tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • Extra flour for dusting the counter
  • Extra butter for the pan

Dissolve the yeast in the milk, and let it stand for a couple of minutes. In a medium bowl, mix your dry ingredients - the flour, sugar and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs with the yeast/milk on a low speed until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients, and mix on low until blended. Finally, add the butter and mix until all the ingredients have come together to form a dough. Place the dough on a clean, lightly floured surface, and knead with your hands for a few minutes until smooth and satiny. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl and cover with a clean tea towel, and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. Prepare a 9" x 13" pan by greasing it with the extra butter. It can hang out in the fridge while the dough rises.

For the Sin-namon butter:

  • 16 tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 2 + 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar and it was great)

Wash and dry your stand mixer bowl and paddle, and beat the butter, cinnamon and brown sugar on medium-low speed until creamy. Keep at room temperature.

Once the dough has roughly doubled in size, roll it out on a lightly floured work surface to about an 18" x 11" rectangle. Spread your cinnamon butter evenly over the dough. If you wanted to add chopped nuts, you'd spread those out over the dough as well.

Starting from one of the long sides, roll the dough into a log. Cut the log into 12 equal pieces and place the rolls in your prepared pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let rise again in a warm place for another 2 hours. At this point, they could be placed in the fridge to rise overnight, then placed directly in a 350 degree oven the next morning. I personally do not have that kind of willpower.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bake the Bed of Sin-namon Rolls for about 35-40 minutes, until golden brown and your kitchen smells like temptation. Let cool for 5 minutes, pry out with a spatula, resist premature ravaging, and drizzle with icing.

For the icing:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 + 1/2 tbsp water
Whisk together in a small bowl until smooth, and drizzle over the rolls. Devour as many as you can handle, and promptly pass out on the couch.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Hot off the Panini Press

After catching up on my reading of Cooks Illustrated, Everday Food, Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart Living and Saveur, I noticed many similar feature and articles. I'm not sure if these magazines share freelancers, or if there are just surfacing trends that the foodie movers and shakers are picking up on.

So hot right now:
  • Salumi / Artisan Cured Meats
  • Fresh Ricotta
  • Swedish Meatballs
  • Braised Short Ribs
  • Breakfast (!)
  • Eating Cheap
  • Peanut Butter Desserts
  • Home-Baked Breads
  • Locally-Grown Fruits and Vegetables
  • Italian Food - According to more than one publication, Vetri in Philadelphia is the best restaurant in the country right now

What I think could be hot in 2009:

  • Exotic Fruits
  • Arugula
  • Compound Butters and Smoked / Flavored Salts
  • Two-Bite Amuse Bouche-Style Dishes
  • Brunch
  • Tongue (you heard me)
  • Mussels
  • Spiced Teas
  • Southern Food
  • Lemon or Orange Flavors + Dark Chocolate

Friday, January 23, 2009

Loin Me Tender

I keep reading that tenderloin is generally scorned as the most "overrated" cut of meat. Perhaps filet mignon is on the decline in the hearts of foodies everywhere, but at $5 a pound, pork tenderloin will stay in my heart until further notice. Tenderloin is easy to prepare if you remember a simple rule of thumb: cuts of meat (like tenderloin) with little or no fat need to be cooked fast over high heat (conversely, cuts that are marbled with fat need slow cooking over low heat to tenderize). If the heat is too low for tenderloin, you'll find yourself serving toughloin.

How to make Easy Pork Tenderloin:

You need: One pork tenderloin, seasoning (salt & pepper, or a smoky spice rub), a heavy-duty skillet that can go from stove top to oven (I am obsessed with my All-Clad; expensive but highly recommended), and oil to coat the skillet.

Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Heat the broiler in the oven. Season the tenderloin and sear on the stove top until brown on all sides. Transfer the skillet to the oven to finish cooking, turning the pork every couple of minutes with tongs, and checking internal temp until it reaches 150-155 degrees. When the pork is done, let it rest for several minutes, then slice and serve. You can use the bits from the pan to make a pan sauce as an accompaniment, but for my dinner pictured below, I just whisked some butter with grainy mustard over low heat in a small separate pan while the pork was in the oven.

Recipe for Pear-Cranberry Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette:
  • Mixed greens
  • Sliced pears
  • Dried cranberries

For the Citrus Vinaigrette:

  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 scallion, sliced thin
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Whisk the ingredients for the vinaigrette together, and toss with the greens, pears and cranberries.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes I Can

Are you on my website right now? Turn on NBC! CNN! History is being made!

No matter what you want, believe, or vote, it's a glorious day in America. Cue the tears of joy.

I have been fasting for exactly five hours and 17 minutes at the instruction of my doctor. Her office just called to confirm my appointment tomorrow, and told me that Yes I Can eat today; all I need to do is skip breakfast in the morning. Cue more tears of joy! I just went to the store and bought a pork tenderloin, and I am going to eat it tonight at my very own Upper West Side Inaugural Ball celebration, escorted by my handsome husband and two handsome pugs, and dressed in a stunning ensemble of J. Crew sweats and a t-shirt I got on sale at Target. God bless America!

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Yam What I Yam

I'm still a little confused by yams and sweet potatoes. Just when I thought I had it down, I went to the store today and the yams and sweet potatoes were next to each other; thank goodness for the guy stocking the shelves nearby to point out the box underneath the yams that boldly stated YAMS. I know yams and sweet potatoes can substitute for each other in some recipes. I know that sometimes yams are mislabeled as sweet potatoes and vice versa. I know that yams have more natural sugar and less vitamin A and C than sweet potatoes. But I don't know how to tell them apart by looking at them. I try to cheat by looking for ones that have their flesh peeking out.

I was pleasantly surprised and interested by the sweet potato winning last week's poll (I just assumed cheddar, being cheese, would run away with it). I love sweet potatoes baked with butter and brown sugar, and who doesn't like sweet potato fries?

Recipe for Ginger-Curry Sweet Potato Wedges:

  • One sweet potato, peeled (optional) and cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated lime zest (from about 1/2 a lime)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 scallion, snipped for garnish
  • Additional salt for finishing
Heat the oven to 450. In a shallow bowl or in a sealed plastic bag, toss the sweet potato wedges with all of the ingredients (except the scallion and additional salt - save that for the end). Spread out the wedges on a foil-lined jelly roll pan and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove pan, and flip each sweet potato wedge over with tongs. Place back in the oven and turn to "broil." Cook for an additional 10 minutes until the edges start to turn deep brown. Serve garnished with snipped scallions and salt to taste. For a "bistro style" serving, fold a square of parchment paper and stuff it inside the bottom half of a stainless steel martini shaker (see photo below). Drop the wedges inside.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Second, Dress to Impress

Recipe for a yummy and healthy Mediterranean Salad Pizza:

  • One batch of Pizza Dough
  • 2 cups of mixed veggies, etc, chopped bite-size: cucumber, red/yellow/green bell pepper, red onion, calamata olives (halved), and grape tomatoes (halved).
  • 1 cup of grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Red wine vinaigrette (1/2 cup olive oil + 1/4 cup red wine vinegar + one squeeze lemon juice + 1/2 tsp salt + 1/4 tsp ground pepper)
  • Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 500 with a pizza or baking stone inside. Marinate the olives, tomatoes and veggies in the vinaigrette. Soak the crushed garlic in the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Remove the hot baking stone from the oven, and sprinkle with cornmeal. Lay the pounded dough flat on the stone, and pinch the edge for the crust, being careful of your fingers near the hot stone. Brush the entire pizza, including the edge, with the garlic infused olive oil. Spread out the toppings evenly, and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Finish with salt and pepper. Bake at 500 for about 8-10 minutes, until edges brown.

First, Make the Dough

A few months ago, I participated in a lengthy audition for the show, The Next Food Network Star. The "signature dish" I prepared for the camera was a pizza. Pizza sauce runs through my veins. My talented and charismatic father, one of the founders and owners of Davannis in Minnesota, taught me what it takes to make a perfect pie. I remember handling pizza dough at a very young age.

Not only did I not make it on the show, but in the months following my audition, suspiciously similar versions of the pizza that I had presented began appearing on menus and magazine covers. Coincidence? Well, yes, probably. But my ego screams, "conspiracy!" In reality, I just think that this could be the year that arugula shines (the pizza I had made for the audition included arugula with prosciutto, truffle cheese, and a pomegranate-balsamic reduction).

How to make Pizza Dough:

  • 3 cups of flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 2 + ½ tsp of yeast (or one packet)
  • About a tbsp of cornmeal (for the pizza stone)

Dissolve the sugar and yeast in ¼ cup of the warm water. In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt, and olive oil. Add the water with the yeast and sugar, and then add the remaining ¾ cup of warm water. Knead the dough until it has all come together and is elastic. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, bonus. Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly coated in olive oil, and cover with a clean tea towel. Keep in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes. Take the dough out, knead with your hands, and transfer back to the covered bowl to rise again, this time for about another hour.

To pound the dough, take a little extra flour for your hands and a clean surface, and, using the tips of your fingers, play the dough like it’s a piano and you are Jerry Lee Lewis. Start pounding your way around the outside and work your way in, so it spreads out evenly in a circle. To make the crust, start at the top of the circle and pinch the dough between your fingers all the way around the edge, forming a little ridge. Dress to your liking, and bake at 500 degrees on a pizza stone lightly sprinkled with cornmeal for about 8-10 minutes, until edges brown.

Disclaimer: I vouch for this pizza dough. It is good stuff. But I did not just divulge the recipe for Davannis' dough. For an authentic Davannis pizza, you'll have to visit the Twin Cities. It's quite lovely there in the summer. Winter is lovely, too, but don't forget to pack your Uggs. They've been sported by many a Minnesotan, loooong before they hit Hollywood.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

France is so Over

I read a lot of magazines. According to the January issue of GQ, when it comes to dining, Italy is the new France.

I do not watch a lot of TV, but when I do, I love Lidia's Italy! She's taught me how to clean and prepare squid, make "drooling" gnocchi, and introduced me to broccoli de rape (pronounced raa-peh; be sure to roll your "r").

Do you agree with GQ? What's the scene in your city?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Speaking of France...

I recently made a batch of French onion soup, and after countless failed attempts in the past, it turned out pretty good this time, in my opinion. The key is to let the onions get well-caramelized. No short-cutting it. Good stock helps immensely, too.

Recipe for French Onion Soup:
  • One large (or two medium) yellow onions, sliced into rings, and then the rings cut in half
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups of homemade veal stock, or quality store-bought beef/veal stock
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • Roux made from 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp flour
  • Salt and cracked black pepper
  • Slices of French baguette and generous grated Gruyère cheese for topping

In a medium saucepan, sauté the onion in the butter over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally, and cook for about 40 minutes until the onions are soft, smaller, and golden brown in color. Season with salt and pepper and stir a few more times. Add the wine first and stir, then add the stock and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the roux to thicken the soup slightly. Meanwhile, heat the broiler. Ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls, and top with a crusty baguette slice. Sprinkle a handful of cheese over each, and place in the oven until the cheese is melted, bubby, and starting to get brown.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Memories and Melted Cheese

Sometimes the most memorable meals are not particularly indulgent or expensive, but ones you share with someone special, in a single magic moment. One of my most memorable meals was a crepe fromage that I shared with my husband in Paris. It was a perfect spring day. We had started at the Louvre in the morning, and leisurely strolled along the Seine, through the 7th Arrondissement, until we reached the Eiffel Tower. A street vendor prepared us a fresh, hot crepe, and we snacked on it together while watching the sun go down and the Tower lights come on.

Recipe for a Crepe Fromage (it's not Paris...only Paris is Paris):

Make the crepe batter by combining 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of warm water, 2 large eggs, 2 tbsp of melted butter, and 2 pinches of salt in a blender and blending until smooth. Let the batter rest for at least 15-20 minutes.

Warm a nonstick crepe pan or a well-seasoned carbon steel pan over medium heat. Pour a small amount (about 2 tbsp) of batter into the pan and swirl to coat the bottom. Cook until lightly browned, then swiftly flip over. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on half of the crepe, while letting the other side get browned. Fold the crepe in half over the cheese, then fold in half again. Serve hot, with a side of Paris.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Inclement weather and a wicked post-holiday hangover has driven me to my bed, rather than my kitchen, these past few days. It feels so nice to be swaddled by a fluffy down comforter, while a soft pillow gently cradles my head. A bed is a safe and warm place when the world outside is harsh and wintry. Sometimes I wish I could just hibernate bear-style. I like fish and berries. I think I'd make a pretty good bear.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

From Brighton Beach, With Love

This is why I moved to New York.

As I rode the B train back towards home on the Upper West Side after my late-morning jaunt to the Ukraine (aka Brighton Beach, nicknamed "Little Odessa"), I stared out the window at the falling snow on the passing streets, inhaling the delicious aroma of the fresh pastry on my lap. One of the most amazing things about this city is the diversity in culture, and those hidden neighborhood pockets at the end of every train line that transport you to another world.

About a week ago while I was working, I met an elderly man named Alex, tearing tickets at a movie theatre. As we got to chatting, he told me about how he ended up in New York after growing up and spending most of his life in Russia. I couldn't help myself, so I asked him about Russian food. What reminds him of home? What does he make when he needs some comfort food? "I don't cook," he frowns and waves off my question, much to my disappointment. But after pausing for a moment, his face softens a little and he says, "Whenever I need a real taste of home, I go to Brighton Beach."

I decided that I simply must check this place out. A few mornings later I rolled out of bed, bundled up, and set out to the tiny waterfront area in Brooklyn. After about an hour-long train ride, I was sure I had fallen asleep and actually ended up in Kiev. As I descended from the train platform, the snow fell harder and faster, and I tugged my faux-fur-hat-with-ear-flaps tighter on my head. Storefront signs began to appear, one after another, in an unfamiliar language. Conversations swirled around me in what I assumed was the same strange language.

In my mind I was a glaring outsider, but people passed me without so much as a look. I curiously glanced into the open doorways of one bustling market after another, before finally mustering the courage to go inside one of them and take a look around. People shouted, bumping into each other, and sometimes stopping to ask me a question. Not a word of English was spoken. Undaunted, I stood in line at a baked goods counter where customer after customer ahead of me requested a slice of the same mysterious pastry dessert. I watched as the woman working behind the counter would bring out more and more of this thick layered pastry, lop of a huge slice, wrap it up, and then do it all over again for the next person in line. When it was finally my turn, she said something to me in Russian (at least I think it was Russian; I'm fairly ignorant when it comes to the language nuances of Eastern Europe), and, mentally crossing my fingers that she might understand me, I pointed to the favored pastry and asked in my most pleasant English, "What is that?" She looked at me, startled, and said in her most forced English, "This? It's like, a Russian Napoleon. It's nice" (I'm embarrassed to admit that her thick accent and the way she said "Eetz nah-ice" reminded me of the movie character Borat).

I requested a large piece of the treat since it was New Year's Eve and I needed to bring a dessert to my friends' house that evening. After I left the shop, I felt more confident, but still wished I had bothered to learn a little bit of the language beforehand. I returned to the train with my prize, hoping it would not disappoint my hosts for the evening. The aroma assured me it wouldn't. Good food is truly universal.

I snapped that last photo on the train ride home from Brighton Beach. Unable to resist the wonderful smell, I had to open the box and peak in on what I had just acquired from my adventure. When we finally ventured over to the home of our friends, Kip and Patrick, I apprehensively confessed that I had decided not to cook or bake something, and instead brought some esoteric Russian fare. Fortunately, the dessert was enjoyed by all, and it was just as deliciously interesting as I imagined.

I tried to search for a similar recipe online that closely matched what we had devoured. Click this recipe link to recreate your very own Russian Napoleon Tort