Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chicks were ordered!

I just put an order for five chicks! I will post pictures as soon as I get them in two weeks! Am I crazy? Time will tell....

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer Vegetable Risotto

Remember those flowers? Now I am reaping the much awaited fruits, and it is going to be fun from now on.

This is my very first crop and I turned it into an early summer risotto that was light and delicious. The vegetables included, zucchini, string beans, and peas, with the addition of zucchini flowers. I used the trick of boiling the pea pods in the water to flavor it, that's how the traditional Venetian dish Risi e Bisi is made. If you want a heartier risotto you can use either a vegetable or a chicken broth.

Summer Vegetable Risotto

1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 cups mixed vegetables, diced
2 quarts boiling water
1 cup arborio rice
1.5 oz butter
Grated parmesan to taste
Zucchini flowers, roughly cut
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Cook the shallot in the olive oil until translucent. Add the diced vegetables and cook for few minutes. Add the rice and stir until it becomes translucent and has absorbed any liquid in the pan. Add a ladle of the boiling broth at a time, only when most of the previous liquid has been absorbed, stirring often. Cook for 20-25 minutes until al dente, add the zucchini flowers, parsley, cheese and butter and let rest for 2 minutes. Serve immediately, piping hot.

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice #6-Challah Bread

This photo was taken with my friend Jeanne's phone as I forgot to take any picture before I went to her house for dinner and I was surprised by the good quality of this picture. My friends did some extensive work in their house, and now they have a gorgeous kitchen with a huge isle that is perfect for food photography, what an amazing space. Jeanne and I already plan to spend time in her kitchen as she wants to learn more about baking, and what a great space that will be to work in.

This is the sixth week of the challenge started by Nicole at Pinch my salt. We are baking through Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. We are going in alphabetical order because that is how the recipes are organized, and we are not publishing the recipes not to break any copyright laws. This book is a treasure of information, techniques, and stories on the different breads so if you are into bread or would like to start somewhere this is a great book to start. The amazingly prolific Peter Reinhart is coming out with another book this fall and I am looking forward to buying it. Last week it was Casatiello's week, but I left my bread in the fridge too many days, it barely rised, and since I didn't like the taste one bit I didn't write about it. This week was challah's week so I knew it would be good as I love this bread, and what a perfect thing to bring to a friend's house, a bread to break together.

I had made challah before, but this recipe was superior. It resulted in a soft and delicious bread that disappeared in no time with the help of many voracious little kids. It got the seal of approval from my friends who are Jewish, so I know it was good. I was able to take a piece home to make sure it passed the bread and jam test, and it did! Delicious!

Bread Baking Buddy-Asparagus Bread

Lien of Notitie Van Lien belongs to a group of 12 accomplished bakers, called BBB or Bread Baking Babes, that bake a new bread every month. You can bake the same bread as a BBBuddy, which is fun to do because all the things I made so far where delicious. The deadline for this month has passed but if you want to know how to join in the future check Lien's post.

For this month's challenge Lien selected this intriguing bread, which has all ingredients I love so I imagined it would be good. The dough was easy to make, but the addition of all the ingredients was harder than I thought as the wet asparagus kept sliding on the dough instead of sticking to it. It took a lot of coaxing to get the greens and the walnut pieces to mix evenly in the dough. Maybe next time I will do it in the mixer.

When the bread reached 190 internally I took it out of the oven but my little test roll was still chewy so I cooked the loaves for 10 extra minutes, upside down. I brought it to a friend's house to eat for dinner and before eating it we toasted the bread 10 extra minutes as it had gotten soggy. Everyone loved this bread, and one loaf disappeared in not time. I would assume that the same bread can be made with walnuts and black olives.

The recipe below is copied verbatim from Lien's blog.

Asparagus Bread
(with Parmesan Cheese and Walnuts)
125 g green asparagus
25-30 g rocket
50 g walnuts,
50 g freshly grated parmesan cheese
450 g strong bread flour (you can also use half whole wheat and half white or white whole wheat if you can get that)
12 g fresh yeast or 1 1/4 tsp dry instant yeast
250-270 g water (whole wheat version may use a little more water)
25 g olive oil
10 g (sea) salt

Boil 3/4 liter of water with a pinch of (sea) salt. Clean the asparagus, set two of them aside, cut the rest into 4 pieces. Boil these pieces for 2 minutes in the water, scoop them out (so you can use the water for the rocket as well) and rinse under cold water (to stop them cooking).

Put the rocket in the boiling water for a few seconds (until wilted), drain and rinse under cold water and drain again. Press the water our of the rocket, chop it coarsely and cut the asparagus into 1/4 inch (± 1 cm) long pieces, set aside.

Crush the walnuts coarsely and grate the parmesan.

Measure the flour and yeast in a large bowl, mix in most of the water and knead for a few minutes (on low speed), add the olive oil and knead for 10-12 minutes. Add the salt and knead on medium speed for 5 minutes until very elastic.

Let the dough rest for 10 minutes. Work the asparagus pieces, rocket, walnuts and parmesan in with care so that they're evenly distributed. The dough should be very supple and elastic, hence the long kneading time. For me the best way to incorporate all the ingredients is to spread the dough out into a large slap, sprinkle all the ingredients on and roll it up. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes, press flat and fold... rest 5-10 minutes press flat and fold. Shape into rounds.
Place the dough in a greased container, cover and let rise for about 2 hrs.

Divide the dough into 2 equal parts.
Make round balls, cover with a tea towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
Flatten the balls and fold into taut breads with slightly tapering ends. Lay one asparagus in lengthwise in the middle of the bread and press in slightly. Sprinkle with wheat flour and cover to rise for 70 minutes or until doubled. Before baking you can sprinkle a little grated cheese on the bread if you like (optional).

Preheat the oven (preferably with stone) to 460ºF.

Place the loaves directly on the stone. Spray with water (or poor some hot water in a metal container on the bottom of the oven that you preheated to create steam)
Lower the temperature after 5 minutes to 400ºF. Open the door after another 10 minutes to let some air in. Repeat twice during baking. (I must admit I forgot about this step)
Bake for 40-45 minutes and cool on a wire rack.

This was another great bread, soft and very tasty, so thanks to Lien and all the other Babes for creating this great challenge month after month. If you want to check out what other BBBuddies did this month, check Lien's post here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers-Bakewell Tart with Fig and Raspberry Jam

Once again I find myself doing this on the last possible day. Luckily we are having dinner at some friends' house tonight so I won't have to eat it all by myself. Naturally today had to be one of the hottest days we had in more than a month, so it will be a challenge to take a picture of the ice cream before it melts. But I won't be a daring baker if I didn't try in the worst possible conditions.

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

To read the whole recipe click here, I will tell you about my version.

To be true to the challenge we had to make two things from the original recipe, the short tart dough and the frangipane. We could be daring, however, and change the rest of the elements. Some of the comments that had been posted in the daring kitchen private forum made me decide to decrease the amount of sugar in the frangipane as some people found the tart overwhelmingly sweet. The frangipane recipe given is very different from the one I normally make, which calls for less sugar and just one egg for the same amount of butter so I was curious to try it. I only used 80 gr. of powder sugar instead of 125, and added extra ground almonds to compensate for the super liquid frangipane.

I decided to make mini tarts so they would bake faster and will look more elegant in individual plates.

For the jam, I initially thought of using the blood orange jam I made few months ago, but then I saw some beautiful figs at the market and couldn't resist. I made a quick fig and raspberry jam inspired by Julia Child's book Baking with Julia, in which you can find a fig raspberry crostata to die for. Fig trees produce figs twice a year, once right when they put out new leaves, which results in a very small fruit crop, and later in the summer for a more bountiful fall crop. I love the combination of the two fruits so I decided to use that under the frangipane. I didn't strain the seeds out since they add texture and I don't really mind them. I only added a teaspoon of jam at the bottom of each frozen tart, and piped the frangipane on top.

To finish the dessert I made the always pleasing lemon-verbena ice cream. Lemon verbena goes so well with more stone fruit and berries, so I figured it would work with the flavors of this tart as well.

Fig Raspberry Jam
1 pint figs
1 pint raspberries
1/4 cup brown sugar
zest of one lemon

Cut the figs in small pieces and add to a pan with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a soft boil and cook until thick, stirring occasionally. Cool completely before adding it to the tart shells.

Lemon Verbena Ice Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cup reduced fat milk
1 cup lemon verbena leaves
3/4 cup sugar
5 yolks
pinch of salt

Bring the cream, the milk and sugar to a boil and steep the lemon verbena for an hour. Re-heat the cream mixture to a boil, and slowly pour onto the yolks whisking to temper them until they thicken into a custard. Add the salt and strain the yolk custard into a bowl set onto an ice bath. Chill completely and then freeze the ice cream base in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

The resulting tarts were very good, the jam was delicious and the ice cream worked well with the rest of the flavors. The frangipane was a little on the dry side, having to do with the reduction of the sugar amount. It was still plenty sweet so I am glad I cut the sugar.

Thanks Jasmine and Annemarie for choosing this recipe and teaching me a new tart I didn't know.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Color of the Rainbow

Not too much to offer today in terms of recipes, but since it is around my birthday I offer you this bouquet of flowers from my garden.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Living Green

My family lived through WWI and WWII, so they became programmed with saving everything, nothing went to waste. Albeit that was born out of necessity, I now try to live the same way, out of desire to re-use materials, not to waste resources and to live as green as I can.

Recycling is second nature, using shampoos until the last drop is normal, and finally I programmed myself to always bring canvas bags when I go shopping.

Cindy at cindystar inspired me to write this post with her post on a natural detergent made with lemon juice, vinegar and salt. I want to try it so I printed it on recycled paper, which made me write this. Some people may think I am insane, but it makes me feel better knowing that I don't take trash too lightly, the earth is not infinite.

Citrus dishwashing detergent

3 lemons

400g. water
100g. vinegar, better white
200g. kitchen salt

Cut lemons in four, take off all seeds and then mix well with half water in the mixer until is soft and creamy.
Add remaining water, vinegar and salt, put on the stove and cook for 15/20 minutes.
Use 2 tablespoons for every washing in your dishwasher.

It's also good to clean copper pans, they will turn out as bright as new!

If you like, add a tangerine or half orange for a special citrus fruits flavoring.

This is how I try to be as green as I can:

* Recycle anything that can be recycled

* Buy organic

* Compost all my kitchen scraps

* Bring my bags to the stores, and refuse a plastic bag when offered

* Use paper bags at my local grocery store and re-use them as much as I can

* Keep lightly used zip-lock bags in the freezer to re-use for the next cookie batch to be frozen

* Try to buy in bulk

* Grow my own vegetables

* Print on re-cycled paper

* Turn lights off when not needed

* Wear an extra sweater instead of keeping the heat on

* Take short showers and save the water of the first minute to water plants

* Save the water that was used to wash the veggies for my house plants

* Wash floors with diluted vinegar

* Stack soaped dishes so they get rinsed faster

* Run only full loads of laundry, never at the hot setting

* Scout the local salvation store for interesting finds (they always have something worth having, like a cute vase or a nice basket)

* Drive a Prius

This list will probably grow as I think of more things.

And you? What is that you do on your daily life that makes you life greener?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Being a Locavore-Rose Geranium Lemonade

I am a firm supporter of locally grown food. I grew up eating produce grown in Sant' Erasmo, the biggest island in the Venetian lagoon, and bought almost daily by my mom. In a personal effort to reduce my carbon footprint, I try to avoid out of season produce grown in Mexico, and try to buy things grown within few miles from where I live. Even better, I grow few things in my garden and in the garden of a generous neighbor who has land to spare (can't get better than that). I am patiently waiting for zucchini, tomatoes, and green beans planted with my own hands (the bay area has been really cold lately so things are maturing very slowly, but there are lots of flowers!). Last June I made a simple pasta with peas, spring onions, and parsley, picked just few hours earlier from by garden, and that was utterly delicious. Local is the way to go, I am telling you. Soon I will have chickens, give me time to build a coop and I will order few chicks, I can't wait!

Growing my own food is one the most rewarding things I have done, and it makes me envision life on a farm, which is something I would do if I could. The sustainable grassroots movement that is growing in many communities across the country is so inspirational I want to talk about two upcoming documentaries you should all try to see. Food Inc., another movie that just opened, is also a must see.

Recently I went to hear and support East Bay Pictures, a group of filmmakers based in Berkeley who are in the mist of filming a documentary called Edible City, which depicts the booming of the urban farming movement. This grassroots movement of creating local gardens in backyards, or in communal areas is spreading like crazy in the Bay Area, and it is very inspirational to witness people going back to how things were done in the old days. Jessica Prentice, one of the creators of the term Locavores was there as well. I loved seeing many 20-something people who will be the next leaders mingling with some "old" folks like me, it is only going to be good!

The event was co-hosted at a house of a local resident and by a chef who cooked the dinner that was served before the show. She prepared the dinner with locally grown ingredients, and made an amazingly refreshing lemonade with eureka lemons and rose geraniums flowers. It was unique and so tasty.

On Friday I went to a screening of the movie Fresh, another documentary depicting few farmers who believe that sustainable agriculture is the only way to go if we want the planet and its inhabitant to survive, and who are becoming advocates for sustainable practices across the United States. It was an eye opener about the practice of growing animals in controlled overcrowded environments. Apparently, the animal farmers who grow poultry or hogs don't even own the animals, they just provide the space, and have to strictly agree with the rules set by the companies who provide and process the animals. The growers don't even know what is in the animal feed they dump into the tunnels where the animals are kept. Days old chicks get virtually thrown in a dark tunnel where they get fed constantly so they can grow very fast and be ready for slaughter in very little time. Because of the insane concentration of animals, these farms have ponds full of liquid waste that is so concentrated that it cannot even be processed into fertilizer (cow manure is the best fertilizer there is but in these places it cannot be used). Moreover, the waste is full of chemicals/pharmaceutical cocktails used to prevent diseases prevalent among the animals due to the overcrowding. This documentary can be seen in your own house, to request a house screening kit, click here. Warning: you might stop buying regular chicken, or start only eating grass fed beef after watching it.

The event was hosted by the visionary, and very passionate Ari Derfel, chef/owner of the soon to be opened restaurant Terrain, which will be the first fully organic restaurant in Berkeley. Michael Pollan was also there to inspire the audience talking about the right way to raise herbivores. If you are not familiar with Pollan's revolutionary books, run to your closest bookstore.

To all the people out there who are thirsty for change in the way food is grown I offer this lemonade, which wins the price for being super local as it was made with lemons from my little tree and rose geranium flowers growing in the garden.

There is an interesting story behind this rose geranium plant. Looking into a container of compostable scraps at a restaurant I worked at, I saw some steams of a geranium plant that had been stripped of the flowers and the leaves. I could not resist the idea of propagating them so I took some home where they successfully sprouted roots in a glass. I then placed the stems in dirt and few weeks later two had survived and fully rooted, very green indeed.

Rose Geranium Lemonade

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup rose geranium flowers
Juice of 4 lemons

Make a simple syrup with the water and the sugar, infusing it with half of the flowers. Mix the juice with syrup to taste (you will not need all the syrup), add ice and serve very cold. Garnish with extra flowers in each glass.

Take action, buy local, ask questions, support local farmers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Daring Cooks-Potstickers

This month's challenge was something I was looking forward to trying. I tend to cook Italian food all the time, updating the recipes using some unusual ingredients, especially in desserts, but mostly it is Italian I go for, it is what I grew up with and it comes natural. Until today I hadn't tried anything Asian since I thought I wouldn't know what to do. I took on this challenge with trepidation, but fear not, my readers, this was a great dish of easy execution. And the taste was perfect, it felt like I was eating at a Chinese restaurant.

Jen of use real butter chose the recipe this month, to see the complete recipe click here. To see a complete instructional post with pictures click here. We were asked to make the dough in the traditional way, as opposed to using pre-made wrappers, choose a filling (pork, shrimp, or vegetarian), and a cooking method (steamed, pan fried, or fried).

I decided to stick to the recipe instead of being daring since I was already a day late making them, so there was no time to lose in experiments. I have so many things on my plate right now it is insane! To my surprise it took no more than 15 minutes to put the filling together as it only requires chopping.

The dough is also easy to make and roll. Surprisingly it is made only of warm water and flour, a stiff dough that gets softer after some resting, and roll easily with the use of some flour. I only made one batch and cut 18-0.7 oz. portions. Initially I rolled them too thin, and as you can judge from the jelly fish below, it was hard to shape them. After reviewing Jen's tutorial for a second time, I quickly got a hang on the pleating, and it was smooth sailing after that. The more time consuming part is the rolling, but that again it was not too difficult and the dough cooperated well.

I pan fried the little purses, and used straight soy sauce since there was not time for anything else, but I will try the make one of the sauces Jen suggested in her challenge I am looking forward to making these dumplings again, with pork or fish, or something Italian, and steaming them. I would like to also try the gluten free version Jen suggested in her post, they look so beautiful. A very long time ago, I went to a Chinese New Year party and we assembled potstickers made with a sweet pea shoot filling that was so light and tasty, I would try it but I think it is too late in the season now. There is always a next year.

Thanks to the Daring Bakers' founders, Lis and Ivonne, and to Jen for choosing this delicious recipe.

Check other Daring Cooks' creations below:


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice #4-Brioche

The first time I made brioche I had very little experience with yeast doughs and the brioche was to be used as a tart crust. The brioche crust just didn't do it for me, I prefer pate sucree in my tarts, so I ended up forgetting about brioche for a while. This changed when I had to come up with some breakfast pastries in the second restaurant I worked at. Sticky buns and brioche a tete were given a second change and my customers loved them!

Since then I have made brioche numerous times at work and at home, and it never fails to put a smile on my face. Not only the dough is super shiny and a pleasure to touch (may I dare to call it sexy?), but the taste of a freshly baked brioche never fails to put me in a good mood. Food has that power on me, I don't need any other stimulants, give me something delicious to eat and my neurons are bathed in serotonin.

If you have been following some of my posts, you must know about this challenge started by Nicole at pinch my salt. We are baking from Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice, cover to cover.

The fourth recipe in Peter Reinhart's book is brioche. As usual, Peter gives a nice introductory overview on brioche (who knew that Queen Marie Antoinette probably uttered "let's them eat brioche" and not "bread" before being be-headed.), then he writes three versions of this wonderful recipe: a Rich man, a Middle-class, and a Poor man version, so called depending on the amount of butter and eggs in the recipe. Since I had tried another of his recipes for a yeast dough with the rich man equivalent of butter and found it too buttery, I decided to go with the middle class version, which is very buttery as it is.

I was a little puzzled when I read that in the instructions the butter is added almost immediately. Normally the dough is mixed for few minutes to allow some gluten development before adding the butter, which coats the flour in fat and may hinder the gluten development if added too soon. Because I am stubborn, I decided to do it the traditional way and mixed the dough until it looked even, and it had some structure. I actually had to add some milk as the dough was too stiff (you want the dough to stick to the mixer bowl somewhat and it has to feel soft, somewhat sticky). Butter was then added slowly and the resulting dough was text-perfect for brioche. I left it in the fridge overnight and then made 8 mini brioche a tete, and a cinnamon bread monkey-bread style, just because I love playing with food and my family is addicted to cinnamon bread.

Before proofing

After proofing

I keep forgetting how much brioche rises and even more about the amazing oven spring. When the baked brioche comes out of the oven I get this it is alive! type of thought.

Fully proofed

Wonderful crumb

I was really happy with the wonderful results, a nice recipe indeed. I got a "this is the best brioche you ever made" comment, so here, go buy the book if you haven't already.

Happy Baking!


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