Yearly Archives: 2012

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Parmesan Shorbread RoundsParmesan Shortbread Rounds

Four recipe tests, four.  That’s how many times it took for me to finally master this recipe, or at least get it to the point that I wanted it to be.  I’d made a sweet shortbread cookie before and had managed to get the base for the Millionaire’s Shortbread right with just a couple of tries.  This weekend, I’d made it my project to get this savory shortbread right.  Part of the secret is keeping the balance between the different ingredients to maintain the cookie-like structure, especially when adding spices and flavorings.

Grated Parmesan Cheese

I decided that grating the cheese on the fine holes of a box grater worked the best to bring out its nutty, creamy flavor in the rounds.  The final results just didn’t seem to come out the same when I used a Microplane, which created a finer, fluffier pile of cheese.  I also made sure that there was just a bit of sugar included in the mix to give them structure and a touch of softness to go with the crisp edges.  These will go perfectly for one of my next gatherings, if I don’t eat them all myself first.

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Serving Size: 30 2-inch rounds

Prep Time: about 1 hour, with time for dough to chill

Ingredients:

1 c. All-purpose Flour

2 Tbsp. White Sugar

1/4 tsp. Salt

1/4 tsp. Dry Mustard

1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

1/2 c. plus 1 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan Cheese

8 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, softened

Assembly:

Combine the flour, salt, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Add in 1/2 cup of the grated Parmesan and stir together with the flour mixture.  Then, put the softened butter in the bowl and mix it into the dry ingredients.  Once the butter is thoroughly incorporated, the mixture should resemble fine pebbles.

All the ingredients mixed together

You’ll need to use the warmth of your hands to shape the dough.  Form the mixture into a round log about two inches in diameter.  Once it is formed, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rest and chill for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Form dough into a log

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  While the oven is heating up, remove the dough from the refrigerator and slice it into rounds about 1/16 inch thick. If a bit of dough seems to crumble, just stick the round back together.

Slice dough into rounds

Place the rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the rounds with the remaining 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.  Place in the oven and bake them for 12 minutes, turning the cookie sheet around after 6 minutes so that the rounds bake evenly.

Rounds on baking sheet

Once the shortbread rounds have baked.  Remove them from the oven and let them sit on the baking sheet for 15 minutes at least.  If you pull them from the baking sheet too soon, they will break apart.

Baked Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Once the shortbread rounds have cooled on the baking tray, remove them and place them on a wire rack to cool further.  Then, place them in an air-tight container where they will keep for several days, if folks don’t eat them all right away.

Parmesan Shortbread Rounds

Buon appetito!

Ham Biscuits

Leftovers. I’m a huge fan of them, as I’ve mentioned before. I think that having different kinds of leftovers brings to light culinary creativity in reinventing how to repurpose foodstuffs. This doesn’t apply to things like my father’s annual Turkey Garbage Soup creation, but it definitely fits for making Ham Biscuits, using up those last pieces of the enormous holiday ham that you might have bought to serve to family and friends.

Putting together the ham biscuits

When I was putting together the menu for my Park Avenue Tree Lighting Cocktail Party this year, I was mulling over what to add as any extra meat-based item that would be easy to throw together given my tight time schedule to get everything done. The rest of the menu was based around testing my recipes for a menu project that I have to complete for culinary school, so those were taking a bit longer to create and prepare.

Cutting out the biscuits into small rounds

Then, it dawned upon me, I really love this recipe for buttermilk biscuits from Thibeault’s Table and have found it to be incredibly reliable as well as easy to prepare in advance and then to reheat before serving them. What about if I whipped up a batch of these a day or so ahead and then filled them with country ham?  Taking a small biscuit cutter, I managed to get about 40 or so biscuits out of one batch of the recipe.

Hot biscuits, right out of the oven

A half a pound of country ham from the Italian deli in my neighborhood gave me just enough to fill each biscuit, as I didn’t have the benefit of having a leftover holiday ham for this project. Then, I put a jar of Honeycup Mustard, one of my favorites with its sweet-tart-spicy kick, and a bottle of Mike’s Hot Honey for the heat-lovers at the party to the side of the serving platter as a condiment. These ended up being the perfect addition to the festivities. They were also, not suprisingly, the first platter to get wiped clean at the party.

Platter of Ham Biscuits

Ham Biscuits

Prep time: about an hour

Serving size: 40 2-inch biscuits

Ingredients:

Follow your favorite Buttermilk Biscuit recipe.  Mine is here.

1/4-/1/2 lb. of Country Ham

Mustard for serving alongside biscuits

Assembly:

Make your favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe, cutting the biscuits into 2-inch rounds.  Bake the biscuits.  Let them cool.  At this point, you can prepare these a day or two in advance and then store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

Slice the biscuits in half.  Cut or tear the ham into small pieces that will just cover on the bottom half of the biscuit base.  The ham should not be piled high; this is meant to give a taste of salty meat as a contrast to the soft, fluffy biscuit.  Cover with the top half of the biscuit.  Pile filled biscuits high on a serving platter.  Put mustard on the side so that folks can add it as they wish to the biscuits.

Buon appetito!

Bloggers’ Tribute to Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting Victims

NationalBloggingDayofRemembrance_zpsfcb06e06

This post is difficult to write.  I should have a happy, playful theme for today, as it is the Seventh Anniversary of my starting off as a food blogger.  Interestingly, too, it is also four months away from my anticipated completion date for culinary school, opening up a new chapter in my life as a food industry professional (at least, that’s what I’m hoping).  I had a post lined up for Friday about how one of the joys of the holiday season is getting together and feeding your friends and loved ones and then a recipe included for a Southern party favorite, Ham Biscuits. Then, the AP alerts flashed on my iPhone.  They wouldn’t stop.

When I looked down at them and saw what had happened in Newtown, CT, not far from where I live in New York City, I did something I never normally do during the daytime.  I turned on the television.  After the instantaneous incredulity of the news wore off, I started to cry, like so many others, my heart just torn apart.  These are all our kids, even if we aren’t their biological parents.  We are the proud aunties and uncles, the babysitters, the family friends, the godparents.  For those of us who are the elder children, these are our younger siblings, the ones we are supposed to take care of and protect fiercely against bullies and bad people.  No one is supposed to hurt them, much less take them away from us like that.

This past weekend in the city, I saw lots of children with their parents, shopping for the holidays and running their usual errands.  Nothing really seemed usual about it, though, the sadness just hung in the air.  A mom cradled her school-aged son on the subway, stroking his cheek and tossling his hair.  A father held his tiny daughter’s hand just a little bit tighter as she toddled alongside him walking through the neighborhood.  A mother strolling with her three children alongside Central Park kept her arms wrapped around all of them at the same time as best she could, pulling them close to her.

I’ve tried to sit down and write something about this for a few days now, but I haven’t been able to find the right words to express how I feel about what happened, much less the words to talk about food.  So many others are able to do this better than I.  Most of my nieces and nephews are elementary or pre-school age, with the exception of a couple of them.  I wish I could gather them all up and give them a big hug to let them know that it will all be o.k., that this is not normal, and that they do not have to live in fear that something like this will happen to them, especially not when they go to school.

Millionaire’s Shortbread for Cookie Swap NY 2012

Side view of layersMillionaire’s Shortbread

Crisp, buttery cookie base, topped with gooey, rich, creamy caramel, covered with deep, dark chocolate, what could be more irresistible in a cookie?  I’ve been wanting to try out this recipe for ages, so this year’s Bloggers Without Borders Cookie Swap NYC on Sunday, a gathering of bloggers, writers, and bakers all with sweet treats in hand, seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that.  I’d first heard of this confection through an English colleague who declared at work one particularly extra-stressful day that she had a craving for them.  Sadly, I never got to make them while we were still in the same office, but maybe I can swing a trip to the UK soon for us to get together to share a plate of them over mugs of steamy, milky tea and a good gossip.

Barbecue Chicken, Brisket, Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans, Corn Pudding, Mac ‘n Cheese – Oh, my!

This year we were again hosted by the wonderful folks at Hill Country Barbecue (cookies + barbecue & fixin’s = perfect Sunday lunch).  We took over the downstairs of their restaurant, located just off of Madison Square Park, and piled up the cookies on the tables they’d sent up just for us.  More than only an excuse to indulge our respective sweet teeth, this gathering also highlighted the work that BWOB has been doing with Why Hunger?, which is dedicated to providing food resources through grassroots and community organizations, and a portion of the entry fee went to supporting their work.

Some of the fabulous cookies

Chocolate anything seemed to be one theme this year with several folks making various chocolate-chocolate creations.  Colleen of Souffle Bombay brought these gorgeous Chocolate Chambord cookies.  By the way, her phenomenal Caramel & Chocolate Tart with a Shortbread Crust from the Pie Party in October is now up on her website, too. Jersey Girl Cooks Lisa brought Cherry Toffee Cookies with drizzled dark chocolate and sea salt.  Then there were the gooey creations like the Pecan Bars from BK Baker and Sharon’s Wedding Squares by Abby Dodge that just made your eyes open wide as they passed by you on the way to the table.  Gail from One Tough Cookie, my cookie-decorating idol, brought beautiful venue-appropriate, cowboy-themed creations.

With the holiday rush in full swing, it was really nice to have a chance to take an afternoon out of all the shopping and planning madness to catch up with these talented and amazing folks.  Kelly of Kelly Bakes came up to the city from Philadelphia.  Betty Ann of Mango Queen and her husband Elpi drove in from New Jersey, where they’d been really hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.  I also got to catch up with Tara of Chip Chip Hooray, whom I’d only caught in passing at the Pie Party. Given how upside down our lives had all gotten with weather-related incidents the past couple of months, I think that seeing each other in person, safe and sound, might also have been a bit therapeutic, I mean, aside from bonding over our mutual love of baking and sweets.

Millionaire’s Shortbread on display

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Prep Time: A few hours (each layer has to cool and set before the next one is added)

Serving Size: Makes one 8″ x 8″ pan, so I’ll let you be the judge of how many servings

Ingredients:

Shortbread Layer: (this follows the classic 3-2-1 ratio of flour-fat-sugar)

1 c. All-purpose Flour

1/2 c. Salted Butter (1 stick), softened

1/4 c. White Sugar (regular, not superfine/caster)

Caramel Layer: (see this helpful tutorial by David Lebovitz)

1 c. White Sugar

1/4 c. (4 Tbsp.) Unsalted Butter

1/3 c. Heavy Cream

1/8-1/4 tsp. Sea Salt (I used Maldon)

Chocolate Layer:

Two 3 oz. bars Semi-sweet Chocolate (72% cacao)

1 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter

Assembly:

Shortbread Layer:

Mixing all the ingredients together

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Mix together butter and sugar until creamy.  Then, add the flour and combine it thoroughly.  In an 8″ x 8″ pan (I used a Pyrex one and left it ungreased), pat in the crumbly shortbread dough.  Unlike pie dough, this one is very forgiving, so you can patch it together to create the dough layer in the pan.

Shortbread dough in pan

Bake dough for 25-30 minutes, turning around halfway during the cooking time so that it bakes evenly.  The outer edge should be a medium golden brown when it is taken out of the oven.  Set aside to cool down while making the caramel layer.  You can also bake this part in advance and add the other layers later.

Caramel Layer:

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, put one cup of white sugar and turn the heat on low.  Wait.  Be patient.  Let the heat, sugar, and chemistry work their magic.  (here’s a tutorial to watch before attempting to do this)

Sugar starting to brown

Don’t walk away from the stove.  Wait some more.  Be patient a little bit longer.  After maybe ten minutes, if that, you will end up with a dark amber liquid with all the sugar melted completely.  Turn off the stove and move the pan to another burner.  The range between perfectly melted and a burnt, dark, mess that has to be thrown out is about 10 seconds, if that, as Tara and I discussed on Sunday.

Sugar melted

Then, quickly stir in the butter.  The mixture will foam up once the butter is added.  Once the butter has been fully incorporated, mix in the heavy cream.  The caramel will thicken up the longer it is left to sit.  I placed the caramel in the refrigerator overnight.  To loosen it up again so that I could pour it over the shortbread, I gently stirred it while re-heating it over a low flame until it was more viscous.

Pouring the caramel over the shortbread

Pour the caramel over the cooled shortbread.  (seeing this photo, Kelly said, “I want my mouth right there under that stream of caramel.”)  Spread it with a rubber spatula or use the tilting the pan side-to-side method to make sure the caramel covers the shortbread completely and is in an even layer.  Sprinkle with a light dusting of sea salt.  The caramel doesn’t have to be completely coated in salt, but the pop of a little bit of salt brings out the other flavors in the layers.  Let the caramel layer set for 10-15 minutes before adding the chocolate layer.

Chocolate Layer:

Break the chocolate into chunks, if using bars of chocolate.  In a double boiler (or in a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, which is my usual method), melt the chocolate until it is completely liquid.  Remove the bowl from the water, and stir in the butter until it is completely incorporated and the chocolate is glossy.

Adding butter to the chocolate

Pour the chocolate over the cooled caramel layer.  Use a spatula or the same tilting the pan side-to-side method to make sure that the mixture coats the top of the caramel evenly so that the cookies will have three distinctive layers.  Let it set for at least an hour in the refrigerator.

Adding the chocolate layer

Before cutting the cookies into pieces, let them come to room temperature for 5 minutes or so.  The shortbread and caramel layers are rather firm, so it will be difficult to cut through them if the cookies are really chilled.

Cutting the cookies

Once the cookies are cut and plated, you can return them to the refrigerator to chill and to maintain their three-tiered shape.  Kept out at room temperature for an extended period of time, the caramel layer will warm up, and the cookies will start to sag, as you can see in the photo of them from the Cookie Swap.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Hide a few pieces for yourself, as once these are put out for everyone to enjoy, they won’t last long.

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

The butter I used throughout this recipe was Kerrygold.  I’ve long been a fan of using this brand for my baking projects as I think it gives the most consistent results and has the right fat-water ratio to make them come out exactly right (unless I mess up another part of the recipe that is).  I also have to give them a special nod as they were a sponsor for the Pie Party this year and provided us with free butter to take away at the end of the evening in addition to a coupon for free butter or cheese – any baker’s dream!

Mamma Agata Cooking School at the International Culinary Center

Along the Amalfi Coast

It’s a bit unfair, I know, to start off a post with a photo depicting a place as lovely and serene as the Amalfi Coast in Italy just as another winter storm is set to hit our area.  It really is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been to in my travels.  This isn’t just because of the gorgeous, colorful scenery.  The food of this area is also incredibly delicious.  While the dishes might seem to be simple to make, the key is the amazing quality of the ingredients and the artistry with which they are put together.  This was all brought back to me during the weekend before Thanksgiving, when I was able to assist Chiara and Gennaro Lima of Mamma Agata’s Cooking School “The Hidden Treasure” during their culinary demonstrations at the International Culinary Center.

Adding in the green olives to the sauce

As a culinary student, I sometimes volunteer to help out when there are guest chefs cooking at the school.  Depending upon the program, we prepare the food in one of the kitchens that isn’t being used for a class or in the one to the side of the auditorium.  When I arrived to start my shift, another student was also there prepping for the evening’s demonstration.  I introduced myself to Chiara and Gennaro in Italian and asked how I could help out.  Chiara was so excited that I spoke their language (Her English is fluent, but it is easier for Gennaro to communicate culinary instructions in Italian.), that she set me to work right away working with her husband to get everything ready for the evening’s event.

Sauce for the Farmers’ Spaghetti

From the minute I first stepped into the kitchen, it was evident how much passion this couple has for the food of Italy and of the flavors of Amalfi Coast.  The aromas coming from the pots simmering away on the stovetop were rich and intoxicating.  The tart-tangy fragrance of the tomato sauce layered with the briny-meaty smell of the olives and capers combined with the earthy perfume of oregano enveloped the kitchen and the surrounding hallways in a warm, sunny Mediterranean hug.  More than a few staff members and chef instructors passed by our door, peeking in to see what was going on, drawn in by the enticing odors.

Plate of Farmers’ Spaghetti (Spaghetti del Contadino)

During the demonstration, Chiara and Gennaro talked about their cooking school, named after her mother, who was a well-known chef cooking for many celebrities and film personalities who vacationed along the Amalfi Coast.  They also gave out to the audience plates of this deep, intensely-flavored sauce wrapped around ribbons of artisan-made spaghetti from Italy, topped with a little fresh arugula for a peppery snap, and dressed with some of the olive oil that is made from the harvest of their own groves.

Gennaro making Eggplant ParmesanGennaro making the Eggplant Parmesan

Another of the dishes that the attendees of the demonstrations sampled was the Eggplant Parmesan that we put together in advance of the presentation.  The eggplants they prefer to use are the thin, Japanese-style ones, but really the key is to make this recipe when the vegetable is in season, otherwise they are more bitter and take extra care to prepare them.  As Chiara cautioned me, “Mai usare queste fuori stagione,” (“Don’t use them out of season.”).  This conversation was held as we were standing over a sink, squeezing out the brown-tinged bitter liquid from the thinly-sliced eggplants, which had been heavily salted to exude their water, so I could definitely see her point.

Making Eggplant Parmesan

The eggplants were then tossed in a light coating of double zero flour and then fried in grapeseed oil.  As both Chiara and Gennaro explained, it is less heavy than olive oil and makes a lighter coating on the eggplant than other oils.  My task was as “fry girl,” and I worked in tandem with Gennaro preparing the vegetables for the dish.  While frying up the eggplant at the stove, he and I also talked about Italian cooking in general and about the approach that the Italians use in working with ingredients, especially about how much more intuitive and instinct-led their recipes seem to be compared to the more closely structured French culinary methodology.

Eggplant Parmesan ready to serve

Once the eggplant was fried, Gennaro layered it with the tomato sauce that they’d made earlier that day.  He then added fresh basil leaves, mozzarella, grated Parmesan cheese, and, what was a surprise to me, a smoked scamorza, which gives the dish an extra depth of flavor.  The whole pan went into the oven, dressed with a few cherry tomatoes, to bake until the top layer was melted and bubbly.

Portion of Eggplant Parmesan

We served up portions of this creamy, hearty creation for the demonstration attendees to sample while they watched Chiara and Gennaro explain how they put it together and how each component works in harmony to create the tastes of this classic dish.  Frying the eggplant allows it to retain its shape and to keep it from getting soggy while soaking up the tomato sauce.  The cheese gives the dish its richness and makes it a substantial offering for the table, where in Italy it is served as a second (meat) course.

Cooking the meatballs in tomato sauce

Plates of pork meatballs, cooked in a tangy tomato sauce were also served during the demonstration.  Gennaro explained to me that their usual recipe calls for using only ground pork as the fat to make the meatballs tender and delicate.  I could see what he meant after sampling a few unsauced meatballs that he had me try to check the seasoning.  They just melted in my mouth the fatty richness coating my tongue.  For those who don’t eat pork, they also have a recipe that uses beef and veal, however, to those they add some milk so that the meatballs stay moist in order to replicate some of the texture and mouthfeel that the pork fat gives them.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

For this dish, I was also on the frying station.  The meatballs were dusted with a little bit of double zero flour before being flash fried (again using grapeseed oil) to give the outside a bit of crust and color.  Then, the meatballs were nestled into a baking dish and covered in the tomato sauce to cook, soaking in its sweet-tangy flavor.  They came out of the oven, juicy and mouth-wateringly delicious.  I could have eaten several platefuls of them.

Limoncello

To end the day’s presentation, Chiara and Gennaro whipped up a batch of their special lemon-scented, sweet coccoli (fritters).  The fritters were consumed faster than I could get a photo of them, coming out of the frying oil and then being rolled in sugar.  They served them along with a small glass of limoncello (lemon liqueur) that is also a specialty of the region where their cooking school is located.  After inhaling its sweet, citrusy bouquet, I realized that I’m long overdue for a trip to Italy and soaking in its sunshine and amazing cuisine.  On my next visit, I hope to stop by the Amalfi Coast to see Chiara and Gennaro to experience some more of their hospitality and maybe even pick up a few more Italian cooking tips.

View of the Bay of Naples

Buon appetito!

For a schedule of the upcoming events at the International Culinary Center, please see their website.  They also have a series of one-off courses as well, like this one.

Some of the recipes that were showcased in the demonstrations can be found in the Mamma Agata cookbook.

Basic Chicken Stock

Stock ingredientsStock Ingredients

I’ve spent a few Thanksgiving holiday weekends over the years nursing a cold, so I wasn’t too surprised to wake up this morning feeling a little bit run down.  Between school and volunteering in order to get some more kitchen assisting experience, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately.  This weekend is the first one I’ve had in a while to catch my breath.  I’ve been tackling those little projects around the apartment, like cleaning out the freezer.

Chicken parts

For the practical exam that we had to take at the end of the second level of our culinary program, I had bought a few chickens to practice butchering skills.  I’d packed up the parts and had put them in the freezer thinking that, at some point, I’d make stock with them.  Today seemed like as good a day as any to tackle this culinary project.

Mirepoix – the aromatic element for the stock

Making stocks was one of the lessons we learned early in the Culinary Techniques course.  Now that our group has moved into the level where we cook the family meal each lesson for students and staff, we make stocks every night in large volume so that others in the school can use it as needed for their recipes.  It’s kind of made me fall in love with the process of creating these richly fragrant bases for adding to sauces, cooking risottos or turning into soups.  So, I gathered up the ingredients and set aside a couple of hours to let the stock simmer away, giving me the perfect opportunity to figure out my Christmas card/gift list.

Chicken stock all packed up

Basic Chicken Stock

Prep Time: about 2 1/2 hours

Yield: about 2 1/2 quarts or 2.36 litres of stock

Ingredients:

2 1/2 lbs. or 1.15 kilos Chicken parts (body, wings)

5 pints or 2.5 litres Water

12 oz. or 340 grams Onion, cut into large chunks (approximate)

7 oz. or 200 grams Carrots, cut into large chunks (approximate)

5 oz. or 140 grams Celery, cut into large chunks (approximate)

1 Bay Leaf

6-7 Parsley stems

10 Black Peppercorns

Assembly:

Place chicken parts and water into a deep pan.  Make sure that the water covers the chicken completely.  Bring the mixture up to a simmer over low heat.  Skim off the impurities that rise to the top of the liquid and discard them.

Water and chicken pieces in the pot

Impurities rising to the top of the stock

Scum from the stock

Add the onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf, parsley stems, and peppercorns to the pan.  Keep the liquid on a low simmer and let it cook away for about two hours, until the chicken has released its flavor into the water.

Herbs for the stock

Adding vegetables and herbs to the stock

Once the stock has simmered a couple of hours and has taken on a light chicken-y taste, ladle it into a bowl and place the bowl in a water bath to cool it down.  Then, if not using it right away, pour the stock into containers to store and to freeze it.  The stock will keep for several months in the freezer.

Straining the chicken stock

Cooling down the chicken stock

Chicken stock ready to use

Note that I did not add garlic, thyme or salt to this recipe, as some recipes call for.  This is because I wanted the stock to have as neutral a flavor as possible so that I could have the flexibility of using it in many different kinds of dishes, including just to make soup to fight off the winter sniffles.

Buon appetito!