Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Toodles with strudel

You may have noticed I've been missing a little around these parts. There are actually a few things going on... 1) there have been a lot of events to celebrate in May including those I've blogged and add in my Mom's birthday as well 2) I'm getting ready to leave for a two-and-a-half week vacation on Saturday 3) I've been slowing my dessert roll a bit this month in preparation for that vacation. -4 pounds to show for it too! But it also makes for nothing exciting to share on the blog... However, this is certainly something to share; and with it I'll bid you auf wiedersehen, at least until I find some time to blog to you from.... the Mediterranean!!

For May, we Daring Bakers made Strudel!

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I came in just under the wire with this one. But it got done! I spent the month peeking at the beautiful strudels showing up on the Daring Kitchen forums and reading about that tricky dough we had to stretch to be as thin as window sheers. I've gotta be honest, I was a little nervous about the dough stretching - but as is usually the case, it wasn't nearly as tricky or difficult as I was dreading. I couldn't decide between my two favorite pastry fillings, so I just made two strudels! Strawberry-rhubarb and apricot almond.

The dough was gorgeous - just the kind of dough anyone wants to work with. I made a double batch for my two planned strudels. It was incredibly simple: flour, salt, oil, water and vinegar. Mix a little, knead a little, rest a little, done. The recipe called to leave the dough for at least 90 minutes, but I gave it about 5 ½ hours while I ran errands to prepare for my trip!

I cleaned off my dining room table which [without extension] is about 4 ½' x 2 ½'. It's not very often this table is completely cleared, so that was my first challenge!! I used my trusty white tablecloth and sprinkled it with a thin layer of flour. I started rolling the dough with the rolling-pin, but it didn't take very long to cast it aside and start stretching.
Oh and BTW - that adorable apron, I made myself.
TOTAL fave! *patting self on back* Haha!!

I took off my rings which surely would have torn the fragile dough; but otherwise it wasn't that difficult. I found that I was mostly using the back of my knuckles, hands, wrists and even forearms as the dough got stretched. It was quite easy - it's as if the dough stretched itself. When it got too large to hold up without tearing, I just started stretching it from each side while it was spread on the table. It seemed helpful to pull on each side at the same time to get in a really good stretch. And I easily got it to the 2'x3' suggested in the recipe - with a little extra of the "thick" dough to cut off around the edges.

In the end my dough didn't tear too much - mostly at the edges. It was VERY thin. It moved like fabric and I could easily see my hand through it. I was in awe even as I worked!

I will forever be a strawberry-rhubarb girl... And how could I ever say no when rhubarb is plentiful and beautiful in all the grocery stores right now? It cracks me up how the folks at the register always have to look it up; I even had one ask me "what do you do with this stuff?" Ha!... make the greatest pie filling in the world, that's what!! I had a little more S-R filling than was necessary. I made enough for a 10 inch pie and I think an 8 inch pie filling would have been more appropriate. But I had some strawberries that were quickly becoming "un-fresh" and needed to be baked up. I had to keep my ½/½ ratio consistent with rhubarb to strawberries!

My other relatively new favorite filling is the apricot almond filling we learned about during the Danish Braid challenge last June. I've used this filling now for this strudel and the pizza challenge too! It takes no more than 15 minutes and you use dried apricots! It's just so EASY and so flipping good too! You can find the recipe (from Beatrice Ojakangas) here.

Rolling the strudel up was the best part! As I said, I definitely had too much of the strawberry rhubarb filling, but I knew that and still put it all in. I was amazed that the thin dough held the filling without it seeping through to the tablecloth - but it did! And it rolled up beautifully even being on the XXL side of things... The apricot was a much better sized strudel. I used a double recipe of the filling (12 oz of apricots) and sprinkled a few handfuls of sliced almonds underneath the apricot filling.

The breadcrumbs had me baffled

Roll, roll, roll your dough...

So what did I think? Eh.... well... the part I liked the most was the fillings. I really think it was the presence of those bread crumbs that messed it all up for me. The dough baked up looking crispy and flaky, but didn't taste so much so. I think 'cuz of those breadcrumbs getting in the way and softening things up. I toasted them up nicely too - they were browned and golden when I sprinkled them over the dough.

Would I make this again? I might try it but DEFinitely without those breadcrumbs. I don't regret the challenge at all though since making those sheets of dough was an experience I'll never forget! And for that, I thank Courtney and Linda tons and tons! I just LOVE what I learn from Daring Bakers (and Cooks!) Don't forget to visit the other fabulous Daring Bakers and see the beautiful strudels they've made as well!

And with that, I will be bidding you adiós, au revoir, arrivederci, antío sas and hoşçakalın. There, I just gave you a little hint about where I'll be going... This time next week I'll be in Barcelona, Spain - but after that... it's all a big surprise for you! Come back and see where I'm off to! I'll be trying as hard as I might to blog while I'm jet-setting!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A tale of two bloggers

Well, okay technically three bloggers if you count me. But in this company - I am just not even worthy! I couldn't sit still very long without jumping to my blog to share with you all, a very exciting breakfast I had yesterday morning!! The breakfast was in my own home - but that isn't the exciting part. My breakfast was with.......

Jen of Use Real Butter and Anita of Dessert First!!!!!!!!! (oh, and Jen's Jeremy too of course!)
Breakfast at Lisa is Bossy's!

Lucca was happy to meet new friends also!

Jen was in town this weekend and asked Anita and me (in addition to a few other local bloggers) if we wanted to meet up for coffee. Logistics worked out to meet in my general vicinity, so how could I refuse hosting two of my absolute favorite bloggers?

Coffee cake, fresh squeezed OJ, hot coffee and sweet muscat grapes

Meeting blog friends is quite an interesting prospect since you feel like you've known these folks for years, yet of course haven't met in person. Giving each girl a hug as I opened my front door to them felt so natural. And conversation flowed like "oh I remember when you traveled to..." and "what ever happened with the guy who...?" It was just like 3 old friends gabbing together after many months.

Those of you who do not know them... should. These are very accomplished women above and beyond the "talent" of blogging...

Lucca loved Jen for obvious reasons!

Jen started her blog, Use Real Butter a little more than 4 years ago. She was recently called out as one of the 50 Best Food Blogs in the World (um... the WORLD; can we say impressive?!). Jen's known for her UHMAYZINGLY BEAUTIFUL photography, informative recipes (including the often elusive Chinese recipe) and no nonsense attitude. You either like what she's dishing out, or you don't need to read her anymore! Easy, peasy! I could tell from her words that Jen and I would hit it off well. And I was far from wrong. Far from it...

I see dinner parties in our future, Anita!

Anita started her blog, Dessert First a bit more than 3 years ago. But these days, she might be even more well known for her hit cookie book Field Guide to Cookies. Anita's second cookbook will be coming out soon as it is officially "off to the printer's"! Anita's blog is ethereal and even poetic and almost always about sweets. She actually takes the time to style for her photos and the results are apparent and appreciated. Anita and I had talked about meeting before, since she too is a Bay Area local, but it just never worked out. However, I know for certain that Saturday was not the last time we'd dine together!

Unfortunately, Anita's other half could not make it to our get together, but Jen's Jeremy came along for the ride to politely nod and chuckle appropriately as the 3 of us talked "blog drama" and "DBing" (that of course means Daring Bakering). The morning went by all too quickly and I found it a bittersweet moment saying goodbye to these great new friends. There are always places set at my table for you, Jen and Anita! Here's to meeting new good friends in the most modern and interesting of places!

Here are Jen's and Anita's posts on our meet-up. Jen's got a particularly fantastic picture of Lucca that I {HEART}!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gnocchi dokey, artichokey

You've been waiting. Checking each and every day. Holding your breath. On the edge of your desk chair. But wait no longer, my favorite blog friends; wait no more... the day has come:

Introducing, the DARING COOKS (click on the Daring Kitchen link to the right for more info)!!! And for our first assignment - Ricotta Gnocchi!

Daring Bakers founders, Lis and Ivonne lovingly chose the Zuni Cafe recipe for us to tackle for our first Daring Cooks challenge. Some DC members then upped the challenge by announcing they were making their own ricotta cheese! Well, who am I to not take a cooking/baking challenge? We're making ricotta cheese first, People!

Making cheese at home? Whodda thunk?! But it was fabulously fun and the ricotta was fantastic! And gosh, I had no idea making whole milk cheese could be so easy! I used the this epicurious recipe. The recipe says it yields about 2 cups of cheese, but I only got 1... maybe I didn't allow it to curdle long enough?...

Easy though: Boil milk, cream and a bit of salt. Once it boils, pour in some lemon juice. The juice will cause the milk to curdle. Once it curdles enough you merely pour the mixture through a [very] fine sieve/cheesecloth/both. The sieve will collect the curdled, well... curds! Once thoroughly drained, and squeezed, and drained some more, you have RICOTTA CHEESE! Incredible!

Mmm... curds ------- I used a fine sieve

Wanna really impress your friends? Tell 'em you're making cheese at home (I run with a pretty lame crowd...) This ricotta was beautiful. Soft and creamy and light. Imagine if this had gone into that lasagna - YOWZA! I'm not typically one who eats ricotta with a spoon, but I very well could have with this stuff! So we were off to a really great start already...

Zuni's ricotta gnocchi recipe was not overly complicated - but it seems the biggest surprise to the group was that gnocchi does not always contain potato! These light, soft little pillows were made up of the ricotta, eggs, a little butter, a smidge of Parmesan and some seasoning. And that's it!! IT!!! I seasoned mine with a bit of nutmeg - a wonderful earthy, mild, spice.

I decided to use my ricer, but in hindsight should have just pushed it through a strong strainer. I had to whisk and beat it more since the ricer actually created larger "pieces" of ricotta in the batter than a strainer would have. But it was fun - like play-doh!!

While potato gnocchi are formed by making a long, thick rope with the dough and then cutting little nuggets, these ricotta ones are done quite differently. Since the mixture isn't a dough so much as a thick, sticky batter - it'd have to be different! We scooped dollops and handled them with heavily floured fingers to avoid a big sticky mess. I got into a rhythm and was able to form all [um, 60ish?] of them quite quickly.

A very sticky gnocchi dough -- Little spoonfuls to shape

The recipe basically asks you to do a round of user acceptance testing (oops - it's been a really busy month at work). After forming 1-2 of your first gnocchi, boil them gently for 3-5 minutes and taste to see if you like the flavor/texture. So........ er.............. after my first sample - I didn't like the texture. A bit too soft and fluffy - almost like boiled egg white. But then when you think about what's in these guys (um, soft cheese and egg) it's not really too surprising. Flavor was awesome though!

I added 1/2-3/4 cup of flour to firm up my gnocchi and liked them SO much better. Still soft, still fluffy, but no longer like boiled egg whites. Mmmmm and GOOD.

I wanted to keep my sauce simple so that it didn't weigh down these amazing little pillows of ricotta cheese. So cliché but I opted for a sage brown butter. And *duh* forgot to buy sage leaves at the store so I did it with dried sage leaves out of my spice cabinet. It still tasted great but none of those fantastic crispy fried sage leaves to fancily sprinkle on top!

I melted a few tablespoons of butter, added in ~1 teaspoon of dried sage leaves and some chicken broth. Simmered it down a bit and then strained out the sage (normally they'd be these nice big leaves that you could just pick out with tongs and serve on the side). Instead of pouring it on top, I sautéed the gnocchi in the sauce with a small handful of Parmesan cheese. They got brown and delicious with those bits of fried cheese.


These were fabulous! AMAZING! I'm putting 1 gallon of whole milk on my grocery list right now as I write this cuz I want to make some more NOW.

Another "style": I didn't fry them but merely tossed them in the sage brown butter

Absolutely fantastic. Incredibly delicious. I liked these better than any potato gnocchi I've ever eaten. 

I would highly recommend making these - even if you have to buy your own ricotta instead of making it at home. They were fantabulicioso. Of course I'd suggest you throw in that extra fraction of a cup of flour too, but that's me. You should be able to find the recipe on either Lis's or Ivonne's blogs listed near the top.

And of course, I must thank - profusely - Lis and Ivonne... our ever faithful Daring Kitchen founders who have somehow found a way to up the ante and make this group even better. We have a beautiful new website and now even a new group! I hope I can find the time (what was my blog called again?) to continue on, both Baking and Cooking... a little urging from you all wouldn't hurt either!

Happy Baking. Happy Cooking. And Happy Gnocchi!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Party at Lucca's!

Lots of things to celebrate in May! And Mom's birthday isn't even here yet! Today was our little puppy dog's FIRST birthday! I can't believe our little tiny puppy is 1 year old - but time flies and she now most certainly is.
Remember this little thing??

And now, what a big girl! All 62 pounds of her!!

It's a perfect week to be celebrating Little Lucca's birthday. We're dog-sitting her buddy/boyfriend, Carter the Bernese Mountain Dog right now. And since Lucca's absolute favorite thing to do is play with other doggies - how perfect that she had a constant playmate today!

Carter and Lucca enjoy some cow hooves together

Lucca and Carter first meet in their puppy class
(Lucca is 8 weeks old)!

In addition to playing with her best bud, Lucca also got to go play at the dog park, take some nice long naps (what else is new?) AND eat homemade doggie cookies!!

Almost good enough to eat!

What else would a bake-o-holic Dog Mom do on her puppy's birthday? I made doggie cookies! Remember when I got on my soapbox and ranted about what you should be feeding your dog(s)? It's for that reason that it can be so satisfying making your own doggie treats at home. You know exactly what goes into them and you can do your own research to find out what will/won't be good for your best 4-legged friend. And let's face it - you can't mess up flavor since dogs will eat anything!
I'm getting so old... must drown my sorrows...

Most people aren't aware that dogs don't really process grains. Wheat, oats, rice - they don't do anything for your dog. The best diet is raw meat and bones -- but since those don't make for the simplest of treats, I still buy Lucca treats made with grains. And therefore I don't mind making treats with a bit of grains too.

I did some web searching before finding this site. I thought about doing the peanut butter treats, but then changed my mind for something more "meaty" and made some slight variations of the Tuna Training Treats...which I'm renaming Garlic Tuna & Salmon Cookies.

Lucca's Garlic Tuna & Salmon Cookies:
Made about 28 cookies

2-6 oz cans of tuna with water (I used 1 tuna and 1 salmon)
2 eggs
2 cups wheat flour
1 T garlic powder
Parmesan cheese to sprinkle

Pour the 2 cans of tuna with all the water into your food processor. Pulse it until it's smooth. Add in the eggs and pulse again. **note: you could probably easily replace the fish with canned chicken or even raw livers with some liquid - it'd really work with any meat/protein!**

1 can tuna, 1 can salmon -- Blend together until smooth

Pulse in 2 eggs

[At this point, I poured the mixture into a bowl to add the flour but you could probably pulse the flour in also.] Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the flour and garlic powder, adding the flour gradually or it might be too difficult to stir. The dough was still very sticky - but it will dry out just fine in the oven.

Adding the flour - will feel dry, but it'll still be sticky

There's probably an easier way to do this - but, that darn sticky dough!

I'm sure someone can think of an easier way to do this but I used my hands to put a layer of dough onto my Silpat and pressed it until it was a roughly even 1/4-1/3 inch thick. Then I used my cookie cutter and picked the bits out in between to use on my next tray. Sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan cheese and they're ready to bake!

After peeling out the leftover scraps between the "bones"

It's not weird to eat dog-shaped cookies, right?
Like humans eating gingerbread men??

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. The cookies will be quite dry by this point. But I wanted to dry them even more so that they were like crackers and not soft at all. I used a spatula to get the cookies off the Silpat and crammed all the cookies onto 1 sheet (had baked 2 sheets). Then I baked them at 300° for another 20 minutes. 250° would be fine too - just to dry them some more. You could even just leave them in the hot oven (turned off) for a few hours and they'll also dry out very well...But we wanted to EAT them tonight!!

Ooooh crunchy cookies - Happy Birthday to me!

Carter was lucky he was visiting during Lucca's birthday!

Needless to say, they were a hit. With Yellow Labs and Bernese Mountain Doggies alike... Oh and then we let them wash it down with a birthday swig 'o Grand Marnier.

Just kidding!