Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Beautiful Brioche

Brioche is one of the greatest bread based inventions ever! This beautiful, rich, eggy and slightly sweet treat is very traditional for Easter meals, especially brunch. Our mother has made it every year since we were children, and it just gets better and better. Brioche seems very complicated, because it has quite a few steps and needs to be started the day before you want to serve it, but in truth, most of the time spent is waiting for the dough to rise. It is actually a very easy dough to put together and it is worth every minute of effort. This recipe was created from the amalgamation of many different recipes to make it as easy as possible to follow.

Brioche is best served slightly warm with butter. It is also good toasted, and the leftovers make brilliant french toast!

Makes: 1 loaf.

1 tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup milk, warmed
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk
3 eggs (2 for the bread, 1 for the egg wash)
1/3 cup butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup icing sugar

1. In a small bowl, warm the milk in the microwave until it is just warmer than body temperature. (105°–115°F.) Stir in yeast and flour to make a smooth paste. Let sit for 10 minutes till foamy.
2. In a large bowl add, flour, icing sugar, salt, and lemon. Stir gently. 
3. Using fingers, or 2 knives, cut in butter till evenly distributed.
4. Add milk, eggs, and yeast mixture. Stir mixture until the dough just comes together.
5. Put the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, kneed 3-4 minutes till the dough fully incorporated and is smooth.
6. Lightly grease a large bowl and put the dough in to rest. Cover with Saran Wrap and a damp tea towel. Let rise for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. (This helps create the distinct flavour of brioche.)
7. Now it's time to form the loaf, we love the look of doing a braid. To do this, divide the dough into 3 equal portions, roll them into 24" logs. Lie the logs side by side and pinch one end together well. Braid the strands together loosely, (don't pull or twist, but "flop" each strand on top of the center strand without leaving gaps). At the finish, pinch the second end together tightly. (You may have to adjust to make sure the loaf is even.)
8. Put the loaf onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Let proof covered with Saran Wrap and a damp tea towel. Let rise for 90 minutes.
9. Make an egg wash with the remaining egg and a tablespoon of water. Brush the wash onto the dough.
10. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown. Let sit 5 minutes, then lift off the baking sheet and cool on a rack.
11. To make the glaze: mix lemon juice and icing sugar until smooth. Spoon onto the brioche and spread evenly when still slightly warm.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Romanoff Potato Popovers

Romanoff Potatoes are the perfect Easter side dish. Rich and cheezy, they are the perfect pair to both ham and roast beef for dinner on Easter Sunday. This traditional potato casserole uses sour cream, cheese, onions and scallions to dress up the basic boiled potato.  They can also be made a day ahead of time to make your dinner go more smoothly. The best part of this dish is the crust that forms as they bake in the oven. We wanted to get the most crispy crust possible while keeping the inside creamy. So we bake ours in greased muffin tins. They look beautiful and taste awesome.

Makes: 18 Popovers.

6 large russet potatoes
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 medium white onion, finely diced
3 scallions or green onions, sliced finely
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Put into a large pot of salted water and boil until cooked, about 30 minutes.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, saute the onion in butter till translucent and golden brown.
3. When fully cooked, drain the potatoes well and return to the pot. Let the potatoes cool slightly and allow all moisture to evaporate.
4. Using a fork or potato masher, mash the potatoes roughly. (We refer them to still have small chunks remaining.
5. In a bowl, mix the sour cream, onions, cheese, scallions, and cayenne. Pour this mixture over the potatoes and mix to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. 
At this point, you can refrigerate the mixture overnight or until you are ready to bake.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins thoroughly with butter.
7. Spoon the potato mixture into the muffin tins. Do not pack the mixture.
8. Bake for 45 - 50 minutes, or until golden brown and hot though.
9. Use a sharp knife to release the popovers from the pans.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hot Cross Buns

Easter is a holiday full of symbolism and tradition. It is the most important of the Christian holidays, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. It celebrates rebirth and renewal, and the beginning of a new growing season. Whether you are religious or not, it is a time of celebration, and family and in our house wonderful food. 

Hot cross buns are a staple treat around Easter time. These sweet buns filled with spices and fruits are fantastic served with butter or jam straight from the oven. Traditional hot cross buns are made with raisins or candied fruit, but we prefer to make them with dried fruits such as cranberries and mango to give them a fresher taste. I don't like using pie dough or flour water paste to make the cross, I just carve a cross in the top with a sharp knife before baking. The glaze will then settle in the hollows.  These are incredibly simple to make, but have quite a few steps, so make sure you have enough time before you need to serve them.

Makes 2 dozen buns.

1 cup milk
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold butter
3 large eggs
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup dried mango, diced to the same size as cranberries

1. In a small bowl, warm milk in the microwave until just warmer than body temperature (105°–115°F.)
2. Stir in yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar.  Let mixture stand 5 minutes, or until foamy.
3. In a small bowl put cranberries and mango. Pour enough hot water on fruit to cover. Let stand for 10 minutes to plump, then drain all water off and set aside.
4. Into a large bowl sift together flour, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and remaining granulated sugar.
5. Add butter blend into flour mixture with pastry blender or fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal. 
6. Lightly beat 2 eggs in a bowl. Make a well in center of flour mixture and pour in yeast and egg mixture, and fruit. Stir mixture until a dough is formed. 
7. Transfer dough to a floured surface and with floured hands knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. 
8. Place dough to an oiled large bowl and turn to coat. Let dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
9. Butter 2 large baking sheets.
10. Turn dough onto a floured surface,  knead dough briefly and then divide into 24 balls. ( I prefer to use a scale and weigh out the balls, but you can also form into two logs and cut each log crosswise into 12 equal pieces.)
13. Form each piece into a ball and arrange about 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Let buns rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

14. Preheat oven to 400°F.
15. At this point, if you like you can use pastry dough to add a cross to the top of the buns. But I prefer to just use a knife to carve a cross in each.
16. In a small bowl, whisk egg with a fork. Brush buns with egg glaze 
17. Bake buns in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 12 minutes. 
18. Transfer buns to a rack to cool slightly. Buns may be made 1 week ahead and frozen, wrapped well. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish Whisky Soda Bread

It's St Patrick's Day! I have always loved Ireland, and fell even more in love with the country when I vacationed there many years ago. The people are the warmest and most welcoming of anywhere I have ever visited, the scenery and history is rich and beautiful, and the food is amazing. (The beer is pretty good too) I have been making this recipe for whisky honey soda bread for many years. It doesn't have the traditional whisky soaked raisins or caraway, it is a simple soda bread that has a hint of sweetness, but is excellent served with butter and stew or with jam.

Makes 2 x 8" diameter loaves.

4 Cups flour, all purpose
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon baking soda
1/4 Cup Butter, chilled
1 Cup raisins or currants (optional)
1/2 Cup honey, liquid
1/4 Cup Irish Whisky
1 Cup buttermilk (you can use regular milk as well)

2 Teaspoons Irish Whisky
2 Teaspoons Milk 
1/4 cup icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. In large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking soda. 
3. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in raisins or currants (if using). 
4. In separate bowl, combine buttermilk, honey and whisky. 
5. Add all at once to dry ingredients; stir just until just incorporated. 
6. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead lightly 1 minute (too much handling will toughen loaves, while too little will inhibit rising.) 
7. Divide dough in half and shape each half into an 8" round loaf. Place in two greased 8" cake pans. 
8. Cut a cross 1/2" deep in each loaf.
9. Brush each loaf with milk.
10. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottoms. Remove from pans; let cool on wire racks.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Apple Tart Tatin to Celebrate Pi Day

Happy Pi Day everyone! 

Celebrated on March 14th (3.14),  Pi Day is an annual celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). I have a wonderful friend who told me about the tradition of eating pie to celebrate this special holiday, and used to bring several different varieties into the office every year for us to share.

Now not everyone has time to make pies for the office, but for a quick and super easy desert for tonight, try this recipe for a simple version of a classic tarte tatin, or french apple pie. It is a one pan wonder, and you can have it done in 45 minutes with no fuss. A tarte tatin is an upside down pie where the apples are cooked in caramel before adding the pastry to the top and baking. I use store bought puff pastry, because it is quick and reliable.

Most recipes call for the use of a cast iron pan, but I used my aluminum pan and it works perfectly. Just be careful of the handle taking it out of the oven.

Serves 6-8.

5 Large granny smith apples
1/4 Cup butter
1/4 Cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Piece of puff pastry, thawed

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Roll the pastry out to an even 1/8" thickness, put on baking sheet and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
3. Peel, core and slice the apples in 1/4"slices, put in a bowl and toss with cinnamon and lemon juice.
4. put butter and sugar in the frying pan, heat over medium-high heat until the mixture has melted and turned a golden colour. Take off the heat immediately.
5. Arrange the apple slices nicely into the skillet. the first layer will form the top of the pie. Subsequent layers can be less pretty.
6. Return the pan to the heat, and cook the apples undisturbed for about 10 minutes, until the apples on the bottom are beautifully brown and the apples start to get soft. (You can gently check the apples by lifting them with a knife and replacing them.)
7. When the apples are ready, turn off the heat and remove the pan. Gently lay the pastry over the apples, trimming as required and tucking in the apples.
8. Cut 3 steam vents in the pastry. 
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until pastry is puffy and golden brown. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before turning the tarte onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or cool.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pumpkin Power Muffins

Muffins are a brilliant food. They are perfect for breakfast, a great addition to a brunch spread, and a natural afternoon snack. Easy, convienient and inexpensive. The problem with most muffin recipes is that they have little nutritional value, so in fact they aren't as much muffins as they are individual portions of cake. This recipe was inspired by the classic power muffins, lots of good ingredients but far less sweet, stodgy, or heavy. Pumpkin adds great flavour, keeps the muffins moist and replaces most of the fat.  Add your favorite nuts and fruit to change up the taste to fit your palette.

Makes 12 Muffins
Nutritional Value: 160 calories each

1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup bran
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup buttermilk  (you can also use 1/2 cup of regular milk mixed with 1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice, or plain yogurt instead)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
large egg
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons, sesame seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Line a standard muffin tin with muffin papers.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the following: flour, bran, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, both sugars.
4. In a second large bowl, wisk together pumpkin, buttermilk, oil, and egg.
5. Add the cranberries, almonds, and pumpkin seeds into the dry ingredients.
6. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix only till combined. You need to move quickly at this point for best results. The batter will be quite thick.
7. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, they should be about 3/4 full.
8. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
9. Bake for 25 minutes or until the muffin bounces back when pressed or a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.
10. Put immediately on a cooling rack.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fettuccine with Prawns in Garlic Wine Sauce

According to rumours, spring is around the corner. The days are getting longer, its getting warmer (OK only a little bit so far) there have been breaks in the endless rain and the sun has peeked out from the clouds (OK only twice in a week, but I will take what I can get) and it is time to start thinking about getting outside more often, and looking for tasty recipes that are less time consuming and heavy. Best of all this recipe only takes 10 minutes from start to finish.

I am a full fledged member of the carb lovers club, and firmly disagree with the idea that all pasta dishes are heavy. Seafood, garlic and wine are natural partners that allow this sauce to be light and refreshing and a brilliant change of pace from heavier tomato or cream based sauces. For this recipe we used 20/30 sized prawns, but clams, mussels, shrimp, or calamari would also be excellent choices.

Now I know that many great chefs and foodies say that cheese and fish or seafood don't mix, and as a general rule I agree, but for this recipe the small amount of parmesan cheese adds a little richness, some much needed salt, and body to the otherwise very light sauce.

Serves 4.

1 pound of fettuccine, preferably fresh
1 pound of raw prawns, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes
3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1/8 cup parmesan cheese, fresh grated
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Put a large pot of well salted water for the pasta on the on the stove and bring to a rolling boil.
2. In a large saute pan, add oil and heat over medium high heat, add butter. It should melt quickly and foam.
3. Add garlic to the oil and saute quickly, browning slightly (do not burn).
4. Stir in wine, lemon zest and lemon juice, bring up to a light simmer for 2-3 minutes.
5. Put the pasta in the salted water and cook till al dente, 4-5 minutes.
6. While the pasta is cooking, add the prawns to the saute pan. You want to cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until they turn pink and opaque.
7. Add chili flakes, parsley, and cheese. Season well.
8. Drain the pasta, reserving approximately 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Put pasta and water back in the pot. Add the sauce and prawns to the pasta. Toss and serve immediately.