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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Swoon in June with Danish Braids


At the end of every month, after I publish my Daring Bakers post, I anxiously await the first of the next month when the new challenge is announced. As I read through the new recipe, I vow to myself that this time, I will plan ahead and complete the challenge well in advance of the deadline. Yes, I do this every time, and every time one thing or another prevents me from doing
it. Life always seems to to get in the way and I usually find myself scrambling at the last minute to get it all done. Life has a hell of a nerve if you ask me!
Alas, this month was no different. I was very excited when I learned that this month's DB challenge was to make a Danish Braid. I adore danish, as does Mr. SGCC, and I was really looking forward to learning how to make my own. I knew exactly what kinds of danish I wanted to create - CHEESE DANISH AND PAIN AU CHOCOLAT! I carefully thought out how I would achieve this and gathered all my ingredients into a corner of my kitchen counter. They waited patiently, day after day, to be transformed into crisp, buttery and flaky cream-filled pastry. And day after day, I looked longingly at them on my way out the door to fulfill one obligation and responsibility after another. I'd sigh and tell them to be patient, that I still loved them and that soon - very soon- we would be able to play together.

June has been a very busy month for us here in SGCC-Land. There is a lot going on lately, both personally and professionally. During the week, we have been working like mad dogs on some pressing cases, while at the same time training new staff. Mini-SGCC is earning some extra credits in summer school, which mean more chauffeuring around than usual. And, on top of that,
for the past three weekends, we have had to be out of town. Since I usually do these DB challenges on the weekends, this seriously cramped my style! Before I knew it, the deadline loomed and I had three days to prep, bake, photograph, Photoshop and post!
Last Thursday was to be my designated DB day. I planned ahead for it. I told my husband, daughter, mother and office staff that I would be unavailable all day - no ifs, ands or buts! I went to sleep Wednesday night with visions of beautiful danish dancing in my head. At four in the morning I woke up with a start and an uncontrollable urge to be sick that lasted for the next twenty four hours! Yes, you guessed it. I had contracted the dreaded stomach bug that had been making the rounds. And what's worse, is that during one of my mad dashes to visit the porcelain goddess, I crashed into the very hard, solid wood door frame in my bedroom and decimated my elbow. I kid you not. This really happened! It was my left elbow and guess what? I'm left-handed. I was totally f*cked!
After drinking a whole bottle of the pink stuff, I grabbed a bucket and hauled my sick, pathetic self over to my brother, the chiropractor's, office for an x-ray. The good news was that the arm didn't appear to be broken. The bad news was that it did appear to be some kind of dislocated. The really bad news was that it hurt like shit!
My bucket and I drove home in the company of a big bottle of Advil and an ice wrap. We were a sad and sorry lot. It was about noon on Saturday before I was able to handle even the smell of food, much less cooking or eating it. My elbow was still excruciatingly painful. I fleetingly thought about throwing in the towel and not making the danish, but then my eye caught sight of those lonely and dejected ingredients in the corner of my kitchen, still waiting for their day in the sun. I just couldn't let them down! So, I popped a few more Advil, made myself a good, stiff Bloody Mary and got to work. I AM a Daring Baker, after all!

The recipe for this challenge was borrowed from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking, and was chosen by our hosts, Kelly and Ben.
It was a lengthy process with many steps, but the this danish was not difficult to make. My dough came together perfectly and oh, was it a beautiful dough to behold! It was smooth and elastic, but not sticky, with lovely flecks of brown and orange from the vanilla bean, cardamom and orange zest mixed in it. I loved the silky way it felt between my fingers! It was misery doing
all of that rolling and pressing with my bum arm, but it was worth it.

As I mentioned earlier, I chose to make my danish braid with a cream cheese, mascarpone and apricot filling. Cheese danish is my favorite kind and I thought that the apricot would go well with it. Instead of making a second braid, I decided to make some pain au chocolat, or chocolate bread. They are like wonderful little croissants filled with gooey, rich chocolate. I felt that the chocolate together with the orange in the dough would be a terrific combination.
The danish braid and the pain were finally ready to bake this morning. I cannot describe the heavenly aroma that filled my house as they baked. It was magical! The only thing better than smelling them was eating them. They were both To. Die. For! I had a little filling seepage, but it only added to the rustic charm of this lovely pastry.

Even though I barely made the deadline for this challenge, I felt great satisfaction as I gazed at those burnished bundles of delicious pastry. I had completed the challenge in the face of adversity. I had really earned my Daring Baker stripes on this one. Plus, it was such a treat to present my family with fresh, hot, homemade danish on a lazy Sunday morning!
Many thanks to Kelly and Ben for choosing such a great recipe for us this month. I know that I will make this one again.

If you'd like to see lots of other fabulous variations on Danish Braids, take some time to visit the Daring Bakers Blogroll. I guarantee that you won't be disappointed!

(Makes 2-1/2 pounds dough )


For the dough (Detrempe)

1 ounce fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup whole milk
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 large eggs, chilled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
3-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the butter block (Beurrage)

1/2 pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour


Combine yeast and milk in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed. Slowly add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice. Mix well. Change to the dough hook and add the salt with the flour, 1 cup at a time, increasing speed to medium as the flour is incorporated. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until smooth. You may need to add a little more flour if it is sticky. Transfer dough to a lightly floured baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Without a standing mixer: Combine yeast and milk in a bowl with a hand mixer on low speed or a whisk. Add sugar, orange zest, cardamom, vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, eggs, and orange juice and mix well. Sift flour and salt on your working surface and make a fountain. Make sure that the “walls” of your fountain are thick and even. Pour the liquid in the middle of the fountain. With your fingertips, mix the liquid and the flour starting from the middle of the fountain, slowly working towards the edges. When the ingredients have been incorporated start kneading the dough with the heel of your hands until it becomes smooth and easy to work with, around 5 to 7 minutes. You might need to add more flour if the dough is sticky.


Combine butter and flour in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle and then beat for 1 minute more, or until smooth and lump free. Set aside at room temperature.

After the detrempe has chilled 30 minutes, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 18 x 13 inches and ¼ inch thick. The dough may be sticky, so keep dusting it lightly with flour.

Spread the butter evenly over the center and right thirds of the dough. Fold the left edge of the detrempe to the right, covering half of the butter. Fold the right third of the rectangle over the center third. The first turn has now been completed. Mark the dough by poking it with your finger to keep track of your turns, or use a sticky and keep a tally.

Place the dough on a baking sheet, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Place the dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. The open ends should be to your right and left. Roll the dough into another approximately 13 x 18 inch, ¼-inch-thick rectangle. Again, fold the left third of the rectangle over the center third and the right third over the center third. No additional butter will be added as it is already in the dough. The second turn has now been completed. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Roll out, turn, and refrigerate the dough two more times, for a total of four single turns. Make sure you are keeping track of your turns. Refrigerate the dough after the final turn for at least 5 hours or overnight. The Danish dough is now ready to be used. If you will not be using the dough within 24 hours, freeze it. To do this, roll the dough out to about 1 inch in thickness, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and freeze. Defrost the dough slowly in the refrigerator for easiest handling. Danish dough will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.


8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup apricot preserves, reserved for filling the braid

Combine cream cheese, mascarpone and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. With the paddle attachment, blend on low speed until smooth and creamy.

Add egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest and continue to blend on low until incorporated.

Chill until ready to use.

(Makes enough for 1 large braid )


1/2 recipe Danish Dough (see above)
Cream Cheese and Apricot Filling (see above)
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sliced almonds (optional)
1/4 cup turbinado sugar (optional)

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll the Danish Dough into a 15 x 20-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. If the dough seems elastic and shrinks back when rolled, let it rest for a few minutes, then roll again. Place the dough on the baking sheet.

Along one long side of the pastry make parallel, 5-inch-long cuts with a knife or rolling pastry wheel, each about 1 inch apart. Repeat on the opposite side, making sure to line up the cuts with those you’ve already made.

Spoon the cream cheese filling down the center of the rectangle. Then spoon the apricot preserves over it.

Starting with the top and bottom “flaps”, fold the top flap down over the filling to cover. Next, fold the bottom “flap” up to cover filling. This helps keep the braid neat and helps to hold in the filling. Now begin folding the cut side strips of dough over the filling, alternating first left, then right, left, right, until finished. Trim any excess dough and tuck in the ends.

Make an egg wash by whisking together the whole egg and egg yolk in a bowl. With a pastry brush, lightly coat the braid with the wash. Sprinkle some turbinado sugar and sliced almonds on top for crunch.

Proofing and Baking:

Spray cooking oil or nonstick cooking spray onto a piece of plastic wrap, and place over the braid. Proof at room temperature or, if possible, in a controlled 90 degree F environment for about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume and light to the touch.

Near the end of proofing, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan so that the side of the braid previously in the back of the oven is now in the front. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake about 15-20 minutes more, or until golden brown.

Cool and serve the braid either still warm from the oven or at room temperature. The cooled braid can be wrapped airtight and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or freeze for 1 month.


1/2 batch Danish Dough (see above)
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small chunks.

Cut the remaining dough into 3 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch rectangles. Lay each rectangle on a lightly floured work surface, with a long side facing you, and place about 1/2 tablespoon of the chopped chocolate in the upper third of each one. Fold that third of the dough over the chocolate. Place about another 1/2 tablespoon of the chocolate along one seam of the folded dough. Fold the bottom third of the dough over the chocolate. Turn over the pain au chocolat so the seams face down. This will keep them from opening as they bake.

Place them on a parchment covered baking sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart. Brush with egg wash and loosely cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap. Proof at room temperature for 2 hours. They should double in size.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 8 Pain au Chocolat.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Meal Fit for a King (That Cost a King's Ransom)!


Have you ever been in a situation where you wrongly assumed something, then realized your mistake in front of a bunch of people and were too embarrassed to say anything? I have, and it can be a sticky wicket, indeed! Let me tell you what happened to me the other day.
I had dropped Mini-SGCC and her friends off at the big movie theater downtown and I had some time to kill. Since Whole Foods was just a few blocks away, I decided to pop in there to pick up a few things.

Now, a visit to Whole Foods is usually a dangerous proposition for me. I almost always go armed with a specific list of items to buy, and I never stick to it. I can't help myself! It's like I become completely hypnotised by the rows upon rows of vibrantly colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, neatly stacked and perfectly arranged, mist clinging to them like little droplets of morning dew. Swiss Chard, baby bok choy and kale, come to Mama! Organic strawberries, I like your style! Heirloom tomatoes, stick with me kids - we'll go places!
It gets worse as I continue to push my cart past the seafood department, with its pristine case of glistening fresh fish. Whoa! Is that Chilean sea bass still breathing? (Move along, move along.)

As I meander up and down the dry goods aisles, I mindlessly pluck things that I don't need off the shelves. Organic Shoyu for $7.99 a bottle? Okay! A L'Olivier Roasted Almond Oil at $21.99 for eight ounces? Sure! Why not? Plum jam made by Trappist Monks? Yes! Oh, yes! (Are you starting to see a pattern here?)

But, the deadliest place of all for me is the Black Hole that is the cheese department. Once I stroll in there, my cart develops a mind of its own, digs in its heels and Will. Not. Budge! In my trancelike state, I gaze lovingly at the bountiful array before me. Those rich, buttery bries, robust, brazen blues and cheeky little chevres coquettishly flirting with me - teasing me. I want them all!
I know I'm digressing, but I had to give you some background information so you could understand just how I got myself in the aforementioned uncomfortable situation.

Anyway, as I said, I was killing some time in Whole Foods when I found myself in front of the meat counter, which is a sight to behold in and of itself. I swear, I was only going to pick up some chicken leg quarters! Well, maybe some nitrite-free bacon too, but that's it! It was while I was waiting my turn in line that I saw them - the most gorgeous veal chops I had ever laid eyes on! They were huge, two-inch thick slabs of beautiful blush pink meat. Holy Crap!!! Mr. SGCC would go wild over these! He is a caveman, after all. My knees got weak and my brain was swimming with thoughts about what I could do with them. I NEEDED some of those veal chops!
Now is a good time to tell you that veal is something I only buy occasionally because the cost is usually so prohibitive. The only reason I even considered buying those chops was because they were so f*cking stunning. With one eye closed, I glanced at the price listed in the case. $18.99 per pound. That was pretty high, but not so bad. I took four and practically skipped up to the check out line.

As the check out girl rang up my purchases, I kept my eye on the little display screen. I always do that, you know, in case she makes any mistakes. All of a sudden I saw something come up as $121.12. Huh? That sure must be a mistake! (See! That's why I always check.) I coolly took a closer look at the screen which had the nerve to tell me that my veal chops cost $121.12. WTF! Let's see, four veal chops at $18.99/pound (even if they each weighed a pound) did not add up to over one hundred twenty dollars. I took a peek into the bag that the chops were now resting in and my blood ran cold. I don't know how it happened, but I somehow misread the price. Those veal chops were not $18.99/pound. THEY WERE $28.99/POUND! THAT IS $30.28 PER CHOP! OH SHIT!!!

I didn't know what to do. Should I say something? Ask for a price check? Just give the damn things back? By this time, there were at least three people behind me in line, one of whom had already started loading her groceries on the belt.
I started stammering, "Um....(cough), cough)....I...uh...."

The check out girl kind of looked at me funny. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

By this time, I was starting to really sweat. I looked around and realized that everyone was staring at me. (Well, maybe not actually staring, but definitely looking.) I frantically tried to think of a quick response. I couldn't. I'm ashamed to say that I was just too embarrassed to admit my mistake. I mean, people apparently do buy thirty dollar veal chops, or they wouldn't be selling them. I didn't want to look like a) an idiot; or b) a cheapskate. I'm a regular customer there. People know me!

So, I sucked it up, slapped on my sweetest smile and said, "Oh no, everything's fine! I just had a little frog in my throat." And with that, I handed over my debit card with my head held high (and prayed the transaction would go through)!

Of course, this is strictly between you and me. Mr. SGCC must never, ever know about it. The poor guy has enough stress in his life. Why add to it? It will be our little secret!
Once I got those veal chops home, I had to decide how I was going to prepare them. I figured that for what they cost me, they had better be freakin' fabulous. Since they really were pretty wonderful all on their own, I chose to keep it simple. I sprinkled them with some salt and pepper, pan roasted them and served them with a zippy Chipotle-Lime Butter that I whipped up. They were amazing! Better than I'd hoped for. The meat was so tender and succulent. The Chipotle-Lime Butter was a wonderful complement. It was smoky and spicy with a bright zing from the lime juice.

Kind of as an afterthought, I took the leftover Chipotle-Lime Butter and sauteed some fresh corn, scallions and red bell pepper in it. Oh, wow! It was one of the best corn dishes I ever tasted! That butter is a keeper. It's a snap to make and it seems to go well with everything.
One of the best things about this meal (aside from its soul-shattering deliciousness), was that the whole thing took less than an hour to put together. It was so easy! I could have even grilled the veal chops and not had to turn my oven on at all. As a matter of fact, I was wishing that I had some of that gazpacho I made a few weeks ago. I think it would have been a terrific addition to a another perfect summertime meal.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Mr. SGCC didn't say more than two words during this whole meal. He was too busy groaning, drooling and shoveling food in his face at the speed of light! I think he liked it.

So, my question to you is this: What would you have done in my situation at Whole Foods? Would you have wimped out like I did? Would you have bitched about the price, but buy the veal chops anyway? Or, would you have told them that you weren't about to pay a king's ransom for a slab of meat? I'd really like to know.

Pan Roasted Veal Chops with Chipotle-Lime Butter

(Printable Recipes)

4 thick veal rib chops

1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Chipotle-Lime Butter ( recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a heavy cast iron skillet or other oven-proof frying pan over high heat.

Rub the rest of the olive oil on the veal chops. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Sear the chops for 2-3 minutes on both sides until nicely browned.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast until cooked through, about 10-12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and put a blob of Chipotle-Lime Butter under each chop. When butter is melted, turn over the chops to coat the other side.

Serves 4

Chipotle-Lime Butter

1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter, either salted or unsalted

3-4 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce with 1 tablespoon of the sauce

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor or by hand, puree the peppers with the adobo sauce. Add butter, lime juice, salt and pepper and thoroughly combine.

Chill until ready to use.

Chipotle-Lime Corn Saute

6 ears cleaned fresh corn or the equivalent of frozen corn

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

4 tablespoons Chipotle-Lime Butter (recipe above)

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Remove the corn from the husks using a sharp knife. Mix in scallions and red bell pepper and set aside.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the corn mixture and saute until heated through, but not too soft. The corn should still be a little crisp.

Add salt, pepper and fresh lime juice.

Melt remaining Chipotle-Lime Butter on top. Stir.

Serves 6


If you enjoyed these recipes, you might also like:

Pan Roasted Veal Chops with Calvados, Apple and Cream Compote

Churrasco with Chimichurri Sauce

Bistec a lo Pobre

Ribeye Steaks with a Spicy, Smoky, Cacao Nibs Rub

Veal Chops with Morel Sauce Recipe from Sunday Nite Dinner

Veal Chops With Rose Petal Plum Sauce from Eddybles

Veal Chops with Roasted Shallot Relish, Arugula and Soft Polenta from Caviar and Codfish

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

TWD: Mixed Berry Cobbler - Better Late Than Never!


What could be better on a lazy, sultry, summer day than a fistful of fresh, lush berries, bursting with sweetness; their ripeness dripping in rivulets down your chin as you take that first big, juicy, sublime bite? Not much, I suspect. But, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, Mixed Berry Cobbler, comes pretty close.

Gorging on Mother Nature's summer bounty is one of the simple, basic pleasures of the season. Dorie's cobbler sets the perfect stage for berries to strut their delicious stuff. This recipe is not a difficult one and has lots of room for improvisation. The crust is made from a basic sweet biscuit dough that can be left as is or flavored any way you like. Dorie specifies that either fresh or frozen berries can be used, as well as a number of other fruits.
For my cobbler, I chose to use a mixture if fresh and frozen blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. I did this because, while the fresh strawberries were reasonable priced, the other berries were out of sight and not all that sweet. The frozen berries were the same price, but for twice as much fruit. I thawed them and let them drain really well before I mixed them up with the fresh ones. Then, I added the sugar and a little framboise, because I like it.

I was a little nervous about making the biscuit dough as directed in the recipe. Many of my fellow TDW'ers reported that they were disappointed with it. But, since it was an integral part of the finished product, I did do it Dorie's way. I had to add some extra cream to my dough, because it was a little too crumbly. I also added 2 tablespoons of light brown sugar, a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of ground cardamom as well. Before I baked the cobbler, I brushed a tiny bit of cream and sprinkled some raw turbinado sugar on top of the crust.

I have to say that this cobbler rocked! The fruit was the perfect balance of tart and sweet. The berries were really soft and juicy, but Not mushy. The crust was fabulous. I loved the texture. It was crunchy, yet tender at the same time. The cinnamon and cardamom flavors were subtle, but definitely evident. I think that they really added a little something extra to that crust, which was the perfect backdrop for those gorgeous berries!
My cobbler was served with some honey vanilla ice cream on the side, though I was secretly wishing that I had some creme fraiche to top it with. I think that the ice cream kind of "drowned out" the flavors of the cobbler. Since I definitely plan to make this dish again, I'll have to remember that for next time.

Although we have decided, as a group, not to reprint Dorie's recipes from the book in our posts anymore, this one can be found online here. So, if you even remotely like what you see here, click on over, get the recipe (or buy the book) and MAKE. THIS. NOW!!!

My thanks to Beth from Our Sweet Life for choosing this terrific recipe for us this week. If you'd like to see lots more beautiful and luscious cobblers, go and check out the TWD blogroll.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summertime an' the Livin' is Easy

Living in Florida, I know first hand how oppressive the Summer heat can be. When it's 98 in the shade, the last thing anyone wants to do is slave over a hot stove - myself included! Since we still have to eat, I'm always looking for meal ideas that require a minimal amount of cooking, or better yet, no cooking at all. Simplicity is the magic word here. Those are the times that I toss together a big salad, throw some protein on top and call it a day.

I did just that last night. I made what I like to call a "Kitchen Sink" Salad. I call it that because when I make it, I clean out the vegetable bin in my fridge and raid my pantry and mix it all together. A lot of people underestimate salads. They view them as boring. Sure, a wedge of iceberg lettuce drowning in Hidden Valley Ranch with a few slices of anemic tomatoes is not the most exciting thing in the world, but who says that's all a salad can be? When I make a "Kitchen Sink" Salad, I literally use everything but the kitchen sink! There is no recipe for it and the ingredients are different every time. Just use your imagination and create with reckless abandon!
For this salad, I started with an Italian salad mix from the market that had romaine, radicchio and some leaf lettuce in it. I added some leftover steamed green beans and boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, diced red onion, black olives, diced cucumber and some beautiful tomatoes from the farmers's market. I also had an old can of artichoke bottoms lying around, so I diced them up and put them in too. I opened a few cans of red sockeye salmon and mixed it with some extra-virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice and dumped it right on top. Then, I dressed it all with a light vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar, dijon mustard, olive oil, roasted almond oil, salt and pepper.
I love adding fruit, nuts and seeds to my salads too. Many times, I will toss in blueberries, strawberries or orange slices, as well as walnuts, almonds or toasted sunflower seeds. The point is that anything goes. As long as you like it, that's all that matters.

Another thing that goes well with a great salad is soup. Don't you roll your eyes at me! Obviously, spending hours in the kitchen making a bouillabaisse from scratch kind of defeats the purpose, but I'm not proposing that. I'm not talking about opening a can either. What I am talking about are some quick and easy summer soups that require little or no cooking and can even be served chilled. All of these soups can be made in advance too.
One of the most popular soups that fits in this category is gazpacho. Gazpacho is a Spanish-style soup that sort of resembles a chunky, liquid salad. It has lots of fresh, raw vegetables suspended in a broth of puréed tomatoes or tomato juice. In the summertime when all of the vegetables are at their peak, this simple chilled soup is full of zesty and refreshing flavors. There are a myriad of excellent variations for gazpacho, but one of the recipes that I like best is Ina Garten's from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. It's fresh, chunky, tomatoey and absolutely delicious! I like to jazz it up a little with some diced jalapeno, fresh lime juice and a dash of Tabasco.
Another one of my favorite summer soups is, again, from Ina Garten. I've posted about her Zucchini Vichyssoise before, but it definitely deserves another mention. Even though this soup does require some cooking, the recipe is pretty easy and takes less than an hour to prepare. It is also one that can be served hot or cold, so it makes a great leftover dish too. It is a wonderfully velvety, elegant and satisfying summer soup.
The final summer soup that I want to tell you about is one that I have served both as a brunch dish and a dessert. It is a smooth, creamy and sumptuous Strawberry Soup. This is probably the quickest and easiest to make of the three and it is amazing! Fresh, ripe strawberries are blended with yogurt, sour cream, lime juice and honey. The result is a cross between a rich mousse and a smoothie. Sublime!
The next time you just can't bear the thought of turning on your oven or simmering for hours, don't despair. You need not go hungry! Whip up your own "Kitchen Sink" Salad and one of these quick and delicious summer soups and you're good to go. And, while you're doing it, you can listen to a little mood music courtesy of yours truly. Here is a recording of a jazz arrangement I wrote of Summertime by George Gershwin. Hope you like it!

Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten

1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 large, ripe tomatoes
1 red onion
1 jalapeno, split in half and seeded
3 garlic cloves, minced
24 ounces tomato juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Tabasco sauce to taste

Roughly chop the cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess.

After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add Tabasco to taste. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.

Serves 6

Zucchini Vichyssoise
Adapted from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon good olive oil
5 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts
4 cups chopped unpeeled white boiling potatoes
3 cups chopped zucchini
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock or canned broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
Fresh chives or julienned zucchini, for garnish

Rinse leeks well with cold water. They can be very sandy. Pat with paper towels to dry.

Heat the butter and oil in a large stockpot, add the leeks, and saute over medium-low heat for 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes, zucchini, chicken stock, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil; then lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes and then process through a food mill fitted with the medium disc. Add the cream and season to taste.

Serve either cold or hot, garnished with chopped chives and/or zucchini.

Serves 6

Sumptuous Strawberry Soup
1 pound fresh strawberries
1/4 granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt or regular yogurt, strained
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sour cream or creme fraiche
2-3 tablespoons honey, to taste

Wash and cut the strawberries and place in a bowl. Sprinkle sugar and lime juice over berries. Toss and let macerate for about 30 minutes.

Put the strawberries in the bowl of a food processor and process until the strawberries are pureed. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until smooth.

Cover and refrigerate a few hours until chilled.
Serves 4

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Roasted Peach Ice Cream


When you live in a part of the world where there really is no distinct change of seasons, you come to rely on certain signs to tell you when one is slipping into the next. For me, one of the harbingers of Summer is when I see little roadside stands overflowing with freshly picked Georgia peaches popping up along our suburban roads.

Whenever I do come across one, it's hard for me to drive on by. I always have to stop and check it out. I'm usually rewarded with ripe, plump, sweet and juicy little orbs of peachy goodness. The problem is that I end up buying way more than my small family can eat, and they start going bad before we can use them up. When that happens, I dig into my bag of tricks and pull out a "peachy keen" recipe for them. Sometimes, it's a cobbler or a crisp. Sometimes, a pie or a tart. And sometimes, a muffin or a cake. This last time, however, it was a rich and creamy roasted peach ice cream.
If you have never eaten a roasted peach, you are missing out. When sprinkled with a little sugar and roasted, peaches get all sticky, gooey and caramelized. Their sweetness intensifies threefold. They're delicious served with some spiced whipped cream or creme fraiche, or used as a dessert topping. When churned in to a luscious homemade ice cream, they reach new heights of gloriousness!

To roast the peaches, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Pit and halve the peaches, and toss them in some white or brown sugar. Then, place them on a baking sheet, cut side down. Roast them for about thirty to forty minutes, until they are really soft and the skins are brown. After they've cooled, remove the skins and chop them roughly. Reserve in a container until you're ready to use them. Make sure you scrape out every bit of the syrupy juice from the baking sheet too.
This ice cream is very easy to prepare. The recipe for the ice cream base does not include eggs, so there's no tempering to deal with. It is virtually foolproof. Plus, you can also make it using other stone fruits like nectarines or apricots as well. I also like to add a few tablespoons of some kind of liqueur to my ice creams. The reason I do this is so that the ice cream doesn't get rock hard in the freezer. For this recipe, I added a little white peach liqueur. This is strictly optional.

The next time you have some peaches hanging around threatening to spoil, try making some Roasted Peach Ice Cream. I promise you won't be disappointed!
Mike over at Mike's Table is hosting a new event called You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Frozen Desserts! He's calling for food bloggers to create some delicious, summery frozen desserts, so I'm sending this one his way.

Roasted Peach Ice Cream
Adapted from Alton Brown
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup peach preserves
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
Pinch kosher salt
4-6 medium roasted peaches
Combine all ingredients, except the peaches, in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Attach a candy thermometer to inside of pan. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to 170 degrees F. Remove from heat and strain into a lidded container. If you do not have a thermometer, bring the mixture just barely to a simmer. As soon as you see a bubble on the surface, remove it from the heat.

Cool the mixture, then refrigerate it overnight.

Freeze mixture in an ice cream machine according to unit's instructions. Once the volume has increased by 1/2 and reached a soft serve consistency, add the peaches and continue turning to incorporate. Spoon the mixture back into a lidded container and harden in the freezer at least 1 hour before serving.
Makes 1 quart
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Top Chef Finale: All Hail the Queen or Ding, Dong, the Witch is Gone


Well folks, it's been a long and bumpy road, but we've finally reached the end. Top Chef Season 4 is no more. In last night's bittersweet Finale, Stephanie Izard was crowned the new (and first female) Top Chef! It was bitter because, while I was thrilled for Steph, I couldn't help but feel so sad for Richard. Both of them were worthy of the title and coming into the Finale, either of them could have taken it.

Unfortunately, whether due to nerves or over-analyzing, Richard, in his own words "choked". While he produced a fantastic and inspired meal, there were elements of it that just didn't impress the judges enough to tip the scales in his favor - and he knew it. The look on his face at the Judges' Table was heartbreaking. He was crushed!
Stephanie, on the other hand, kept on an even keel the whole way through. She was calm and cool, carefully and methodically creating the meal that would change her life. It wasn't a mindblowingly spectacular performance, but it was enough under the circumstances to garner the win. Who knows how things would have turned out if Richard had been a little more focused in the kitchen. All I can say is THANK GOD THAT NASTY B*TCH LISA DIDN'T WIN!

Let's go back to the beginning, shall we? As the episode opens, all three finalists talk about what being Top Chef means to them and why they should win, blah, blah, blah. They then are summoned to meet with Padma and Chef Tom, where they find that there will be no Quickfire Challenge. Instead, they are greeted by three celebrated, world-class chefs, Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin) , April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig) and Dan Barber (Blue Hill), who are each standing behind a huge pile of celebrated, world-class proteins. It seems that each of the Finalists is to be paired with one of the Chefs and their aforementioned proteins, from which their menus will be derived. Each chef will act as a sous chef for the Finalist they are with.
Stephanie gets to pick first and she chooses Chef Ripert (Duh! Who wouldn't?). Richard looks a little nauseous over this and he selects Chef Barber, leaving Chef Bloomfield for the other one whose name I have blotted out of my mind.

Chef Tom explains that their final challenge is to create a four-course tasting menu for nine diners starting with fish, moving to poultry, then red meat, and finishing with dessert. Dessert? WTF? I don't remember dessert being required in any of the previous Finales, do you? Stephanie is definitely not happy about that development! (Ya know, instead of traipsing all over Asia, it might have been a good idea to get a few simple dessert recipes under your belt - just in case, Steph. I'm just sayin'.)

Anyway, Stephanie decides that her menu is going to present simple, clean, fresh flavors. Richard's food is going to reflect his culinary journey from where he's been to where he's going. Too bad that they're both the same place! "The Other One" is going with a totally Asian menu with big and bold Thai and Vietnamese flavors, cuz that's what she does best. Big surprise! Wasn't she the one who called Dale a one trick pony for relying so heavily on Asian dishes?

On Day 1, things are moving right along for the Finalists and their "sous chefs". Then, on Day 2, the inevitable wrench is thrown in the works. Tom Collichio strolls in and announces that all three of the sous chefs have "called in sick" and will not be coming to help anymore. Ack!!! Oh, shit!!! This is NOT good news. All three Finalists suddenly look like they've been bashed in the head with a meat mallet. But, with even less than no time to spare, they press on. This is where Richard really starts to lose it.

Finally, it is dinner time and the judges' panel is gathered round the table with some famous Puerto Rican chef whose name escapes me right now, and none other than Tim Zagat. Now, I don't have to tell you who HE is, do I?

So, here's the menu du jour...............

First Course - Fish:

Stephanie: Red Snapper, Truffled Clam and Asparagus Broth and Asparagus Salad

Richard: Scallop with Mango and Pineapple Vinegar

The Other One: Grilled Prawns with Chili Basil Sauce and Crab and Homemade Potato Chips

The judges liked all three, but Steph and The Other One seemed to be the favorites.

Second Course - Poultry:

Stephanie: Seared Quail Breast over Lobster Ravioli with Mango-Lobster Sauce and Quail Egg

Richard: Guinea Hen, Chicken Egg, Foie Gras and Spring Vegetables. He calls it "Which Came First?".

The Other One: Tom Kha Gai Soup with Dumplings

The judges really liked Stephanie's' dish except for the undercooked leeks on the plate. Richard got props for the "whimsical" nature of his dish, but the judges were otherwise underwhelmed. The Other One's soup was a huge hit and won the round.

Third Course - Meat:

Stephanie: Lamb with Maitaike Mushrooms, Braised Pistachios, Blackberry and Olive Tapenade

Richard: Pickled Radishes, Mirin Broth and Pork Belly

The Other One: Wagyu Beef with Chayote and Cucumber Salad, Hot Sauce and Garlic Chips

Richard's pork belly was pretty much a flop. The judges thought it was under seasoned and not crispy enough. The other One's wagyu was just meh. Stephanie's lamb dish was a triumph! The judges admit that they were skeptical about it when they saw it on the menu, but they absolutely loved it.

Fourth Course - Dessert:

Stephanie: Ricotta Pound Cake with Tropical Fruit and Banana Creme

Richard: Banana "Scallop" with Bacon Ice Cream

The Other One: Thai Black Rice Pudding with Lime and Mango Cream, Taro and Toasted Coconut

The judges didn't care for Stephanie's cake. I don't blame them. It was beneath her. They did like The Other One's pudding and gave points for it's originality and tastiness. (Uh oh! I don't think I like where this is heading!) They also loved Richard's dessert combo.
At the Judges' Table, it is painfully clear that this has become a contest between Stephanie and The Other One. Poor Richard just stands there hanging his head. After deliberating into the wee hours, they reach a decision. The new Top Chef is.........Drumroll please........Stephanie! Woohoo!!!
That's all there is, and there ain't no more.
Now, for the other moment you've all been waiting for - our final Giveaway Winners! If you recall, I've saved some special prizes for this last giveaway. Word must get around, because the number of comments this week were the highest yet. So, without further ado, the winners are as follows:

The winner of this uber chic Top Chef apron designed by Laura Bennett from Project Runway is......Grace from A Southern Grace! Congratulations, Grace. I know you will love this. I'm going to have a hard time parting with it!

The winner of this first edition/first printing Top Chef cookbook autographed by Dave Martin, Betty Fraser and C.J. Jacobsen is......Brad from Bone in the Fan. Congratulations, Brad! I'm so glad your wife led you in my direction!
If both of you lucky winners will email your snail mail addresses to me at stickygooeycreamychewy AT gmail DOT com, I'll get your prizes out to you pronto.
I just want to take a moment to thank all of you fabulous readers who made this Top Chef journey with me this season. Even though I can't give prizes to everyone, you're all winners in my book. I've enjoyed every comment and the chance to get to know some of you better. Although Top Chef is over for now, I hope that you will continue to visit me here in SGCC Land. I promise you won't be disappointed!
Ciao for now!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesdays with Dorie: La Palette's StrawberryTart


*Note: My Internet was out since 9:00 this morning and I just got back online about 15 minutes ago! My apologies for posting this so late. It couldn't be helped.

I have to admit that I wasn't all too excited to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, La Palette's Strawberry Tart. Not because I have anything against strawberry tarts. I happen to like them very much. And not because I don't think it's a good recipe, because it is a very good one. The reason for my reluctance is because of the timing of this challenge. Here in Florida, strawberry season has been over for months. The only fresh strawberries we have access to are shipped in from California. California strawberries are undeniably tasty, but we don't usually get the really good, ripe and sweet ones until later in the season.
I thought about what other fresh fruits I might substitute in this recipe. After a search mission at the market, I was a little disappointed. The strawberries were okay, but they still had that bland, watery taste. The peaches and nectarines were hard as rocks. The apricots were sour, as were the raspberries and blackberries. The cherries were not quite dark and plump enough yet. I picked up some strawberries, blackberries and cherries and crossed my fingers, hoping that with enough sugar and shots of booze, they would turn out to be sweet, juicy and delicious!

I sliced my berries and pitted my cherries. Then, I left them and the blackberries to macerate in their own sugar/liqueur baths. I added Chambord to the strawberries, cassis to the cherries and blackberry brandy to the blackberries. It worked! All three of the fruits soaked up enough of their respective cocktails to make very respectable tart fillings.
Dorie's original recipe yields one large tart that is sliced and then dressed with fruit. I decided to make little tartlets so that everyone could choose their own fruits to fill theirs with. I also felt that the tartlets would act like small containers and hold the fruit and juice in better. I topped the tartlets with a dollop of sweetened creme fraiche (after all, they are French), and the merest hint of freshly ground black pepper. (Ooh La La!)

I made my tartlets using Dorie's Sweet Tart Dough, which I've always had good results with. No problems this time either. I did add an extra egg yolk because I felt the dough wasn't moist enough.

I tasted all three kinds of the tartlets, (I had to. Don't judge me!) and I can't decide which I liked best. They were all good. I think I would have enjoyed them more if they also had some kind of a cream filling, but that wasn't part of this recipe. Maybe next time!
If you'd like to try this tart, the original recipe can be found on page 374 in Baking: From My Home to Yours and on Serious Eats. My thanks go out to Marie of A Year from Oak Cottage for selecting this week's recipe. Please be sure to check out the TWD blogroll to see what delicious takes on this tart the others have come up with.