Friday, October 30, 2009

Lamb Shanks and Pumpkin Carving!

My friends, Matt & Cody, had a 4-pack of frozen lamb shanks in their freezer that Cody's mom had given them several months back (thanks Sandi!). We have been talking about braising them for months and finally put my lamb skills to the test yesterday. Matt brought the lamb over and I thawed it in my fridge on Wednesday. Once it was thawed, I marinated it in a mixture of olive oil, dijon mustard, lemon Juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper.

I let it marinate all day in the fridge, and then started the braising. I browned the shanks in a large, hot cast iron pot. There were 4 shanks, so I browned them on all sides, two at a time, in olive oil and reserved them on a plate. Next I added 2 medium sweet onions, quartered and broken apart, and let those sauté until they began to soften. I tossed in about 15-20 cloves of garlic (peeled and smashed) and 1 1/2–2 cups of carrots (peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces) and let that cook for another 5–7 minutes. I deglazed the pan with red wine, scraping up all the flavorful brown bits, then added the rest of the wine (I used a bottle of Shiraz), 2 cups of water, 2 packets each of chicken broth concentrate and beef broth concentrate (available at Whole Foods Market), about 1/4 cup each of chopped fresh rosemary and thyme leaves, the juice and zest of 1 lemon and one 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes with their juice. I returned the shanks to the pan, pressing them down to submerge them and brought the pot to a boil. Then I reduced the heat to medium-low, covered and allowed to braise for about 3 hours.

The meat was tender and falling off the bone and the flavors were amazing! The citrus and herbs really added a depth and kept the meat from tasting remotely gamey. Our friend Erin, who has a self proclaimed dislike for lamb, was convinced to take a small taste. She asked for a second bite, need I say more. The lamb paired nicely with a beautiful bottle of Cabernet. (Thanks Erin!)

We ended the night with a fabulous glass of port that I had left from my birthday and pumpkin carving. Good food, good friends and good wine... that is what it's all about!

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Very Own Pumpkin Spice Cake

Researched, tested and crowd approved! This pumpkin cake recipe is a keeper. It is moist and full of flavor... and the calorie count isn't too bad either — only about 275 calories in a slice! Gotta love baking with low fat buttermilk, you'll never miss the extra fat.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin*
1 cup low fat buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 light brown sugar
2 large eggs
canola oil spray

1/4 cup low fat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 — 2 cups confectioners' sugar

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350ºF. Spray bundt pan lightly with canola spray and set aside.

Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin*, 1 cup buttermilk and vanilla.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on high — until light in color and fluffy (about 3 – 5 minutes). Add eggs and beat another minute. Reduce speed to low and alternate adding flour and pumpkin mixtures (be sure to start and end with flour). Mix until just comined and smooth.

Pour batter into pan, smooth out the top and bake 50 — 55 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan for about 15 minutes, then invert onto a rack and allow to cool completely.

While the cake cools, whisk together buttermilk, cinnamon and vanilla. Add enough powdered sugar to make the icing pourable, but not runny. Pour over cake and allow to harden slightly.

Serves 12

* Cooks Note:
I used Farmer's Market Brand organic canned pumpkin from Whole Foods Market for most of the cakes I made. I did substitute a different brand for a couple cakes and notice that the pumpkin was much thicker and had a lot less moisture content and those cakes fell somewhat after cooling due to lack of liquid. If you notice that the pumpkin you are using is really firm and the mixture of pumpkin, buttermilk and vanilla is thick like a batter itself, add more buttermilk to make the consistency more like a thin milkshake that pours easily.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Moment of Silence for Gourmet Magazine

I am in shock over the closing of one of my favorite food publications. I somehow missed the announcement in all my rushing around the last couple weeks and just heard the news today. After 60 years, Gourmet will be no more once the November 2009 issue is released. Such a tremendous loss for the "Foodie" community. I always looked to Gourmet for the outstanding writing and photography. There was something timeless and inspiring about flipping through the pages each month. Gourmet will be sorely missed by this foodie — no doubt about it.

When Life Gives You Tomatoes...

... make Tomato Focaccia!

Wow, what a fun but exhausting weekend! Thursday and Friday I baked 5 Pumpkin cakes and 10 pans of fresh tomato focaccia for an event at Tierra Miguel farm. Unfortunately my oven malfunctioned on Friday just as I was getting ready to bake and I had to relocate to my friend's kitchen. Somehow, I managed to get it all done and make it to the event. Both items came out beautifully and were a big hit!

My focaccia dough is a simple and versatile dough. In addition to focaccia, you can it for pizza, stuff small pieces of it with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes or pesto and fried it in olive oil or even make it into loaves. The generous amount of olive oil gives it a wonderful flavor.

Fresh Tomato-Olive Oil Focaccia
1 1/3 cups luke warm water
1 (1/4 oz) package dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for the pan and for topping
4–4 1/4 cups all purpose or bread flour
1 tablespoon sea salt plus extra for topping
2–3 fresh, ripe tomatoes, sliced and seeded

In a large bowl, whisk together water, yeast and sugar. Allow to proof (3-5 minutes). Add oil and mix well. Add 1 cup of the flour and the salt and mix until smooth. Gradually add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead, adding as little flour as necessary, until it comes together and is satiny and elastic (bout 5 minutes). The dough should be moist, but not sticky or wet. It should not stick to a clean finger.

Place the dough in a large, clean, unoiled bowl and cover with a clean tea towel. Let rise in a warm non-drafty place until doubles in size (about 1 1/2 hours). Punch down. Rub a thin coat of olive oil onto a rectangular baking sheet and stretch the dough out onto the sheet. Make dimples in the dough with your fingers and rub top with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Cover the top with sliced tomatoes and sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Bake in a 375º oven for about 30-35 minutes.

Unfortunately in all the madness, I didn't get any pictures of the finished focaccia. You'll have to give it a try and see for yourself. Pumpkin cake recipe (and more) to come, so stay tuned.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Strawberrry-White Chocolate Mousse Cake

My friend Skylar and I baked a fabulous cake last Sunday based on a recipe in her favorite cookbook that is all about chocolate. Skylar is quite the little baker for a 6th grader — she has lots of talent in the kitchen and is a ton of fun to cook and bake with.

I tweaked the recipe a little as we went, so this is our own version. White chocolate can be temperamental to work with, so be cautious when melting it and combining it with other ingredients. Buying high-quality chocolate is important. Once white chocolate begins to separate (solids and milk fat pull apart and it looks curdled), it can be next to impossible to smooth it back out. This happened to us when we were making the filling, but we were able to smooth it out with a touch more cream. It wasn't perfect in appearance, but once the cake was assembled, it was hardly noticeable and the taste was still fantastic.

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

9 ounces white chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons strawberry preserves
2 pints fresh strawberries, sliced

2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup strawberry preserves
1/2 pint strawberries, some sliced, some whole for decoration

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and flour two 9-inch layer cake pans. Melt chocolate and cream in a double boiler over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in milk and vanilla and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and creamy — about 3 to 5 minutes — making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Alternately, add flour and melted chocolate to the egg mixture in batches until blended. Pour mixture evenly into pans.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Make the mousse filling. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate and cream until smooth. stir in strawberry preserves. Transfer to a bowl and allow to chill until just set. Whip with an electric mixer just until fluffy and strong enough to spread.

Assemble the cake. Spread half of mousse filling on each cake. On one of the cakes, generously layer sliced strawberries. Invert other cake on top of the one with the strawberries so that layers consist of cake, mousse, strawberries, mousse, cake.

Make icing. With an electric mixer, whip together cream, vanilla and preserves until firm peaks are formed. Spread icing evenly over cake. Used excess icing to decorate. You can use pastry bag, or simply add dollops of icing with a spoon and top them with sliced strawberries. Decorate cake with remaining strawberries as you desire.


Serves 10

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes

Last week, I found myself with an abundance of tomatoes again. Friday, I had to make a decision on what I was going to do with them, so I decided to can them with garlic and fresh basil. I was juggling work and canning all afternoon. Thank goodness my office is strategically placed near the kitchen just for such occasions.

This was a super-simple preparation. Blanche, peel and chop the tomatoes. In a large stock pot, add enough olive oil and sliced garlic to coat the bottom of the pot. In total, I used about 2 heads of garlic, some sliced, some grated to a paste and reserved for later.

Sautée garlic until just golden and add tomatoes and garlic paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Season with salt to taste and add several handfuls of fresh basil in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Stay tuned for Gumbo and White Chocolate-Strawberry Mousse Cake recipes from my weekend cooking and baking adventures!