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Saturday, March 26, 2011

~The Other Other Toaster Pastry~ ...needs no introduction for deliciousness!

This past week I've been pretty swamped with various responsibilities and I haven't had too much time to cook anything interesting... So! In the spirit of tight scheduling and delicious breakfast treats, I thought I'd write up a little something sweet, flaky AND quick!

~Rubied Honey Toaster Pastry~
Crust recipe adapted from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook 

1 Lbs organic strawberries
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 Tablespoon brandy (optional)
1/4 Cup baker's sugar
2 Cups amber honey

1 Cup all-purpose flour
1 Cup pastry flour
6 oz cold butter
2 Tablespoons bakers Sugar
Pinch cardamom (optional)
Pinch salt
1/2 Cup ice-cold water

Egg Wash

SPECIAL TOOLS - Blender/Food Processor
                               Pastry Brush

Yield: 8 -10 Toaster Pastries

Just a quick note before we begin:  This recipe is a total scratch version and has a few steps but it can easily be made with store bought pie crust.  The filling can also be made from honey and your favorite jams, jellies or preserves.  Where there's a will there is a way and where there's a time shortage, there are ways to shorten the work!  Isn't food fun?

Begin by making pastry dough.

 Sift together your flours, sugar, salt and cardamom.  Since this dough is much sweeter than standard, I like to cut it with a little bit of spice for complexity as much as the actual spice flavor.  I'm a bit of a cardamom freak so I use it every chance I get but maybe try ginger, cinnamon or even something unusual like grains of paradise!

Now for the butter!  I like to follow the example set by Alton Brown and grate the butter into the flour with a large grater.  Using this particular method works best because you can cut the coldest butter into the smallest shavings in the least amount of time.  The butter has less time to warm up at room temperature and is much easier to work in in the time you've got.

Start with 4 oz of butter.  Work the shavings into the flour mixture by pressing it between your palms or thumb and fingers.  Repeat the process with the remaining butter.  The idea here is that you're making sheets and flattened ribbons.  These sheets of flour/butter/flour/butter/flour (just like in a delicious warm croissant... I'm hungry now...) are what gives the desired flaky-but-tender texture.  Adding the butter in two stages further develops the layers and sheets.  Properly worked, it should resemble crumbly meal with just a few pea sized pieces of butter intact.  

Next, add your water in parts, tossing and turning the flour mixture with a silicone spatula (or your fingers) as you go to ensure even moistening.  When the crumbly dough passes the Wall Test for proper moisture, transfer the lot to a floured working surface and knead once if needed to bring dough together. Divide it in half and form it into 1" thick disks, wrap them tightly in ceran, and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to rest. This dough can be stored for up to 8 weeks in the refrigerator.


While the pie crust chills out in the fridge, prepare the rubied honey filling!

Wash your berries thoroughly and cut the cores and stems out with a very sharp paring knife or strawberry cutter.  Toss whole, cleaned berries along with citrus juice, sugar, and brandy into a food processor or large capacity blender and pulse them a few times to chop fairly fine but not to puree completely.  I like to leave some chunks for tanginess in the end product but it isn't strictly necessary.

Pour the fruit blend into a medium sauce pot and bring it to a moderate simmer for 10 minutes.  This will help cook off the alcohol and bring up the fruit notes and sweetness.  Remove the pot from heat and cool your sauce over an ice bath to room temp.  Set aside.

In another pot over medium heat bring your honey just to a simmer for 30 seconds.  Amber honey is what I like for this but you can also use darker or lighter honeys depending on taste.  Darker honey will give you a more robust flavor but can muffle the berries more than a lighter variety.
Once the honey is nice and hot, pour in the fruit sauce and stir to combine.  Return the mixture to a simmer and cook 1 - 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and ice bath the mixture once more to cool completely.  This filling and spread will keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator up to 1 month.

Once you've got all of your ingredients and parts prepared, get ready to assemble!
Preheat your oven to 350f and center a rack for baking.

On a well floured working surface, roll out your dough in a rectangle shape to just under 1/8" thickness.  Because the two crusts are so close and the filling, by nature of the product, is fairly thin you want to roll these out a tiny bit thinner than you would for a full fledged pie.  Still, if you're a big crust fan the more the better!  Trim the edges, cut the sheets into 8 - 10 rectangles and set them aside.

Assemble your pastries and get ready to bake!  Drop about a tablespoon (depending on how large the pastries will be) in the center of one square and spread it to about 1/2" from the side.  Egg wash the edges, place another square over the top and fork to seal them then  take a sharp paring knife and make 5 vent holes in the surface so they don't puff up too much and burn.  If too much steak gets trapped the inside can stay soggy while the outside gets too brown so venting is just as important when making these as with pies!

Place the pastries on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake off at 350f for 16 - 18 minutes until the edges are nice and golden and the tops feel done to the touch.  Cool on a wire rack and serve warm!

These are all kinds of fun to make.  I think that what tickles me so much is... *sigh* ...a bit of a "stick it to the man" feeling about making things rather than buying them...  I've been on a self sufficiency kick lately making all my own bread, growing as much food as I can at home and really looking in to raising chickens and possibly bees so it feels nice to take anything off the grocery list!
The other part that makes these great is that they're a good way to make yourself (and possibly the kids) eat something for breakfast when you don't want to make anything but maybe coffee. These little guys can be kept wrapped in parchment in an air tight container in the fridge then, as the name suggests, popped in the toaster to heat!

Just like pies, toaster pastry are nearly infinitely mixed and matched with when it comes to recipes. Whole fruit, fruit purees, nuts and raisins, cinnamon sugar, chocolate even savory fillings like chicken or cheese for appetizers and hors d'Ĺ“uvres...   Practically anything you like can be put inside a sweet or savory shell.  You can even add strong flavors to the crusts like more spices, chocolate powder, stocks and broths...  I could use up all of my allotted data usage in one post if I went on too much further!  Go out and give it a shot!  I have a feeling you won't be disappointed with the results.  Keep on Experimenting!


Friday, March 4, 2011

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Hey everyone!  Just putting my blog up on bloglovin so you can follow me there soon!  Thanks for reading and happy kitchening!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

~Roast Twice, Marinara Once~ My own version of a favorite tomato sauce

Whenever I find myself making dinner for friends and family, one of my biggest fall back recipes is my own version of Chicken Scallopini with lots of sage and Gruyere cheese!  One of the things that really brings in the complements with said chicken is the savory red marinara in which the meat is finished.  During the final cooking, the flavors blend and yield a really wonderful sauce!  I was thinking the other week "why can I not just make the sauce without the chicken?"  As it turns out...

~Roasted Tomato Marinara~

2 Lbs ripe Tomatoes (Romas work well)
3 Cloves roasted garlic
1 Bunch basil leaves (about 8 medium leaves)
2 Medium sage leaves, chopped or whole
2-3 Sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 C off dry white wine, such as a Riesling
1/3 C organic chicken stock
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
EV olive oil for coating
Ground black pepper
1 Tablespoons sugar (optional)

SPECIAL TOOLS - Aluminum Foil
                                Blender or Food Processor
                                Large Cast Iron Pan

Yield: About 2 1/2 Cups

For this round I wanted to try something a bit different so instead of using canned, stewed tomatoes, I roasted fresh tomatoes with olive oil and basil for a more robust flavor change. Feel free to use canned or even stew your own to see which suits your tastes best if the roastiness isn't for you.

Start by roasting your tomatoes and garlic.  Preheat oven to 350f and center a rack in the oven for roasting.

Peel any loose skin from one large garlic bulb then, with a very sharp knife (never knew how sturdy those things were before the first time I tried this,) cut about 1/2" from the top, just enough to expose most of the cloves, and place in a small dish.  Try to select a bulb for this that is longer than wider so you can expose more of the cloves without cutting it too thin.

Drizzle a small amount (about 1 1/2 teaspoons) of olive oil over the top of the bulb and let it sit until you're ready with the tomatoes.
I like the timing of this recipe's timing because you can roast everything in the same oven and all the ingredients come out the right temp when you need them!

Now for the tomatoes!

I like to use Roma tomatoes, red wine tomatoes, or a mix of different Heirlooms when the Farmer's Market is up and they're in season.  For me, heirlooms take better to being roasted whereas Romas are the best for stewing.  Now to work...
Slice your tomatoes in two equal pieces width wise, taking care to cut pieces that are all about the same size for even cooking.  Chiffonade your basil leaves and toss into a bowl with tomatoes, oil, salt and pepper then toss to coat evenly.  Arrange the tomatoes cut side up in your cast iron pan and set aside.  Dont worry if they're crowded and bunched up as they will shrink while they cook.
Now take your garlic that has been soaking and wrap with aluminum foil.  Wrap it up tight so any juices don't run out and powder coat the bottom plate of your oven.  I like to make a little aluminum foil boat just to be safe.

Place both pan and garlic into the oven to roast.  The tomatoes will roast for a full 45-55 minutes but remove the garlic after only 25 minutes, letting it cool at room temp until the tomatoes are done.

When the tomatoes are done to your liking remove them from the oven and let them rest about 5 minutes so when you blend them, they wont explode all over the place from the heat
and steam...  Always be wary of placing hot things, especially liquids into a blender or processor.


Bringing back the science!  Feels good to be back!  Short notes this time but that's all right.  Lets get to it!
If you watch enough food network, or if you've had the personal misfortune of first hand experience, you will know that putting hot liquid in a blender is a poor decision at the best of times...  Hot liquid explosion and high likelihood of severe facial burns.  But why?  well... physics minds no mans law...

The Ideal Gas Law. Pressure x Volume = moles of gas x ideal gas constant x temperature (in kelvin)

When hot liquid is poured into a blender you have the start of a problem.  The liquid is high and deep having very little surface area and thus very little heat can escape.   Steam and other expanding gasses on the other hand is the far greater problem.  When the blender is turned on it creates a perfect storm of high heat and expanding gasses.  As the spinning blades pull hot liquid down to the center bottom of the carafe so do they pull down plenty of relatively cool, room temperature air.  The cooler air mixes with the nearly boiling liquid and jumps in temperature, expanding rapidly and creating quite a lot of pressure.  The rapid agitation also pumps plenty of energy into the liquid, releasing steam and compounding the welling pressure.  Quite similar to the reaction caused when you drop a mentos into diet cola, the pressure forming has no where to go but up and out, creating a small but relatively powerful explosion of boiling liquid, powerful enough to blow the lid off most blenders even when held in place with your hand.  No fun...

The best precaution to avoid this startling series of events is to remember to let any liquid cool for a short while and to never fill your blender or food processor more than half full.  Better safe than sorry when avoiding 2nd degree burns I say. 


Now that everything is cooled (but not cold) Place your tomatoes, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (feel free to use olive oil here as well.  I would venture to use the lighter flavor olive oil though) into the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to bring everything together into a more or less uniform mixture.  This depends a lot on your taste.  I like a chunkier sauce to be honest so I only pulse 2 or three times just until the garlic and sage are chopped and mixed in properly.

Now for the final step!

In a medium sauce pot over medium low heat combine chicken stock and white wine (I really like a good off dry Riesling for this particular recipe) then bring the liquid just barely to a simmer for about 2 minutes to knit the flavors.


Before I get too far, I want to stop to make a point about organic ingredients: Chicken stock is made from whole, often skin on vegetables, whole herbs, and whole chickens.

Organic apples at the local Farmer's Market

Whole foods have great health benefits but can hold in a few unpleasant secrets... the skins, roots, and leaves tend to be where any pesticides or other pollutants remain even after proper washing... and that is exactly where the flavors come from in stock. So when buying
or making stock, be wary of what might be in there... delicious, delicious organophosphates...


Turn up your heat to medium and pour in your tomato herb base then return the sauce to a moderate simmer. Cook uncovered to reduce the sauce by about one quarter, seasoning to your liking as you go (you can add a small amount of sugar here to cut the acidity if you like.)  Remove from heat and cool quickly over an ice bath to below 41f before refrigerating to retard any microbial activity and to prevent the sauce from warming the refrigerator. 

Marinara!  Huzzah for red sauce I say!  This particular recipe, as written, I think goes best with grilled chicken but the sky can be the limit with simple red sauce.  For this recipe, whatever kind of pasta, bread etc. you're using it for dictates the spices and herbs.  Given how many combinations are available...  see how many you can fit in in a life time!  Keep on experimenting!