Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strawberry-Hazelnut Cream Tart

I have taken to making goodies every week for my husband to take to work as dessert. Old-fashioned? Perhaps. A great excuse for me to experiment with every delicious-looking recipe from the plethora of cooking magazines that we subscribe to? Absolutely!

When I asked DH last week what he wanted, the response was, "something fruity". Given that strawberries have recently come into season in the Southern states, they are available at all of our local markets at ridiculously discounted prices compared to the rest of the year. Strawberries it was...but what to make? After flipping through the May Cooking Light, I decided on this Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart. Despite the name of the magazine, I have found that CL recipes can sometimes use a little tweaking in order to make me comfortable with them, and hello - my husband is going to be eating a piece of this every day after lunch, something to keep in mind when determining where to splurge!

The recipe below includes my substitutions. This recipe only uses half of the strawberry "topping", so if you don't want to have any leftover, you can cut that part in half.

Strawberry-Hazelnut Cream Tart
Adapted from Cooking Light

Crust 9 Sheets Reduced-Fat Graham Crackers (crushed)
2 T sugar
2 T Smart Balance (or similar)
4 tsp water
Cooking spray

2.5 oz. Fat-free cream cheese
2.5 oz. 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

6 cups small fresh strawberries (hulled)
1/2 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 T chopped toasted hazelnuts (we didn't have almonds so used hazelnuts, but either would be good)
Preheat oven to 350. To prepare crust, place all crust ingredients in a food processor and process until it comes together into a loose ball. Place the mixture in the bottom of a 9-inch tart pan lightly coated w/ cooking spray. Press the mixture into the bottom and slightly up the sides. Bake for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To prepare filling, combine cream cheeses, sugar and extracts in a medium bowl and stir until smooth. Spread mixture evenly over the cooled tart shell. To prepare filling, place 2 cups of strawberries in a food processor and puree until smooth. Combine the puree, sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir with a whisk. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken. Cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Combine the remaining strawberries with the lemon juice and toss to coat. Arrange the berries, bottoms up, in a circular pattern over the cream cheese filling. Spoon half of the strawberry glaze over the whole strawberries. Sprinkle nuts around the edges, cover and chill at least 3 hours (or overnight).

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pretzel Bites

My parents are coming today to visit for the weekend, and I wanted to make a bunch of snack-y little things to put out while we're catching up. I've used this recipe to make full-sized pretzels back when I was just getting into bread baking, and had great (if not very pretty) results. With the Superbowl last weekend, I had seen a few blogs that had these little pretzel bites, some stuffed and some not. I experimented with this batch and stuffed some of them with little cubes of smoked mozzarella, but between the boiling and baking, the stuffed ones didn't hold their shape and the cheese leaked out...not pretty. So, I stuck with the plain ones for what I will serve my parents. Along with replacing the butter with olive oil, I also cut this recipe in half, and ended up with over 2 dozen little bites. Actually, I ended up with about 30 little bites, but they looked so wonderful I couldn't resist snacking on a few!

Pretzel Bites

Adapated from Alton Brown

1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

In a small bowl, combine the water, sugar yeast, and allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour, salt and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then spray with olive oil spray. Return the dough to the bowl, toss to cover with the oil, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately one hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dutch Oven Herb Bread

I've seen a few recipes for this on blogs lately, and thanks to the amazing Dutch oven that I got from my in-laws for Christmas, I knew it was something I wanted to make! I looked through a few of the recipes, and decided on this one from Homemade by Holman, since after browsing through other recipes on her blog there wasn't one that didn't make my mouth water! She adapted her version a little from the Pioneer Woman's blog, and after looking at that version too, I decided on a combination of the two, with a little change of my own - olive oil instead of melted butter. Also, I only had fresh thyme, so that was the only herb I used and I added a little fresh cracked black pepper too, since I love the way it looks in white bread. This was so easy to make, and the end result is gorgeous! I haven't dug into it yet, since I want my husband to see how beautiful the finished product is, but it smells so good, I can't wait!

Dutch Oven Herb Bread
Adapted slightly from Homemade by Holman
and Pioneer Woman

4 cups bread flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
4-5 springs fresh thyme
1 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 tsp. active yeast
1 cup lukewarm water (my dough required more like 1 1/4 cups)

Combine yeast and water let sit while you measure the remaining ingredients. Chop herbs and garlic. Add flour, olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs and water/yeast mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix together, adding additional water 1 tablespoon at a time until all of the flour has been picked up and forms a ball. Knead about 10 minutes, or until dough passes the "windowpane test" (tear off a small piece of dough and stretch it, it should be somewhat translucent instead of tearing).

Spray a large bowl with olive oil spray, form the dough into a ball and place in bowl, tossing around to coat the bread. Cover with plastic and let rise for 1-4 hours until doubled in size. Mine was good to go after about 2 hours.

Spray a 6-8 quart dutch oven with more olive oil spray, and place it in the oven while it preheats to 450 degrees. Punch down dough and form into a smooth ball. Transfer the dough to the hot dutch oven (carefully)! Cut a large, deep "X" into the top of the dough. Cover and bake about 20 minutes. Remove lid and continue baking for about 15-25 more minutes until the top is crusty and light golden brown.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bitter Chocolate Tart

This is the dessert that I made when we hosted the in-laws for Christmas Eve dinner, and I've been meaning to post it ever since. It's from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano cookbook, which until Christmas had been my current favorite. Since I've received the Babbo cookbook, among others, for Christmas, I have to admit this one hasn't been feeling the love. However, there are a ton of great recipes and I would highly recommend the book to anyone. The recipe section of this book inspired me to buy a tart August. It sat in the closet unused until I decided to try this recipe out. I'm not very confident in the baking arena, and making my own crust seemed out my league. I was surprised by how easy it was, once I let go of my fear of butter and decided to bite the bullet - it WAS for Christmas after all! One thing though - this receipe says that it serves 8. There were 7 people are our dinner, and we barely ate 1/3 of this, it's so rich that a little goes a very long way.

Bitter Chocolate Tart
From Mario Batali's Molto Italiano
Serves 8

For the pastry
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
9 tbl. cold unsalted butter
1/4 vin santo (or other sweet dessert wine)

For the filling
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
10 1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
2 tbl. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. crushed anise seeds
1 tbl. anise liquor (I used Sambuca)

For the glaze
1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tsp. anise liquor
1 1/2 tbl. milk (or as needed)

To make the pastry, combine flour, salt, sugar and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With the processor running, add the vin santo and process until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten to a disk, wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Butter a 10-inch fluted (optional) tart pan. Roll out the chilled dough between sheets of plastic until you have a circle about 1/4 inch thick. Line the tart pan with the dough, trim off the excess and refrigerate 20-30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the bottom of the tart dough with a fork, and bake 12 minutes, or until just set. Set the shell aside, and reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

To make the filling, heat the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and add chocolate, stirring to melt. Transfer the chocolate to a bowl and set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and yolk together with the cocoa, then whisk the egg mixture into the cooled melted chocolate. Add the crushed anise seeds and anise liquor, and stir to combine. Pour the filling into the tart and bake for 15 minutes, or until the filling forms a shiny skin and is slightly firm, but just a little loose in the middle (in my oven, this took 19 minutes). Cool the tart in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove the sides and cool completely.

To make the glaze, combine the sugar, anise liquor and milk, and whisk until you have a thin, pourable consistency; add a few drops more of milk if needed. Place the glaze into a small ziplock bag, and cut of just the tiniest piece of one corner. Pipe the glaze onto the cooled tart in whatever fashion you like. Allow the glaze to harden (about 5 minutes) before serving.

This tart is so amazingly delicious, and this is from someone who doesn't really love anything anise flavored. I made a "test version" of it and brought it to my office where there are people who claim to hate anise, and they didn't even know it was there. It doesn't flavor the tart, but I think it's one of those ingredients that you can't put your finger on but would miss if it weren't there. It's certainly enough on it's own, but to dress it up for Christmas Eve, we served it with a little homemade cinnamon whipped cream. It was definitely a perfect way to end the meal.

Lighter Mac & Cheese

It's certainly that time of year when I'm craving a little "comfort" food, which for me doesn't usually includes things like Mac & Cheese. However, since receiving these adorable mini Le Cruset crocks at Christmas, I've been dying to make something gooey and cheesy in them! I apologize for the photo, I need some serious help when it comes to photographing food, which is one of my goals for the new year. Hopefully I'll get it together and start to take better photos like the beautiful photos in the all of the blogs that The Nest girls maintain.

Lighter Mac & Cheese
Created by me!
Serves 2

3/4 cup whole wheat penne pasta (or your favorite short cut pasta shape)
1/2 cup butternut squash, cut into a small dice
1/4 cup 1% milk
1 tbl. butter (I use Smart Balance sticks)
1/2 tbl. flour
1/2 cup reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese (plus more for topping)
1/2 cup lowfat or fat free cream cheese
2 tbl. breadcrumbs
Salt & Pepper to taste
Parsley for garnishing (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil, then add the squash and pasta and cook according to the directions for your pasta, draining a little shy of al dente. The squash should be softened. Place the drained pasta and squash back into the pasta pot over medium heat, add milk, butter and flour and stir until the flour has been absorbed and the milk is almost gone, about 2-3 minutes. Add the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper - stir to combine. Divide the mixture between two small oven-proof crocks, or one small baking dish. Top with additional cheese, if desired, then breadcrumbs. Spray the top with olive oil spray and bake 15-20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Sprinkle with parsley and serve...guilt free!