Monday, March 29, 2010

PARMESAN DINNER ROLLS

I KNEAD ME SOME LOVE AND COMFORT


Seven months have past since my brother left us and I am still stunned. As his birthday approaches, thoughts of him rush through my brain, memories of a big brother always there, a childhood and more full of adventures, highlights of my life. Lately summer visits to our grandparents’ house in Albany have been swirling around in my head, memories of badminton in the tiny backyard among Grandpa’s rose bushes, having to sneak into the upstairs neighbors’ apartment, terrified of being caught yet goaded on by my brother, to rescue a birdie that had strayed onto their balcony; forbidden trips down into the dusty, cobweb-draped basement, sunlight barely filtering through grimy windows, boxes piled high, spilling their jumble of treasures out onto the dirt floor, unlabeled bottles filled with mystery lining the stone walls, ghosts waiting around each corner, the musty, damp odor with me still; sneaking armloads of marshmallows and candy bars, contraband goods, into the tiny bedroom we shared, daring and exhilarating in our boldness, knowing that we would have to eat them in the dark, a nighttime picnic, so the parents and grandparents wouldn’t see light seeping out through the crack under the door, but then, in our excitement, tripping – him or I it is hard to remember – and our sweet treasure flying, forbidden fruit rolling under the beds and into deep, dark corners and spending the rest of the night on our hands and knees searching for our loot. Barbecues at cousin Sandra’s, eating clams for the first time followed by popsicles of chocolate and cherry under the brilliant burst of 4th of July fireworks. Ice cream trucks and real New York bagels and lox. Memories filled with laughter, lots of laughter.


And life goes on. My baby is leaving home this week, spreading his wings and happily leaving the nest, flying off to New Orleans. I know he’ll be doing great work, volunteering to help rebuild neighborhoods destroyed by Katrina, but he’s still my baby and he’ll be too far away. What will I do? #1 son is still at home but will be no consolation, sentimentality not his strong suit where mom is concerned, and he is so involved with his own life: working, working, working, excelling at school, he has also started a company on the side and already has several clients, has become, at the ripe old age of 21, a powerhouse, a bundle of energy and JP and I are thankful that it has finally arrived!


All this hot on the heels of a milestone birthday that also has me quite stunned – How in the world did I get this old? What happened to all those years? - I have been trying to deal with so many life-changing events. Sometimes I feel down, sometimes I feel the weight of the bad things in life, the unfairness, the swiftness of time passing. But sometimes we have to push all that aside, wrap it up in a box and bury it deep in the ground, and reach for something else, something different and exciting or something reassuring and motivating. Changes in life can lead to changes in goals, changes in mindset, changes tout court. And that is where I am now, what I am working on. Trying to readjust my blog to adapt to my new goals, preparing for Food Blogger Connect in June where I will be speaking about my passion: writing.


Things have changed in my life, but there are some constants, certain things that I turn to again and again, those things that keep me grounded and give me comfort and succor in times of stress like a child’s favorite security blanket. Walks with JP, Marty dancing happily alongside us, dashing in and out between our legs. Eating homemade pizza with my men in front of a movie on TV, chick flick or horror movie or, better yet, some crazy wild guffaw-inducing comedy made only to entertain. And baking. Stirring, blending, whipping, kneading, the slow, constant movement, the physical force behind each stroke, each push and fold and turn, the silky, luxurious coolness of cake batter as it flows in ribbons from my whisk, or the satin smoothness of dough, voluptuous like flesh as I press my hands into the gorgeous heft of a mound of dough, the bite of the yeast as it tickles my nostrils, the earthy goodness of salty Parmesan cheese raining down through my fingers urging me to bring some up to my lips and taste. Yes, things of the earth, of the body, these things always center me and I can focus on my senses, each texture, each scent, the sounds around me, the birds outside, the silence of the house, the occasional sigh of a dog in his dreamless sleep. Kneading dough, watching as it silently rises before my eyes, I watch and see it even though it tries to sneak quietly unnoticed. I punch off a bit of the raw dough and taste the subtle bitterness of uncooked yeast mixed with the saltiness of the cheese like earth and sea. And all, once again, is calm.

What is your security blanket, that thing you turn to to calm the stress and relieve the tension, soothe away the tears?


I am sending these utterly gorgeous, flavorful rolls with their crunchy rich topping over to Rachel of Tangerine’s Kitchen who is this month’s host of Zorra’s Bread Baking Day. This month’s theme as chosen by Rachel is Bread Buns!


I am also sending this to Yeastspotting, our favorite weekly yeasty event created and hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast.


PARMESAN DINNER ROLLS
Based on a recipe found in The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion.

4 ½ tsps (13.8 g) instant dry yeast
½ cup (125 ml) warm water (body temperature)
1 tsp sugar
½ cup (60 g) flour
1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm milk
¼ cup/4 Tbs (60 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup (65 g) sugar
1 large egg, beaten until well blended
4 to 5 cups (500 to 625 g) flour
7 oz (200 g) freshly and finely grated Parmesan cheese

Topping:
2 Tbs (30 g) butter, melted
¼ cup breadcrumbs, homemade is preferable!
¼ cup grated finely grated Parmesan (for this I used packaged which is finer)
1 Tbs dried oregano
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbs cold water (save that egg white for your macarons)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the instant dry yeast, the 1 tsp sugar and the ½ cup flour. Add the warm water and stir briefly with a fork just to make sure that all of the dry ingredients are moistened. Leave to activate, about 15 or 20 minutes until frothy and bubbly and it seems to have grown a bit.


Now add the lukewarm milk, the softened butter, the salt, sugar and beaten egg and stir just to combine. Now begin adding and stirring in the flour and the grated Parmesan until you have the cheese and 4 cups of the flour has been added and a dough is forming: all the dry ingredients are moistened and it is all starting to pull together into a ball. Add a bit more flour if it is too wet.

Scrape out onto a floured work surface and knead for 6 minutes or so, kneading in as much of the remaining cup of flour as necessary until you have a soft, smooth, elastic dough.

Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat in oil, and cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes. The dough will have risen though not doubled.


Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press down. Divide into 16 pieces for large dinner rolls, up to 32 pieces for small buns and gently shape into rounds. Lightly butter the bottom and side of a 9 x 13-inch (22 x 33 cm) baking pan and place the rolls in the pan leaving about 1 inch (2.5 cm) between the rolls. Cover once again with the plastic wrap and towel and let sit and rise for about 30 minutes until doubled. They will now be touching.


Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Gently heat and melt the butter for the topping. Blend the breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan in a small bowl and stir in the melted butter until you have a crumble. Brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash then generously sprinkle the tops of the buns with the crumble, pressing the crumble on to stay.


Bake the rolls for 20 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the rolls and your oven. The rolls should be very puffed up and fluffy and the top should be a deep golden brown. If you think that the tops of the buns are browning too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil until they are done.


Friday, March 26, 2010

ORANGE TIAN – Daring Baker’s March Challenge

COLOR ME ORANGE AND CARRY ME HOME


A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air.
- Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

I so looked forward to winter. Everyone I meet oohs and ahhs over my great good luck of having grown up in Florida, having spent my childhood a mere five minutes walk from the beach, imagining me tanning lazily under the blazing sun. It would have been lucky and quite a happy childhood if I had loved the heat and the beach, swimming pools and surfing. But I didn’t. I waited impatiently through every hot Springtime, every steaming, humid Summer, every boiling Autumn for the kiss of Winter. The temperature would finally drop and that chilly December and January would come hand in hand with brilliant sunshine, a reprieve from both the stifling heat and the flash storms. Sunday mornings I would wake up to the divine smell of oatmeal simmering on the stove and, wrapped up in robe, feet tucked cozily in big fluffy slippers, I would fill a bowl, watch as a pat of butter would melt into a gorgeous puddle of gold, sprinkle on brown sugar, toss on a handful of raisins and I’d be in heaven. Winter meant Hanukkah, the streets lit up with gorgeous, gaily colored holiday lights and garish Christmas displays, yards dripping with sparkling crystal icicles frozen on sprinkler systems left on overnight, dark mornings dawning into brilliant afternoons. After 8 months straight of being stripped down to the bare minimum though never leaving the house without a sweater (always and forever armed against the violence of indoor air conditioning), burning car seats, sizzling sidewalks and the constant threat of hurricanes, it was joy to wake up in the morning faced with graceful, cool days, snuggly warm blankets and a month of Christmas specials on TV followed quickly by my birthday.

Winter also meant citrus fruit. We lived in the land of the Florida orange – and grapefruit and tangerine – the orchards happily lined up along the water’s edge just across the river, a short hop and a skip over the bridge and we were there. Sundays we would pile into the station wagon and head on over to pick our own, filling brown paper grocery bag after brown paper grocery bag with sunshine yellow grapefruits or perfect navels, their “bellybuttons” never failing to make us giggle, or golden juice oranges or, my absolute favorites, tangerines. As soon as we got back home, the bags would be unloaded from the back of the car and lined up along dad’s workbench in the garage, the Winter chill keeping them fresh until the bags emptied, one by one, and it was time to take yet another trip back across the bridge. Sometimes we would swing into one of the many gas stations that lined South Patrick Drive and pull up in front of one of the multitude of ramshackle wooden stalls dropped higgledy-piggledy in those gas station parking lots, stalls filled with locally grown tomatoes and watermelons all summer long and piled high with citrus come winter. We would then grab mesh bags of citrus and lug them over to the car where they too would end up on dad’s workbench.


The Indian River Orange is not to be mentioned in the same breath with ordinary oranges. It is a delicacy by itself, and which Spain need never attempt to rival.
- Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, 1890

And eating fruit was never simpler! Although my mom had her share of Florida Citrus Growers pamphlets chock full of gourmet recipes using, well, Florida Citrus, recipes such as Chalet Orange Soufflé, English Muffins L’Orange, Baked Snapper Citrus, Breast of Chicken Tropical and Chicken, Island Style, oranges and grapefruits chez moi were best, and usually eaten as is, pulled off the tree and peeled, each sweet, tangy section popped straight into the mouth. The fanciest we may have gotten would be to place a tiny, glistening and shockingly red maraschino cherry daintily in the center of half a grapefruit which would then be quite simply dusted with sugar, the sections sliced out with our wonderful double-serrated, gently curved grapefruit knife and served as first course. Oranges and tangerines were meant to be grabbed by the handful on the way in through the garage after school and eaten, one, two, three, in front of the TV, fingers sticky, juice dribbling down arms and chins.

Lemons may have been made into pies piled high with meringue, but only at restaurants. Or squeezed onto crab legs, rock shrimp or lobster on one of our family outings to Peg Leg’s or The Lobster Shanty. Slices of fresh tangerine or mandarine orange from a can may very well have been found nestled in colorful jello molds in garish reds, yellows, greens and oranges, sitting patiently alongside mini marshmallows and tiny jewel-like pineapple chunks, or folded delicately into strawberry-tinted whipped topping, but those very-Sixties dishes were never for me. No sir! I was a eat-‘em-fresh kind of girl and I still am. Peel ‘em or slice ‘em but give ‘em to me raw! And though the oranges and clementines now come from Spain, I still wait expectantly for Winter to draw near so I can fill my basket with these beauties and carry them home happily from the market and spend all winter eating them one after the other. Grapefruits still come with that familiar Indian River sticker on the bright yellow, dimpled skin and, armed with my good old Florida grapefruit knife, I still eat them simply halved and dusted with sugar.


Now Jamie, you may say, we can ignore the baking and cooking you’ve done with lemons, the pudding and tart, the cake, the risotto and the chicken, but you have made orange cake and orange dressing for salads. So you do sometimes cook with oranges. Come on, ‘fess up! Well, yes, but this is all something new. And sometimes it is just imposed. Take the Daring Bakers. The dessert chosen for each month’s challenge is always a surprise and this month’s was no different. The 2010 March Daring Baker’s challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse’s Cooking School in Paris. I was actually pleasantly surprised. Fresh orange slices drenched in orange syrup and placed lovingly atop a froth of whipped cream, a layer of homemade orange marmalade and all atop a cookie crust. With the fresh oranges calling my name, no problem with whipped cream or tangy, slightly bitter marmalade and, dreaming of the wonderful combination of orange and chocolate making my pâte sablée flavored with a dash of cocoa powder, this Orange Tian turned out a dream! JP declared it not only scrumptious but “restaurant quality”.


An orange grown in Florida usually has a thin and tightly fitting skin, and it is also heavy with juice. Californians say that if you want to eat a Florida orange you have to get into a bathtub first….In Florida, it is said that you can run over a California orange with a ten-ton truck and not even wet the pavement.
- John McPhee in The New Yorker, May 7, 1966

Citrus season, that lovely, graceful Florida season sandwiched somewhere between the last of the summer’s peaches and the best of Florida’s sugar sweet, ruby red u-pick-‘em strawberries, the season of gentle charm and clear skies. A simple town in a simple era, far from the flamboyant, luxurious lifestyle found a day’s drive further down the coast as different as a foreign land, we found our joy in running barefoot and shooting baskets, playing ball in the street and board games indoors. Bundled up in sweaters, meandering through the orange groves, picking the ripe fruit right off the branches or visiting one of the many orchard shops lined up and down the main stretch of road through Old Florida where we were allowed to pick up a box of chocolate-dipped coconut patties along with the sacks of oranges, these were the pleasures, the magic of my childhood. I hold an orange in my hand and caress the smooth skin, breath in the sharp fragrance, the scent of my youth. I press my thumb deep into the skin in one quick movement, trying to avoid the joyous spurt of juice that hits my face and pull off the skin to reveal the beautiful, voluptuous, delectable orange. I bite into that first segment and I’m home again.


I know that the season will soon come to an end and with the last of the oranges piled high in that market stall, as I say good-bye to the last of this season’s citrus I’ll be one season further away from my childhood, the magic slipping out of my fingers so bittersweet.


ORANGE TIAN


ORANGE MARMALADE
¼ cup + 3 Tbs (100 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
1 large juice orange for the orange slices (I used a blood orange)
Cold water to cook the orange slices
1 tsp (5 g) pectin *
granulated sugar: use the equivalent weight of the cooked orange slices

* if you don’t have pectin, simply save seeds from citrus fruit: oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and wrap them in muslin or, as I did, a very clean stocking foot, and immerse in the cooking marmalade.


Finely slice the orange (without peeling it!). Place the orange slices in a medium-sized pot filled with cold water. Simmer for about 10 minutes (this is blanching), discard the water, refill with cold water and blanch the oranges for another 10 minutes. Replace the water one more time and blanch the orange slices a third time. This process removes the bitterness from the orange peel, so it is essential to use a new batch of cold water every time when you blanch the slices. Once blanched 3 times, drain the slices and put aside to cool to room temperature.


Once cool enough to handle, finely mince the blanched orange slices either by hand or in a food processor. Weigh the slices and then measure out the same weight of granulated sugar. If you do not have a kitchen scale, simply place the minced orange in a measuring cup and use the same amount of sugar.


Place the minced orange and the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the orange juice and the pectin of the small bundle of seeds. Cook gently until the mixture reaches a jam consistency, about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring.

Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or place in a clean jelly jar (it makes about a cup of marmalade) and refrigerate until assembling the dessert. I prepared the marmalade a day in advance with the cookie dough.

CHOCOLATE PÂTE SABLÉE
2 egg yolks, room temperature
6 Tbs + 1 tsp (80 g) sugar
½ tsp vanilla
7 Tbs (100 g) unsalted butter, more or less chilled as it works better for you
1/3 tsp salt
1 ½ cups + 2 Tbs (200 g) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs cocoa powder

Put the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt in a bowl. Rub in the cubed butter until there are no more lumps of butter and the mixture is like sand.

Beat the eggs yolks, vanilla extract and sugar in a separate bowl with a whisk until the mixture is pale. Pour the egg mixture in over the dry ingredients.

Stir vigorously with a fork until the dough just comes together. If you find that the dough is still a little too crumbly to come together, add a couple drops of water and process again to form a homogenous ball of dough. Form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.


Preheat your oven to 350°F (170°C).

Roll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface until you obtain a ¼ inch thick circle.
Using a round cookie cutter or your metal ring mold (if you are using ring molds to build the Tian), cut out circles of dough and place on a parchment (or silicone) lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until the circles of dough are just set and baked. Remove from the oven and gently slide off of the baking sheet to cool on cooling racks.


This can be done the day before assembling the dessert. Simply store the cookies under foil ot in a metal tin.

ORANGE SEGMENTS
You will need 6 – 8 oranges, depending on how many desserts you want to make. I made 6 and used a bit extra whipped cream in each individual Tian and found it ideal.
Cut the oranges into segments over a shallow bowl * and make sure to keep the juice. Add the segments to the bowl with the juice.

* Slice the two ends off of each orange until you have a flat surface and no white pith covering the fruit. Sit the orange flat on your work surface on one now-flat end. Using a very sharp knife, carefully slice down and around the fruit of the orange just underneath the white. Turn the orange and, following the white pith, continue uncovering the membrane-free fruit. Once you have a totally naked orange, hold the orange firmly in the palm of one hand over a bowl (to catch the juice and the slices,) and carefully slice out each section just inside the membranes.


ORANGE SYRUP/CARAMEL
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 ½ cups + 2 Tbs (400 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice

Place the sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat and begin warming it.

Once the sugar starts to foam and bubble around the edges, slowly add the orange juice. If the sugar starts to re-solidify, don’t worry, as the juice heats it will re-melt. Stir as needed. As soon as the mixture begins to boil and all of the sugar is melted, remove the syrup from the heat and pour half over the orange segments in the bowl.

Reserve the other half of the syrup to make a caramel to be spooned over the finished Tian before serving.

WHIPPED CREAM (Stabilized)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream
3 Tbs hot water
1 tsp powdered gelatin
1 Tbs confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1 Tbs of your Orange Marmalade

Place a glass mixing bowl and clean beaters in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before making the Whipped Cream. The cream should also be very cold.

Place the gelatin with the hot water in a small bowl and allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. Place over very low heat and, stirring, heat just enough to dissolve all of the gelatin.

Whip the cold cream in the cold bowl with the cold beaters on low to medium speed until thickened and soft peaks start to form. Add the confectioner’s sugar and continue beating on medium-high speed until the beaters leave visible trails in the cream. Slowly add the cooled gelatin while continuing to beat. Beat until the cream is whipped light and fluffy.

Fold in the tablespoon of marmalade.

Assemble the Orange Tian:

Make sure you have room in your freezer for a flat baking sheet. Have your 6 or 8 individual ring molds ready. Line the baking tray with a sheet of parchment paper and then cut or rip out small squares of parchment so each Tian is sitting on a separate square. This simply makes it much easier to turn them out onto dessert plates when serving.

Using your ring molds, place each mold on a cookie round and trim excess cookie using a serrated knife. The cookie circle should fit inside a ring.

Spoon the Orange Segments out of the syrup/juice using a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels or a kitchen towel.

Place a ring mold on each square of parchment on your parchment-lined baking sheet. Arrange the Orange Segments carefully (and decoratively if possible) inside the ring molds on the bottom. Make sure the segments touch or overlap, leaving no gaps. Don’t forget that they will end up being the top of the dessert.


Divide the Whipped Cream among the rings, spooning a couple of spoonfuls on top of the Orange Segments but leaving about ¼ inch at the top for the cookie base.


Spread about a tablespoon of the Orange Marmalade on each cookie circle and then carefully, marmalade side down towards the Whipped Cream, fit the cookie round inside the ring mold on top of the Whipped Cream.


Place the tray of Tians in the freezer to set for 10 minutes. If not eating them right away, remove them from the freezer and keep them in the refrigerator.

To serve:
Have one dessert plate ready for each Tian.

Place the leftover syrup in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and allow to gently simmer until it turns a deeper golden color and thickens a bit.

Remove the Tian from the refrigerator and slide a wide spatula under the individual square of parchment paper under the first Tian. Place a dessert plate over the Tian (cookie side) and carefully flip the whole thing so the cookie is now down on the upturned plate. Pull off the parchment square. Slide a sharp knife down inside along and around the Tian along the side of the ring to loosen. Gently lift off the ring. If you need to, carefully stick the sharp knife cleanly straight down through the center of the Tian to press the cookie down onto the plate as you lift off the ring.

Spoon Caramel over the Tian and decorate with grated chocolate or chocolate curls in the center on top of the Tian.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

VEAL SCALLOPINI - Remembering Childhood

GUEST POST FOR LOVEFEAST TABLE

As each and every one of my gentle readers knows, writing is my passion and the writing for my blog is fueled by my life stories, memories, travels and the food that I have eaten – and cooked and baked – along the way. When my wonderful friends of LoveFeast Table, Kristin and Chris Ann, very kindly asked if I would write up a food-related memory for a guest post on their blog, I was both thrilled and honored. Honored that they enjoyed my blog and my writing enough to offer me this special place on their own blog, and thrilled because I love their blog and I think they are both wonderful, fun and generous people, two women that I do consider friends, and I was so happy to share their Table with them. And this story immediately popped right into my head. I didn’t really have to dig very deeply for a food-related childhood memory, and what a story!

Now food memories, one would think, especially written for a food blog, should be happy memories full of delicious meals, culinary discoveries and joyous, festive times. But, as I know so well, this is not always the case. Good food can make a good memory even better, but bad food can very well accentuate a bad experience, keeping it buried deep in the mind, the two ever related, coming back to haunt again and again.


Here is that story, that very special food-related memory. But don’t worry, it all ends well. Very well, I must say, with one fabulous recipe of my mom’s: her wonderful Veal Scallopini. Definitely a recipe to try!


Thank you, Kristen and Chris Ann for inviting me to your
LoveFeast Table!


VEAL SCALLOPINI – Remembering Childhood

It was just 3 or 4 days shy of my ninth birthday. I had dreamed of owning a “big bike”, moving from a kid’s small bicycle to an adult-sized beauty, just like the big kids, and here it was! My new bicycle, a beautiful deep blue, standing tall and proud in the garage just waiting for my birthday, a siren’s call to climb aboard and ride off into the sunset. Well, at least ride off in the sunshine to school.

But it was still a couple of days or so until my birthday and my mom said that as it was my birthday present I would just have to be patient and wait! No! Unfair! How could I possibly ride to school even one more day on my “kid’s” bike when this grown-up one was here, standing right in front of me, tempting me, practically mocking me? Well, I simply would not put up with it! Action was called for! So, the next day I got up, ate breakfast, got dressed and grabbed my books and went to my mom and proclaimed “I am taking my new bike to school!” Well, she put her foot down and said “No!” Well, no way was I riding the other bike to school so I simply refused to go. Period. Now, I had always been the “good girl”, the one who never missed a day of school, never cheated, never lied, never went against the rules. But here I was, faced with a dilemma, having to take what was practically a political, ideological stance and there was no way I was going to back down. I just would not go to school. But mom, ever pragmatic, stood her ground and told me, “You can make your own decision about school, but as far as I am concerned, you have gone to school, so outside you go. Where you spend your day is up to you but it won’t be in this house. And there is a perfectly good lunch waiting for you in the school cafeteria, so don’t think that you’ll be allowed in the house at noon for lunch!”

Mom

Hop on over to LoveFeast Table for the rest of this riveting story and a fantastic recipe…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

SPRING ROLLS & SPICY PEANUT DIPPING SAUCE

STRIP DOWN AND PARTY!


We’ve been eating a lot of cake lately. Chocolate cake and chocolate muffins, butter & egg-rich striped cake, chocolate chip muffins, cookies and macarons. At some point, even I reach my limit, have my fill and crave for something clean, fresh and light. And something that is definitely not cake! Husband walks around patting his tummy and I am feeling the bite of the belt buckle, and someone, I swear, has been sneaking in at night and, scissors, thread and needle in hand, someone has been taking in my jeans. It is time to start thinking of something other than cake.

I step out onto the sidewalk and am kissed by the warmth of Spring. The sun is shining and barely a whisper of a breeze ruffles my hair. I have always preferred Autumn, but after months of steel-gray skies, dreary drizzle that trickles down the neck of my coat and icy winds that bite at my skin, harsh cold winter without even the joy of fluffy, white snow, I am reveling in this beginning of Springtime. But as I pull off my winter coat and hang it back in the closet, as I begin peeling off the layers of sweaters, unwinding the scarf from around my neck, as I peek in one shoe box after another and remind myself just how fabulous a collection of strappy sandals I have, I am starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, I have eaten a little bit too much cake this winter.


Spring will be upon us before we know it and summer will be nipping at her heels. As many of you know, we are off to Florida this summer, the first vacation we will be taking together as a family for a long time. But the point is: we are off to Florida. And Florida means shorts and swimsuits. Long months of icy cold days packed up in layers of fleece hidden under thick, padded, Michelin-man coats and socks over hose under knee-high boots (not to mention the hats and the gloves) and evenings in flannel jammies huddled under a mountain of blankets have left me numb, groggy and a bit on the mushy side. And like the Eskimos, that extra layer of fat is a winter necessity. But Spring is here and summer is right around the corner and it is at times like this that I start flipping through the cookbooks looking for tempting, light, fresh salads and soups, something to cleanse the system and, yes, I dare say, the palate. It’s time to start thinking about baring the arms and the legs and slipping back into last year’s tops, skirts and pants. Ouch! So, dear, what shall it be?


Husband and I go through phases of miso soup. I love the packets of instant red or white miso soup I can pick up at the Asian market along with packets of Udon noodles. On my way home, I’ll swing by the primeurs, the fruit and veg monger if you will, and buy several shitake, plump and chocolatey brown, a handful of tender, crunchy snow peas all dressed in bright, cheery green, some spring onions and a fragrant bouquet of fresh coriander. A few minutes to bring the water to a boil, add the miso mix, sliced shitake, snow peas and noodles and simmer until everything is cooked to perfection. Divide into two bowls, toss on shopped coriander and sliced spring onions and we are sipping light and flavorful soup, a warming Winter meal when it is time for something lighter than cream sauces, pasta and casseroles.

Well, this time I was in the mood for spring rolls. There is an Asian (Chinese? Vietnamese more than likely) restaurant right next door to my Asian market and they have a take-out counter. Whenever I get the craving, I pop in and pick up a couple of fresh, cool spring rolls, rice wrappers stuffed to bursting with thin rice noodle, crunchy bean sprouts and carrot strips, bits of cooked chicken and butterflied shrimp all flavored with fresh mint leaves and chopped peanuts. The girl behind the counter will add a tiny plastic bag of golden dipping sauce to my purchase. Or I’ll enjoy these babies dipped in spicy sweet chili sauce. But I decided to go wild and make my own spring rolls and my own dipping sauce.


Along with the gorgeous sunny weather comes plans for Food Blogger Connect 2010! Remember Food Blogger Connect 09? Wow was it ever fantastic! A weekend spent with fellow food bloggers from near and far sharing information, plans, ideas, laughter, good times and good food. Well, don’t think that once is ever enough for something this good. So we have planned an even bigger, better Food Blogger Connect for this June! Spread out over 3 days, it will be THE Food Blogger event of the year! Just look at that line up of speakers! You can get loads of information and tips from the biggest and the very best! Check out the itinerary! 3 days chock-full and jam-packed with exciting, informative roundtables and hands-on workshops specifically designed for the food blogger covering everything from finding your writing voice to food styling and photography to networking and monetizing your blog! There will even be a star-studded panel letting you in on the secrets of Food Blog to Book/Magazine! And all of this and more – prizes, prop swap and awards – a wine tasting, barbecue, cocktails and teatime plus fabulous meals in these beautiful London hot spots. Spaces are limited and food bloggers from all over Europe are already snapping up tickets, so give our Food Blogger Connect blog a good once-over then go ahead and register for this fantastic, not-to-be-missed event!

Now, here is a wonderful, tasty recipe to start you on your way to looking and feeling your best for Food Blogger Connect and that great summer vacation!


SPRING ROLLS WITH SPICY PEANUT-HOISIN SAUCE
The sauce is from Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens

For the Spring Rolls:
9-inch round rice wrappers
Any or all of the following ingredients, as you like:
Rice noodles, cooked, drained, rinsed with cool water & drained again.
Bean sprouts
1 carrot, trimmed, peeled, sliced into thin 2-inch matchsticks
Shredded cooked chicken
2 cooked shrimp per spring roll
Small bunch mint leaves
Lettuce leaves
Peanuts, crushed


Have all of the filling ingredients prepared and lined up on your work surface: vegetables cleaned, trimmed, peeled and sliced as necessary, shrimp cooked and peeled and butterflied (simply slice down the back almost to the end of the tail but leaving attached then press flat), chicken shredded.

Simply dampen one or two rice wrappers at a time and keep them pressed between damp kitchen towels as you are working. This is only the first time I have made them so I learned as I went and mine were not too perfect. I placed two mint leaves in the center of a damp wrapper, placed twp flattened shrimp nose to nose on top of the mint, then lined up some beans sprouts, cooked and cooled noodles and bits of each and the rest (ok, I forgot the carrot strips and didn’t have chicken and only added lettuce leaves to two, but I’ll get better next time!). Bring the sides of the wrappers in towards the center then roll as tightly as possible being careful not to rip the delicate, fragile wrapper.

Spicy Peanut-Hoisin Sauce:
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced, about ¼ cup
Salt and pepper
½ cup Hoisin sauce
1/3 cup water
½ tsp rice vinegar
½ cup toasted peanuts, chopped
1 tsp sambal (red chili purée) or to taste


Heat the oil in a small frying pan and sautée the shallots with a pinch of salt over medium-high heat until golden and crispy, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Chop and transfer to a small bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients, adding the sambal to taste. Make sure the sauce is well blended before serving with the spring rolls in tiny sauce bowls.


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