Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Chocolate Mint Cheesecake Cupcakes

It was a snowy day, with a blanket of white so fluffy and soft that if you were a dog you couldn't resist bounding about in it. But my dog was forced to resist as I wouldn't let him out. I wanted to use the blanket of undefiled purity as a background for a food photo, which inspired a culinary creation of something cool and refreshing - and of course, sweet. Chocolate mint!  Further reflection suggested a cupcake though I have ridden somewhat reluctantly on the outskirts of the cupcake craze of the past several years, sampling the best in Charleston, S.C. and Middleburg, VA.  Magnolia's, Georgetown and Sprinkles Bakeries in NYC top several lists in our family and it has been scientifically determined that their cupcakes are winners. In fact, a Sugar Fest is "officially" conducted once a year by my daughters and their cousins in NYC, which involves a pilgrimage about the city bakeries in pursuit of the best cupcake and bouts of sincere indigestion after.  I enjoy the cupcake but have always wondered why we didn't just stick to the cake and have more of a good thing. I suppose it's the appeal of a personalized serving neatly wrapped, topped and seemingly custom-made for each individual, bringing back the nostalgia of childhood tea parties.

Now to the flavors:  I have learned a thing or two about chocolate and mint over the years, as the first flush of the love affair with this combination has matured to a mature, lasting relationship of trust and commitment.

#1 - Mint grown in the home vegetable garden will take over everything non-mint and insists upon scenting its world,   confident it goes well with everything. My raspberries are not impressed, but getting cozy with chocolate was truly inspired. That makes me wonder, does mint grow in Cacoa tree territory?

#2 - There is endless ingenuity among cooks when necessity is the mother of invention.  Expat friends shared the experience of being served a delicious chocolate mint dessert in an African country where neither mint nor mint flavoring was available. When pressed, the cook confessed that he used toothpaste for the flavoring.  Why not?

#3 - I've also learned that our palettes sense taste from color as well as other properties.  There have been occasions when I've served chocolate mint brownies with all the ingredients, except the mint, but the green frosting convinced the eaters that they were eating mint brownies.

Being supplied with eager taste testers (is there ever a shortage?) I asked them to taste both versions of these cupcakes and tell me which they preferred and why:  one variety being topped with a chocolate ganache  and the other with a minty, fluffy, buttery frosting.  Opinions were divided and I had to taste one and then the other myself, changing my opinion of "favorite" as quickly as I sampled the other in a flurry of chocolate crumbs and cupcake liners.  In the end, I preferred the fluffy frosting - a unique flour/milk paste base into which creamed sugar and butter are added - which should become a staple frosting for cakes it is so uniquely satisfying. My husband preferred the ganache. I prefer them both to toothpaste!

                                     Cupcakes on Snow

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake
1 12/ cups flour
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

-In large mixing bowl with electric mixer, beat all ingredients on low speed until blended.  Beat at medium speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Set aside and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream Cheese Filling:
1 -  8 ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
pinch of salt
1/2 - 1 tsp. mint extract, depending on taste
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

-Combine cream cheese, sugar and egg and beat until smooth.  Add extract and salt and stir in chocolate chips.

-Line 18 cupcake tins with cupcake liners for Flour Frosting or simply grease tins for the ganache topping version (without using liners). Fill each tin half full with cake batter.  Place tablespoon full of cream cheese filling in the center of each cupcake and then top with one more tablespoon of chocolate cake batter.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

-Allow to cool, then frost with frosting and add a mint candy to the top for garnish  (Dove - Chocolate Mint Swirls or Andes Chocolate Mint Sandwiches)

Ganache Topping:
Bring 1 cup cream to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Remove from heat and pour in 1 cup semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.  Allow to sit about 15 minutes without stirring.  Then mix with a wire whip until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Allow ganache to sit until thickened to spreading consistency, 1 - 2 hours at room temperature.   Spoon about 1/4 cup of ganache mixture over each cupcake removed from tin so that the ganache runs over the top and down the sides of the cupcake.  Place cupcakes on wire rack set over cookie sheet, to catch the excess ganache.

Flour Frosting
5 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
1 /2 cup softened butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
dash of salt
1/2 tsp. mint extract

-Place flour into medium sized saucepan.  Slowly pour milk into the flour, beating with a whip, a little at a time until all the milk is incorporated into the flour.  Slowly bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until very thick.  Remove from heat.  Cover with a lid and allow to cool about 30 minutes.

-In another mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together until smooth.  Stir in 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa and dash of salt.  Add the cooled flour/milk mixture to the butter/ sugar mixture and beat at medium-high speed until mixture is very smooth and fluffy.  Stir in mint extract.

-Frost cooled cupcakes wtih frosting or place into pastry bag and pipe onto the cupcakes.  Garnish with a chocolate mint candy.

                                          Cheesecake filling ripple in Chocolate Mint Cupcakes

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cauliflower Con Queso Soup

Cauliflower Con Queso soup was a naturally evolved creation from a spicy cheese sauce for broccoli and cauliflower, which in its turn, evolved from dipping fresh vegetable crudites into a Mexican queso dip back in the 1980's  And though our hairstyles have changed since then, the appeal of this particular taste combination has not.  A recipe for potage, a creamy French soup, provides a silky foundation and the ensuing pas de deux or tango of tastes created by combining French and Mexican dishes was an easy step and a personal favorite.  But I didn't know that it would become my mother's favorite; in fact it became one of her table staples and at each subsequent visit to Mom's I filled up her freezer with  plastic containers of "cauliflower soup".   I am a fan of this vegetable immigrant from the Middle East and like me, you may be attracted to anything "cauliflower".   That would include my daughter....since her name means cauliflower in Arabic she was a star at the produce stands in Jordan!  The vendors were delighted to learn her name, flattered that Americans would give their child an Arab name, and would often present her with a free head of cauliflower - she was too young to be offended.  I can't imagine any of them suggesting that she resembled her name for she was a beautiful child.  Luckily, her name also means rose, but I don't remember anyone ever offering her a flower. And although she does like to eat it, I'm not sure she would be flattered by a comparison to it. The addition of crunchy fried flour tortilla strips as a garnish to the soup and a sprinkle of fresh cheddar on top might help to ease the sting of such an insult! 

Cauliflower Con Queso Soup:
5 tab. butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 head of cauliflower, cored and broken into florettes
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
3 cups rich chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup salsa, mild or medium, to taste
1 1/2 cup milk or half and half
3 tab. flour
6 ounces American processed cheese
1  cup shredded colby jack cheese
4 flour tortillas, cut into 1 inch strips

-Melt butter in large soup pot. Saute onions, carrots and cauliflower in butter until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour chicken stock over vegetables, cover pot and simmer until cauliflower is very soft, about 30 minutes.  Let soup cool for about 15 minutes.  Remove about 1 cup of cauliflower florettes and place the rest of the vegetables and broth in a blender and puree until very smooth.

-Melt another 2 tablespoons butter in bottom of soup pot.  Stir in flour with whisk until smooth and cook over medium high heat until roux is smooth and bubbly, about 1 minute.  Stir in milk and bring to a boil until thickened, stirring frequently over medium high heat. Remove from heat, add cheese and stir in until melted.

-Return pureed soup to pot with milk/cheese sauce and stir in salsa.  Heat soup through stirring frequently.  Stir in reserved cauliflower.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

-Heat 1/3 cup canola oil in small saute pan and fry tortilla strips in batches until crisp and golden.

-Serve soup in individual serving bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of grated colby jack cheddar cheese and tortilla strips.

Persnickety P.S.
**Freezes well.
**A soup is only as rich as its base, so take the time to make sure the base, the chicken broth, is flavorful.  In a hierarchy of best flavored bases, the bottom spot goes to the lowly bouillon cube which is often bland and relies on salt for the weak flavor it imparts and at top of the list is a rich homemade stock.  But our lives are often governed by practicality so take what you have on hand and the next time you make soup, try one of the other options and compare the tasty results!

             Flavor Hierarchy of Chicken Bases for Soup:

                   1st Place:    Homemade Stock
                   2nd Place:  "Better than Bouillon" paste
                   3rd Place:   Boxed Chicken Stock
                   4th Place:   Boxed Chicken Broth
                   5th Place:   Chicken Bouillon Cubes
                                        (Magi Cubes recommended)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015


Poor man's dish?  Any man would be lucky, a fortunate poor man in fact, to feast on this hearty  Lebanese dish of rice and lentils.  "Mujadara" translates as "poor man's dish" and was at one time, considered a standard meal for those that couldn't afford meat. At least one might subsist on it.  But once you've tasted it you might agree with me that it is better to insist than subsist.  This is a dish worth insisting on! With several onions in the mix, the legumes and rice are infused with the rich, silky sweetness of caramelized onions, and "Arab-ized" with the addition of spices such as allspice and cinnamon - just a pinch.  I am careful to add "just a pinch", especially for those that are not acclimated to cinnamon in non-sweet dishes.  Though I am acclimated, cinnamon isn't really my first choice of seasonings for some dishes - including pizza.  When the first Pizza Hut in Amman opened down the street from where we lived at the time, we were thrilled to have a taste of home nearby.  But as the months passed and the local chefs couldn't resist, the ground meat on the pizza began to taste more and more like kefta, an Arab spiced ground meat mixture.  They had a hard time leaving hamburgers alone too and Fuddruckers completely lost their franchise for straying too far from the American recipe). But in the Levant cuisine, cinnamon is an absolute must and so we will happily defer to their spices for their native dishes.  The version of mujadara I was taught to prepare, is topped with a middle-eastern salsa of tomatoes and cucumbers which tweeks the earthy grains in the dish to freshness;the accompanying yogurt sauce does its part to tang it up. My children loved it for a quick weekday dinner - if you train them up on beans and rice, they will learn to love this healthy, hearty combination! One of my early experiences serving mujadara to some unsuspecting Americans was wrought with disaster, when one of my guests stood up abruptly at the table and rushed into the kitchen to spit out a bite full of gravel.  A lesson indelibly learned - clean the lentils of stray bits of chaff and gravel, before cooking.  Who'd have thought!!  A more polite guest would just have swallowed them down and discreetly declined seconds!

Mujadara (Lebanese Lentils and Rice)
1 1/3 cups brown lentils, cleaned of gravel or chaff and rinsed
1 cup olive oil
1/2 - 1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
3 medium yellow onions, thinly slivered
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 1/2 cups water or vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, cumin and allspice
salt to taste
1 tsp. sugar
dash of cayenne pepper
1 cup basmati rice, (soaked for 15 minutes in cold water and 
                 then rinsed until water runs clear)

Yogurt Sauce
1 1/3 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tab. chopped fresh mint (optional)
2 tab. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt

Tomato-Cucumber Salsa
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 English cucumber, finely chopped, with skin on
½ red or yellow onion, finely chopped
4 tab. chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste

-Place the slivered onions into a microwave proof mixing bowl and toss with 2 tsp. salt.  Microwave the onions for 5 minutes on high and then rinse in a colander.  Spread the onions out on paper towels or a clean dishcloth and blot out as much moisture as you can.  Set aside.

-Place the cleaned lentils into a medium saucepan. Fill with enough cold water to cover the lentils by about one inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain and set aside.

-Meanwhile, as the lentils cook, place a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Allow the oil to warm for a minute, then add the cracked peppercorns and cook, stirring briefly for about 1 minute.  

-Add the chopped onions, sprinkle with a dash of salt and cook stirring often for 25-30 minutes until onions are a dark caramel brown with a slight crispiness developing on some of the onions. Using a slotted spoon, remove about half of the onions to a paper towel-lined plate; these are for garnish later. Leave the other half in the pot. Pour off the onion oil until you have about 4 tab. left in the pot.  (Reserve any remaining onion oil for later use.)

-Add the ground spices, cayenne pepper, sugar and garlic to the oil and onions in the pot and cook about 1 minute over medium-high heat.  Add the rinsed rice and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often but gently until some rice grains turn wheat-colored (2 minutes). Add the cooked lentils to the pot, 3 1/2 cups of water (or chicken broth)  and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low to simmer; cover then cook 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, place a towel over the pot and return the lid.  Let rest for 10 minutes then fluff rice with a fork.  (The towel absorbs extra moisture so that the rice will be fluffier.)

-While rice is cooking, combine tomatoes, cucumber, diced onion, parsley, garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.  

-Prepare the yogurt sauce by combining yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, (mint), salt and pepper.  Chill until ready to serve.

-Taste the rice for seasoning. Place lentil-rice mixture in a large or individual serving dishes, top with yogurt sauce, then the Tomato-Cucumber salsa and garnish with reserved caramelized onions.  A squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of sumac add an extra level of flavor!

Persnickety P.S.:

Sumac:  Not be confused with poison sumac, this spice comes from the flowers of the sumac bush known as Rhus which are ground into an elegant crimson-purple powder with a bit of a glittery quality to it.  It is my favorite spice discovery in all my time in the Middle East and adds a truly stunning lemony pop as a garnish to salads, soups and meat in Jordan.  In fact one dish, musakkhan, composed of chicken postitively swimming in oil and sumac, makes you smack your lips in satisfaction!  Sumac is available in Middle Eastern and global grocery markets or via Amazon online.

Lentils:  You''ll be glad to know that the best, most autehntic lentils for this dish are the common brown ones we find easily in U.S. grocery stores in the dried bean section.  They tend to cook faster than other color lentils and hold their shape well.  Easily done!

Leftovers:  Mujadara makes excellent leftovers.  Heat a bit of butter or oil in a frying pan and cook until heated through or popping and crispy.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Yogurt - Paprika Chicken

This thoroughly satisfying and beautiful chicken dish was introduced to me through sharing "What I know how to cook" with a Jordanian friend who really knew "how" herself but usually had her full time cooks make dinner.  This cultural cooking exchange, in which I eagerly participated in the various countries we lived in, transcends all political borders, and cooks with appreciative palettes grow in all climes of the world.  Once you've searched them out, sharing cooking techniques and sampling different taste combinations is satisfying to both parties.  Food afterall, is the universal obsession, the equalizer of men, the piece de resistance of humanity or should we say "Peace" to resistance!   My gracious Jordanian friend enjoyed the fun of inventing and creating and her cook, the effecting. I however, could "effect" for myself and could happily wield a knife and pot.  As the years change, so do our tastes and the recipe is easily adapted to a less fatty base, more tangy taste, as you like.  Adding 2 cups of sour cream never bothered me...taste and texture in foods have always been my number one priority!   We couldn't find sour cream in Jordan...dairy cows were few and far between...Ghada's solution was to take a cup of cream, stir in a couple of tablespoons of leban (yogurt) and let the mixture ferment a bit on the counter until cooking time - it also thickens as it sits. This result provides just a bit of tang but lends the creaminess and inherent sweetness of the cream to the chicken.  At times I simply used lebaneh instead, a thickened yogurt, very similar to what we know today as Greek yogurt, but the taste was definitely tangier and slightly bitter.  But those of you who have grown accustomed to that taste, go for the tang!  Paprika is predominant in the name of the dish so don't skimp on it.  We use about 3 tab. in the recipe but you can opt for more, depending on taste and whether you use the hot Hungarian paprika or the sweet or smoked.  (The version we find generally in our U.S. stores is a somewhat bland sweet paprika)  The toasted whole almonds and the garnish of raw pepper strips on top offer a nice balanced crunch that contrasts with the meltingly tender chicken.  I prefer rice as the chicken bed, though noodles would go nicely to create this delicious party dish!

Chicken Paprika
6 boned and skinned chicken breasts 
1 slivered onion
1 red pepper, julienned
1/2 cup diced bacon, cooked and drained
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
freshly ground black pepper
garlic salt or garlic powder
½ cup flour
2 cups sour cream (or ½ plain Greek yogurt and ½ sour cream)
¾ cup whole, skinned almonds, fried in butter till golden

      - Trim the chicken breasts of fat, then slice each one into 5 pieces, following the grain of the chicken, about 1 inch thick.   Place flour, paprika, pepper and garlic salt in a large plastic bag. Add chicken breast pieces and shake until well coated.

       -Fry slivered onion and red pepper in ¼ cup butter until soft and caramelized – about 30 minutes over low heat.  Remove from pan with slotted spoon, leaving butter in pan.  Add chicken pieces in single layer and brown on both sides adding a tablespoon of butter and oil between batches. 

      -Layer all chicken pieces back in pan and pour chicken stock and wine over chicken till just covered.  Cover and cook chicken until tender, about 12 minutes. Remove lid and reduce liquid until almost gone.

      -Heat 2 cups sour cream for 40 seconds in microwave and stir in 2 tab.  paprika, 1 tsp. garlic salt and pepper.  Add bacon bits.  Pour over chicken and stir, heating slowly.  Add slivered onions and red pepper.

      - Serve over rice or noodles and garnish with some reserved almonds and thinly sliced raw red pepper ribbons.   Serves 6.

Persnickety P.S.
 **To easily skin almonds, place in small pot of boiling water and let blanch for 1 minute.  Poor almonds into cold water and let sit 5 minutes.  Drain and pat almonds dry.  In a large bowl, grasp almonds by the fatter end and squeeze - the almond will slide easily out of it's skin.  Be careful, they can become missles and fly about the room - one of my childrens' favorite games! That and parsley picking!

**When adding dairy products - sour cream - to warm liquids, slightly heat the dairy so it won't curdle when added to the warm liquid.  (rule of thumb for adding cream, milk and cheeses)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Orange Rolls

Mom's favorite orange rolls were made by Dick's Bakery and they were (and hopefully still are) fan tan shaped, buttery and flaky rolls, with a bright, orange, citrus glaze.  Anything orange flavor made the cut on her list of top favorite treats, including almond chicken with orange sauce, jelly-candy orange slices and when the scales allowed, Sweet's Candy chocolate covered orange sticks fact, all things orange, except when it came to Halloween Jelly Beans....she ate all the black ones.  Go figure!  But when dinner was in fifteen minutes and Dick's bakery was a drive away, and there was a can of biscuits in the refrigerator, this quick and easy recipe fit the ticket and nudged all other orange treasts out of top spot. This quick and easy recipe will unfailingly satisfy an orange sweet tooth in a hurry. 

Orange Rolls
1 can refrigerator buttermilk biscuits
   (or homemade biscuit dough, cut into 3/4 inch rounds)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tab. grated orange rind

-Preheat oven to 380 degrees.

-In medium saucepan, melt butter then stir in sugar and orange rind over medium-high heat until mixture is smooth.  (Do not bring to a boil.)

-Spray bottom of 10 inch glass pie plate with vegetable oil spray.  Dip each biscuit dough round on both sides, in orange-sugar mixture.  Place in prepared pie plate.  Cover the bottom of the pie plate with orange rolls.  Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until biscuits are slightly golden around the edges.

-Serve warm.  Makes 8 orange rolls.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chicken Alfredo Pizza Roll

     The Kingdom of Jordan, as a whole, does not celebrate Christmas with Christians comprising a mere 6% of the population; and even though it is a member of the Holy Lands and claims a shore of the Jordan River, Santas and decorated trees are hard to find.  Oddly Santa-masked volunteers decked out in red suits and elegant lighted and bedecked Christmas trees do mark the season in the big western hotel lobbies, but we found it was best to stay inside one's own home and create our own Christmas magic on Dec. 25th.  To go outside on a shortsleeve afternoon amid the everyday bustle, quickly dilluted the holiday illusion.
     On one particularly lonely Christmas, far away from traditional family celebrations and festivities, in our efforts to create holiday memories, my family realized we were actually very near the site of the first Christmas, just 45 miles as the crow flies and also that there were forests of Christmas trees in-the -raw, on  some of the mountainsides near Amman.  One quandry remained:  we all insisted that we must have the traditional turkey dinner with hot mashed potatoes and gravy but how to keep our dinner warm in the cool forest?  The solution: our large picnic cooler could serve equally well as a picnic warmer ......and the Christmas Picnic was born!  Sitting eating warm candied yams as we shivered among the pine trees, the day became "Christmas" for us as we gazed toward the west in the general direction of Judea and sang every song our children knew with the word"Bethlehem" in it.  
      What does the Christmas Picnic have to do with a pizza roll?  Just an illustration suggesting that sometimes we make great memories and great foods by shaking up tradition a bit.  This hand-friendly rolled pizza is a delicious way to do that. It serves up equally well as a "grab a bite and sit by the fire" snack on a cold evening.  Reminiscent of other filled breads, such as the Russian pirowshki, the Arab fateyah or even Panini, it pairs nicely with soup. Admittedly, you could pick up a pizza on the way to your picnic venue, but a rather prosaic choice, lacking in imagination.  There is just a certain breed of cook possessing a singular gene that wants to create and share - it is the "love language" of such types, that speaks, "I did this for you" and relishes watching the eater enjoy it!

Chicken Fettucine Pizza Roll:
1 large shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 large red pepper, diced
1/3 cup quartered artichoke hearts
3 tab. butter
3 tab. flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken
4 oz. sliced mushrooms, sauteed in 1 tab. butter until soft
2 tab. minced parsley

-Melt 3 tab. butter in medium saucepan and saute shallots and garlic about 5 minutes, until soft.  Stir in flour and cook, stirring about 2 minutes.  Mix in chicken broth and bring to a siimer, until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in cream and parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne pepper.  Add red pepper, artichoke hears, cubed chicken, mushrooms and parsley to alfredo sauce and stir.

-Roll out pizza dough to a rectangle about 14 by 10 inches.  Spoon filling down lengthwise center of dough.  Beginning at a long edge, carefully roll dough around the filling to form a long filled bread roll.  Press seams firmly together and place on well greased heavy cookie sheet with raised edges, sprinkled with cornmeal.  Cover and let rest for 25 minutes.

-Place the pizza roll in a 380 degree oven and let bake 30 - 35 minutes, until the roll is puffy and golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes.  Brush the surface with olive oil and sprinkle on garlic powder/and or Italian seasonings and coarsely grated black pepper.  Let continue to rest another 10 minutes.  Serve warm or cold.  Slice to serve.  Serves 8.

Pizza Crust Dough:
1 tab. yeast
1 tab. granulated sugar
2/3 cup warm water (warm but not hot to the touch)
1/2 cup warm milk (warm but not hot to the touch)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour, more or less

-In a large bowl (or bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook), mix the yeast, sugar water, milk, oil, salt and one cup of the flour until well combined.
-Gradually add the remaining flour until a soft dough is formed. It will pull away from the sides of the bowl to form a ball but still be slightly soft to the touch.  Knead the dough for 4-5 minutes until it is soft and smooth.
-Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap; let rise until doubled, about an hour or so.  Punch dough down and shape into a smooth long roll, about 8 - 10 inches.  Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes (this helps relax the gluten so it is easier to roll out).
-On a lightly greased or floured counter, roll the dough about 1/8-inch thick into a large rectangle, about 14 by 10 inches. 

Italian Sausage, Pepper and Mushroom Pizza Roll:
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup each, chopped red and green pepper
1 cup pizza sauce
2 cups grated mozarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/3 cup sliced olives
4 ounces, sliced fresh mushrooms

-Crumble sausage in lightly oiled saute pan and cook over medium heat, until browned, breaking up with wooden spoon.  Drain well and set aside.

-In another saute pan, heat 2 tab. olive oil.  Add onion and peppers and saute until soft, about 5 minutes over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and continue to cook another 2 minutes. Remove from heat. In separate sauté pan, heat 1 tab. butter and saute mushroom slices until soft.

-Roll out dough according to directions.  Spread sauce evenly over the dough then sprinkle ingredients down one long edge of the rolled dough. Beginning at a long edge, carefully roll dough around the filling to form a long filled bread roll.  Press seams firmly together and place on well greased heavy cookie sheet with raised edges, sprinkled with cornmeal.  Cover and let rest for 25 minutes.

-Place the pizza roll in a 380 degree oven and let bake 30 - 35 minutes, until the roll is puffy and golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes.  Brush the surface with olive oil and sprinkle on garlic powder/and or Italian seasonings and coarsely grated black pepper.  Let continue to rest another 10 minutes.  Serve warm or cold.  Slice to serve.  Serves 8.

Persnickety PS:

**Purchased pizza sauce could certainly be used as a shortcut as well as prepared pizza dough found in some stores in the refrigerator or deli section.

**When shaping the roll, try to keep the dough from being rolled in with the filling.  The dough should encase the filling - otherwise the dough in the middle will not cook evenly.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Red Pepper and Caramelized Onion Pisaladiere

Wading my way through a bed of roasted red peppers and caramelized onions is a taste expedition I would courageously undertake with anticipation of a sweet trip!  Will you join me? Particularly, if the bed is made of airy, buttery- crisp puff pastry?  The following recipe is is an easy take on a dish from Provence, usually made with a heavier, more time consuming short pastry. This version, using pre-made puff pastry, is faster and lighter and with the addition of red pepper, and artichoke hearts, sweeter and smokier.  I would never presume to improve upon the original but this is another version that may be less intimidating to some; that is unless you've never worked with puff pastry - "pâte feuilletée" (leaves of pastry).  According to those that know, this French pastry used for making incredible desserts , should be composed of 78 layers of flour and butter, which may prove intimidating to most.

 I have studied how to make puff pastry, and I have made it on occasion but I would only recommend doing so when you have several spare hours, derive great pleasure from doing it yourself, or relish being able to say, "I made it myself!" I almost exclusively purchase the pre-turned frozen pastry.  However, when I recently discovered a pastry from the Brittany region of France, "Kouing Amann", I wanted to delve into making that delicious confection by rolling up my sleeves, putting on a good movie in the background and started at the very beginning.  It is an experience worth the effort and if nothing else, makes you grateful for the advent of industrial machinery. You should make puff pastry on a dry cool day - not on a muggy, warm day as I originally did.  But until that day arrives, venture to the freezer section of your grocery store, lovingly select a frozen package of Puff Pastry sheets, take it home and place it in your freezer until ready to use.  If you follow the steps below, you should be successful and this delicate pastry can be your friend for composing dishes such as Bouchee a la Reine (Chicken A la King), Napoleans and palmiers.

Tips for Working with frozen Puff Pastry Sheets:

1 - Remove each sheet from it's wrapping and place it on the counter for about 10 minutes.
2 - Gently, with careful coaxing, unfold the tri-folded sheet and stand it up on the counter in a tent shape for an additional 15 minutes, to thaw.
3- While the dough is still chilled but somewhat malleable roll it out to a slightly larger rectangle, sealing the seams closed with the rolling pin as you go.
4 - Place the dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
5- Do not roll any leftover dough into a ball but keep it flat, or you destroy the butter - pastry layers created in the dough and it will not puff up when you bake.
6 - Return the prepared pastry to the freezer for about 20 minutes before baking to allow the pastry to become cold again, thus keeping the butter solid so that more layers will form and puff during baking.   

Red Pepper and Caramalzied Onion Pisaladiere
2 sheets frozen puff pastry sheets
1 package Boursin cheese with garlic and herbs, 
              (room temperature)
2 large sliced onions, slivered
2 tab. olive oil
1/2 cup sliced roasted red peppers
              (from a jar or prepared yourself)
1/2 cup roughly chopped, canned or frozen artichoke hearts
1/4 cup roughly chopped Kalamata or Nicoise olives
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

-In large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and toss with 1/2 tsp. salt for about 5 minutes to begin the caramelizing process.  Reduce the heat to low and slowly caramelize the onions for about 40 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool.

-Follow the directions for using the puff pastry above.  Place one rolled out sheet on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll out the other pastry sheet and cut 4 - 1 inch wide strips down the length of the pastry.  Brush a bit of water along each edge of the original sheet and lay a 1" strip along each edge, overlapping and trimming strips to fit, to create a raised border around the edge of the pialadier. Preheat the oven to 380 degrees.  Chill the pastry in freezer while the oven is preheating.  Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the pastry is puffy and golden brown.  Allow to cool about 15 minutes.

-Gently spread Boursin cheese over the cooked pastry.  Distribute onions, red peppers and artichoke hearts evenly over the cheese layer, then scatter olives and parmesan cheese over the top. Return to 375 degree oven and heat for 12 - 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.

Cook's Notes:  Although you could use creme fraiche or mascarpone cheese to spread on the pastry, I chose Boursin cheese with garlic and herbs.   Easy on the olives - the bold taste of the Kalamata olives can demand your attention so insistently that the silky, subtle flavors of the onion are overwhelmed.  But a little briny pop creates a nice contrast.