Before I Forget

Did everyone have a thoroughly enjoyable weekend? Did you have an easter egg scavenger hunt? Or eat a lot of chocolate bunnies? Cadbury creme eggs (man, I could tear one of those down right now, never mind the fact that I just shoved a piece of cake into my face…)? Did you wear really lame-looking pastel-colored outfits with bow ties and Mary Janes? Or did you force those sort of cute things on your kids, instead?!

Get this: I didn’t do any of those things. Except, of course, I did have an enjoyable weekend. Duh.

We spent all day Saturday at Tomales Bay Oyster Farm again, because going this long without an oyster retreat was just silly. The weather was brilliantly sunny, speckled with a  few appearances by the clouds and the wind, and we had plenty of awesome food to choose from, which meant we pretty much ate from 11 AM to 5 PM, and there was nothing wrong with that in the slightest. We finished up the day with some Walking Dead episodes, since Judy and Jared can’t seem to get their act together to watch the rest of this season on their own. Dang non-cable-havers.

Sunday started off with an hour and a half of constant sweating at Bikram yoga (I’m still not sure why I’m torturing myself in these classes, but I think I sorta like them…) and a nice lunch with friends followed by a few hours of pinning, blogging, photo-editing, and grocery-planning. Jealous? I get that all the time :). What won’t make you jealous, I’m sure, is that doing laundry was also part of the fun.

So before I forget, I wanted to slip in the recipe I mentioned a few weeks back – the fennel & manchego shortbread cookies that were part of the co-winning Iron Chef dish at the last battle. I’m not sure why shortbread cookies are named as they are – they are neither short nor bready, but what they are is extremely tasty. Butter-laden, they are always perfect cookies to have around tea, or coffee, or in this case, ice cream. And caramel. But I ate a few by themselves and they were just fine too.

Now don’t let these cookies surprise you – they are a touch sweet, and they definitely live up to the definition of shortbread, which essentially requires that they are loaded with fat, ahem, butter, and that they are crumby and biscuit-ish, but what they also do is this – they also lean more to the savory side of things, which some people find weird for cookies. For one, they have a healthy amount of cheese baked into them, which once out of the oven they possess a gorgeous orangey-brown speck here and there, like the cheese in a cheddar biscuit, perhaps (and yes, now I am dying to demolish a biscuit. with or without cheddar. preferably with.).

For two, they are showered in fennel seeds, which I promise you only makes them better. You could nix the fennel if you wanted to, and add say, sesame seeds or lavender or orange zest or whatever, but I swear to you the fennel and Manchego cheese are meant to be in this cookie. I promise you, your mouth will thank you.

 

Manchego Shortbread with Fennel & Sea Salt
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2012; makes ~24

printable version

time commitment: 3 hours (1 hour active; 2 hours chilling dough)

ingredients
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c powdered sugar
1 t freshly ground black pepper
3/4 t kosher salt
2 c all-purpose flour plus a little more for rolling out the dough
1 c finely grated Manchego cheese (about 2 ounces)
1 T fennel seeds
1 t sea salt
2 T extra-virgin olive oil

instructions
Using an electric mixer, beat butter in a medium bowl on low speed until smooth, 1–2 minutes. Add powdered sugar, pepper, and kosher salt. Reduce speed to medium and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until light and fluffy, 4–5 minutes. Add flour and cheese. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat mixture just until dough comes together.

Wrap dough in plastic and flatten into a rectangle. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. You can do this up to a few days in advance if you want. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing.

Pulse fennel seeds in a spice grinder (aka coffee grinder) until coarsely crushed (or close them up in a Ziploc bag and crush with something like a rolling pin). Transfer to a small bowl; stir in sea salt. Set fennel salt aside.

Arrange a rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove plastic wrap from dough. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10×8-inch rectangle about 1/4-inch thick. Cut in thirds crosswise, then cut each third crosswise into 6 rectangles. Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush cookies generously with oil, then sprinkle with fennel salt. If you have extra dough, you can always roll that out and re-cut. I did this with my dough to make even more cookies, just make sure the dough doesn’t get to warm or else the cookies will flatten when they’re baking.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until cookies are golden brown (flecks of cheese will be slightly darker), ~20 minutes. Let cool on sheets for at least 10 minutes. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days.

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Fennel-y-dee

One of the downsides to losing the Iron Chef battles, or rather the downside to losing, is that you don’t get to choose the ingredient next time around. Okay, I retract that statement; there is another downside – crushing of pride. Embarrassment. Resulting fear and anxiety about the next one, another losing battle for sure. Soul-stealing. Losing leftovers – who wants those?! I couldn’t even look at the sliders from last time.

Wow, that was intense. And maybe a little dramatic. Whatever.

But when you don’t get to pick the ingredient, you just never ever know how you’re gonna feel about it, until you do. Know, that is, which generally doesn’t happen until the Wednesday before the actual event. So you wait two months in anticipation, since you, er, lost. Remember?

And then someone announces that FENNEL is the god-forsaken theme ingredient. Fennel. Shitfire (yes, this is a word).

As it turns out, f-ing fennel is not my most favorite ingredient on the planet. I was hoping for, I dunno, cheese? Bacon? Crabs? Fire-breathing dragons? Rattlesnake? Durian? Definitely not fennel.

And dang, here I go being dramatic again. I really don’t hate fennel. Honest. I just, as my gramma would have said, I just don’t love it. And these secret ingredients – they need to be loved. You need to be excited about them. You need to want to slather them all over your body, and eat them till the cows come home.


dishes, left to right: fennel crackers with roasted fennel dip, fennel-lamb kebabs with fennel chutney, green salad with shaved fennel and parmesan, fennel ice cream sundae, random shot of food, homemade smoked salmon and pear crostini with fennel cream, porchetta-fennel pulled pork with pickled fennel, fennel ice cream with chocolate fennel tuile, fennel angel food cake with candied fennel

Or do you?

The top three:

  1. Heather’s Fennel Dessert Sundae (fennel ice cream, fennel-manchego shortbread, and orange-fennel caramel) AND Jeff’s house-made smoked salmon with fennel and fennel cream fraiche)
  2. Elizabeth’s fennel ice cream (which was better than mine) with chocolate fennel tuile
  3. Kevin’s lamb-fennel kebabs with fennel chutney

 

Four SF battles in, I finally made a dish worthy of a win, or at least a shared win. With fennel, of all things. But I sucked it up and I liked it, and I liked ALL of the dishes made. And my dish? I just stuck with things that I do LOVE – ice cream, caramel, and shortbread. I figured, even if I don’t LOVE fennel, I’d at least love the mediums that included it.

So here we are – at an Iron Chef first – a tie. Picking the next ingredient (or ingredients, depending on what we decide) should be fun. Plus, my pride will be intact – for once. 🙂

ps – the shortbread recipe is coming soon. but it’s so dang good, I just had to give it it’s own post. had to.

Fennel Ice Cream
From Gourmet 2007 via Epicurious; makes ~1 quart

time commitment: variable. at least 3 hours (1 hour active time), or you can do this in steps and make the base the night before and freeze the ice cream the next day.

printable version

ingredients
1 2/3 c heavy cream (or 1/2 & 1/2)
1 T fennel seeds, crushed
1 c whole milk
3/4 c sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks

ice cream maker

instructions
Bring cream and fennel seeds just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then cover and let steep about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring milk, 1/2 c sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.

Whisk together yolks and remaining 1/4 c sugar in a large bowl, then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a heat-proof bowl. Strain fennel cream into the same bowl, pressing on solids while straining to extract as much flavor as possible. Mix together.

Quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes. You can also just chill the mixture in the fridge overnight, if you allow an extra day for this.

Once mixture is chilled, freeze in ice cream maker according to machine’s instructions (usually 15-20 minutes). Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, about 1 hour.

 

Orange-Fennel Caramel Sauce
original recipe; makes ~1/2 c

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 c sugar (+ more to thicken, if needed)
1/4 c water
zest of 1 orange
1/2 c fresh orange juice
1 T fennel seeds
1/4 c heavy cream
1 T butter
1 t sea salt

instructions
Combine sugar and water in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil and DO NOT STIR. Also, DO NOT WALK AWAY. On occasion, pick the saucepan up and swirl the mixture, but don’t stir. Somewhere between 5-8 minutes the mixture will begin to turn from clear to a light golden color. Once the golden color is more noticeable, remove from heat more often and swirl the mixture. The caramel color will quickly change colors, and will continue to cook in the pan once removed from the heat, so don’t wait to remove the pan when it’s dark, or your sauce will burn. What you want to end up with is a nice, deep golden color that isn’t burnt, so if you don’t get the right color after removing from the heat and swirling, then add it back to the stove for a few seconds at a time. Make sure it’s spot-on before you continue to the next step – it’s better to toss out a little burnt sugar and start over than to have to start all over once you finish everything and realize your caramel tastes burnt and gross.

Once the sauce is the right color, carefully add zest, orange juice, fennel seed, and heavy cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over low heat until smooth and any caramel bits dissolve. Strain the mixture (twice, if needed) through a fine mesh sieve and pour back into the saucepan.

Now, once I got to this point my sauce was a tad too “watery” for my liking, so I added about a teaspoon of sugar at a time, cooking on medium-low, until it thickened up. I adjusted the amount of sugar on the front end when I wrote this recipe, so yours should be thicker, but feel free to do this if you want to thicken up your sauce and just slowly cook it without a ton of heat until it gets where you want it. Once it does, finish the sauce with the butter and sea salt, and remove from heat to let cool completely. You can strain at the end if you want, but straining earlier was helpful for me to check the thickness.

The sauce will keep for a few days (weeks?) in the fridge. Zap it the microwave for ~30 seconds before serving.

Totally Smitten w/ Pumpernickel

pumpernickel ingredients
If you haven’t heard, I’ve been making a lot of bread products lately. In class, we’ve learned how to make all sorts of baked delicacies – muffins, biscuits, 4-grain, foccacia and challah breads. We even learned how to make eclairs – those were a hit and a half with the folks at the office. Despite my excitement regarding the outcome of that gorgeous, perfectly braided (well, perfect enough) challah loaf, not to mention my tender hand muscles from kneading for two nights straight, the pages of my baking book kept somehow turning themselves to the recipe for pumpernickel. And then, as if the Oklahoma blogger were reading my mind, she invited another blogger to her ranch where they made the prettiest darn bread I’ve ever seen. You might imagine, this sealed my fate, and prolonged the hankerin’ for a warm, dark, intensely flavored slice of pumpernickel.

more ingredients



I imagined it a number of different ways – warm (smoking, even) with butter melting into it, or perhaps toasted with cream cheese and smoked salmon inside, and the best – just plain, as my afternoon snack at work. Oh, and in the freezer – so I could pull it out whenever I wanted it!


My teachings in school had led me to believe that baking bread would be a day-long (or two day-long) process. This is not necessarily true. It is time consuming, and tedious. And this bread, this bread has a lot of ingredients (17 by my count without the optionals) – each just as important as the other. I was surprised to find that I already had 15 of those ingredients, just waiting to be brought together for the first time. I only needed the rye flour and bran and I was set. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, they are all fairly easy to locate minus the rye flour. Whole Foods carries it, but most regular grocery stores probably don’t. If you aren’t near a WF or other specialty store, like Trader Joes or Fresh Market, you can buy it online.


the yeast works!


Pumpernickel is definitely my favorite samich bread. It’s not the same as rye bread, which I don’t love so much. I’m not certain that I’ve actually eaten true German pumpkernickel bread, and this version is definitely not true German pumpernickel, but rather the Americanized version. Traditional pumpernickel has a looooong baking time (meaning a whole day in a steamed oven – by no means a “green” practice) and use of a Sourdough starter, which is also used in rye breads. The long baking time brings out that coffee/dark chocolate flavor, while the starter contributes to rising.


dough rising


We Americans cheat a little in the making of pumpernickel by baking it less and instead, adding the flavors lost by such faux pas. Hence the addition of molasses (as if adding molasses to anything deems explanation), espresso, cocoa powder. Hell – none of those require explanation, but I had a feeling if I didn’t tell you, you’d unnecessarily burn kilocalories by furrowing your brow, frowning, and quite possibly, turning your nose up at the thought of adding such ingredients to bread. Save yourself the trouble – please – they are necessary! And in absence of the starter, as preferred by die Deutsch, we add wheat flour and yeast to facilitate gluten formation and the rise.


rounded and ready to bake


You’ll also notice the choice of using a loaf pan or rounding your dough. It doesn’t take a professional baker to realize the difference here, people. [Think: if you put your dough in a pan, how does that affect the baking? And conversely, how about letting it bake openly in the comfort of a parchment-lined baking pan?]. Er… the answer is… you get a loaf that is very dense or a round that is a bit ‘airier’. All about your preference – I like the less dense version, personally. But suit yourself.


I bet by now you are doing one of two things: cursing yourself for reading a blog entry about something you could care less about or performing a mental checklist of your pantry to see what you’re gonna have to buy to make the best bread on earth. I hope it’s the latter, but if not – your loss. I have another round in my freezer so I won’t be missing out any time soon.


cut wonkily


Russian Black Bread
from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
Makes 2 large, in charge, rounds or loaves


printable recipe

ingredients
2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)


Special stuff: stand mixer (can do all by hand if you’ve got muscles and energy!), spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer (optional)


instructions
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive 🙂


2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn’t kill the yeast.


3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.


4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).


5. At low speed, add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle. It will be sticky but firm, and you’ll probably have leftover flour.


6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough (until it looks sexy, as my teacher says). You may still have flour left over, but maybe not.


7. Form into a ball and place in a bowl sprayed with Pam. Turn over to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2-2hours (I preheat oven to 100 and then turn off, leaving door open to let temp drop some before putting dough in). Meanwhile, combine cornmeal, flour, and remaining seeds if you’re topping the bread before baking, and set aside.


8. Deflate dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal portion and form into two rounds or loaves. If making loaves, place in a sprayed loaf pan. If rounds (like mine) place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (one round per sheet). Sprinkle w/ mixture if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again, until doubled, about 45 min to 1 hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking (none needed for loaves); you can see from my pictures that you don’t want to slash too deep or it affects the prettiness. Just a small slash.


9. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until internal temperature of 200-210. I baked mine for about 40-45 minutes. (1/2 way through baking, I switched the positions of each sheet too). Remove from sheet and cool completely on a rack.


10. Let it cool (if you can resist the urge), and then slop whatever your little heart desires on it.


p.s. – I’m aware that, if this is your first foray into the wonderul world of bread-baking that this recipe might be a bit intimidating. I’ve found that making bread definitely takes practice. You can probably tell I need some practice prettying up my bread – rounding and scoring are not my good points – not yet! So, if you’re scurred (Southern for scared), drop me a line in the comment box, and I’ll find you something more basic to start with. Promise 🙂