April 28, 2011

Bunny Heads and Buttery Braids


Aren't these bunny heads friendly and cute? Don't you just want to eat their ears off? 

Sorry for the blogging hiatus. I was at home for a week for Easter break, busy learning my Grandma's Easter baking tricks and traditions. These bunnies and braided loaves are what my Grandma is famous for when the holiday rolls around. Everyone waits to receive their own special bunny face. They're best toasted and slathered in butter....

I am eating one right now. I need a smiling, cute face made out of sweet raisins. Today was my last day at my internship, where I counseled high school students, and since I am feeling a bit down about it ending (will miss the students immensely) I needed a little pick-me-up. More on that later, but this bread is the perfect pick me up for everyone, even those who don't need one.!

My grandma makes at least a bunny, if not a loaf, for everyone she knows. Her recipe uses 6 pounds of flour. She made this recipe twice, two days in a row. If loaves are love, my grandma has a lot.  

Though she's been making these long before 1974, she finalized the recipe by writing it down that year. On the dark yellow, tattered recipe card she wrote, "1974-- Good." Yes, these are good. 

Also, there were no directions, only ingredients. She makes this by memory, so following along with her was crucial to learning how she does it. Have I mentioned that she is 90 years old? I could barely keep up.

We mixed the dough in the giant bucket and let it rise. We had lunch. We drank tea and played Scrabble. For the first time in my life, I won. Only because Grandma whispered helpful hints to me, but whatever. 

Once the dough has risen once, we tore off groups of three hunks at a time to make braided loaves, or single hunks for bunnies. 

Then the hunks get rolled into long pieces and either braided or twisted like this. My grandma was patient with me when my bunny-head making skills were lacking. I was too anxious about getting them right, so they were coming out all sorts of funny looking. She reminded me to relax and just have fun with it. Reason No. 9,317,328 I love her.

Then they get their three little raisin eyes and nose pressed into their faces.
They are covered with a towel and left to rise again. 
Once ready for baking, they are covered with an egg wash.

And when they are out of the oven and cooling, you'll want to sneak one hot off the rack. Like I mentioned above, toast them up, slather them in butter, and enjoy every bite of this flaky, rich treat.

Grandma LaRusso's Easter Loaves
1974 -- Good

1 cup water, warm
2 packages yeast, frothed in the water
3 cups milk, frothed over medium heat
3 1/2 sticks salted butter
2 cups plus a little bit sugar
1 T. salt
1 dozen eggs
one box golden raisins
6 lbs flour

1 egg + 1 t. water for egg wash

Add the yeast to the cup of warm water and allow it to froth and rise. Meanwhile, warm the milk over the stove and when it just froths, turn off the heat and stir the butter in until melted, then the sugar, salt, and raisins. Beat the eggs in a large bowl and pour into the warm milk mixture, stirring as you pour.

Add the 6 cups of flour to a large basin and make a well in the center. Once the egg and milk mixture is barely warm, pour into the well and knead the dough until smooth and comes away from the sides of the basin. Add more flour if necessary. Cover with a towel and let rise for a few hours, until puffy and soft. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently use a serrated knife to cut off palm sized pieces of dough. Roll each piece of dough into a long tube between your palms, about 8-10 inches long. Loop each ends of the dough over each other to form two little bunny "ears" and a round bunny face. Press three raisins into the face to make eyes and a mouth. Place them on parchment on a baking sheet and cover with towels and allow to rise again for a couple of hours. You can also use three tubes to create a braided loaf.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Brush the bunnies or loaves with the egg wash. Bake 25-30 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes then remove to a cooling rack. Eat toasted with generous amounts of butter.

April 14, 2011

Quick Kale and Sweet Potato Soup

I am calling this "quick" kale and sweet potato soup because you should make it, quick, before the weather gets too warm and we don't want soup anymore, and kale and sweet potatoes and lentils all get replaced by melting gelato and feta-cucumber salads and hot dogs.

This soup is a love. It's going to give you a big hug of healthy, filling, yummy goodness. The kale and lentils are earthy, while the potatoes and tomatoes balance them with flavors both bright and sweet The leftovers make a lunch you'll count down until noon for, and M and I didn't even mind having this soup as a repeat dinner oh, about three times, since I made such a big pot. I paired it with big hunks of toasted Irish Soda Bread slathered in butter.

So go ahead, quick, and catch those cool nights while they're still lingering. And who knows, this soup is so good for you it may do the double duty of helping prep for bathing suit season. It's just a thought.

Kale and Sweet Potato Soup: adapted from Real Simple Magazine
1 T. olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized peices
About 1 lb kale, washed, leaves removed from stems and cut into rough strips
1 cup brown lentils
1 t. dried oregano
1 t. dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
Crumbled feta cheese for topping

Directions: Add the oil to a large stock pot and heat over medium. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent, then add the tomatoes and cook 3-4 minutes. Add 6 cups water. Bring to a boil and add all remaining ingredients. Cook until the lentils are soft and fully cooked, about 25 minutes. Serve with cheese for topping.

April 10, 2011

Everyone should Blackout on their birthday

This cake didn't take forever to make, it only looks like it did!

M requested this chocolate truffle cake for his birthday. I renamed it Dark Chocolate Blackout Cake. I didn't know that it was going to end up having four layers, using pounds of chocolate, and weighing as much as a small child. But I am glad to know. This cake is heavenly.

The cake batter is very liquidy, but I promise it turns out so right. That liquid is what makes every layer  practically oozing with richness and moisture. I baked two rounds of cake, then carefully sliced each round into two thinner rounds. The four layers were then sandwiched with a double recipe of thick dark chocolate truffle. 

But I wanted my cake to have a perfectly smooth exterior. Check out all those layers above, looking like tiny chocolate shelves. I would  need to fill them in. The extra truffle came in handy -- it was like working with the most decadent molding clay. I used it to fill in all the nooks and crannies until each level was even  on the outside with the next.

Finally, the whole cake was enveloped in a thick dark chocolate ganache and spread evenly until smooth. 

The entire cake was placed in the fridge to set for 30 minutes. 
When it came out, that ganache was not going to budge. Perfect.

I stared at it -- it was huge. There would simply be no way that M and I could take on this cake alone. So I invited all our friends over instead. It was way more fun and tasty that way!

I definitely can't wait until another birthday rolls around, because this birthday blackout cake is at the top of my list. It's impressive, unbelievably decadent, and completely baker-friendly (all levels, I swear). Now we're enjoying the small quarter cake that was left over. I've been getting a little crazy with my slices. One I drizzled with warm peanut butter and another I topped with gelato, but believe me, this cake needs nothing but a fork!

Dark Chocolate Blackout Cake: adapted from Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts
For the cake:
4 oz. dark chocolate 
8 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
2 sticks butter, room temp
2.5 cups water
3 eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar 
1 1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

For the truffle layers:
8 oz. baking chocolate
4.5 cups confectioners' sugar
12 T. butter, room temp.
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream

For the ganache:
8 oz. dark chocolate
1/2 cup whipping or heavy cream

Grease two 9" round cake pans and preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a heavy 4-quart saucepan over low heat, heat the dark and baking chocolate, 1 cup butter, and 2.5 cups water, stirring often until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly while you combine the rest of the cake ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla extract. Gradually beat in the warm chocolate mixture. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add this gradually to the chocolate mixture, beating until it is smooth and well blended.

Pour batter into cake pans and bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack 15 minutes, then carefully remove from pans and cool completely on the rack. Meanwhile prep truffle mixture. Over low heat, melt 8 oz. baking chocolate, stirring frequently until melted. Cool slightly, then stir in the butter, confectioners' sugar, and whipping cream until it is smooth and well blended. Reserve about 1/2 cup truffle mixture in a separate bowl.

Next, make sure your cake is completely cool. Then carefully run a knife around the outer edge of each of the cake layers, as centered as possible, to mark the path of the cut -- each layer will be cut into two thinner layers. Then, gently use a sawing motion to begin to slice through the center of each cake layer. Carefully remove the layers from each other and set aside. You should have four approximately 3/4-1" cake layers.

Place wax paper over your cake dish, then carefully place your bottom cake layer on top. Spread 1/3 of the truffle mixture from the main pan (not reserved) over the cake layer, smoothing gently, but firmly, and pressing down to make it go to the outer edges. Place another cake layer over this, and repeat until there are 3 layers of truffle and 4 layers of cake assembled. Now, use the reserved 1/2 cup truffle to spread around the outside portion of the cake layers where they do not meet up flush with eachother, as in the photo above. Smooth as well as possible.

Prepare the ganache. Heat the dark chocolate and heavy cream, stirring until melted, smooth, and thick. Pour over the top of the cake and smooth all around the outer edges, until cake is smooth and completely covered. Place in refrigerator until glaze is set, about 30 minutes. Decorate as desired. 

April 5, 2011

Kickin' Rub of Love

Can I just take a moment to say how utterly pleasurable it is to eat Chobani Mango Greek Yogurt? I wasn't paid to say that, I'm just eating a delectably sweet and creamy cup of it as we speak (or, type) and felt overwhelmed with positive emotion. Thanks for letting me share.

Anyway, this post wasn't supposed to be about Greek yogurt, though we can continue talking about that topic again soon. I'd love to. This post is about another awesomely delicious food item:

The pork chop. Dear readers, you listened as I confided my early hesitancy about the pork chop -- bland, dry, and boring were the worst thoughts I can confess I've had about this meat. So I avoided it. And then, a few years ago I moved in with this man that I'll now be married to in a matter of weeks.

That first day he looked at me across the kitchen counter and asked for pork chops, please, because they are his favorite, I felt a twinge of fear mixed with a dash of incredulous really? pork chops are your favorite? let me introduce you to all of the other meats that are out there! Then I sighed and went to the store.

The rest his history, because I discovered that same day that pork chops can indeed be delicious and versatile. Much to M's happiness they have become a frequent flier on the dinner table. Since tomorrow is M's birthday, I thought I'd honor his favorite meal and share with you a foolproof and awesomely fun way to prepare and eat chops. The chop gets tossed in a generous dose of zesty, brightly flavored rub that is also well suited to steaks, chicken, and other meats. It's a sure recipe for love.

Below, I served it with a side of whole roast sweet potato, which compliments the sweet and smoky flavors of this meat. The sweet potato is now another of M's favorites, but it was his turn to balk when I first introduced him to my favorite orange starch. A little bite of this and a little taste of that, and our likes (and lives) have come together quite nicely... Now, if only all matters of the heart could be solved as simply as the matters of the stomach...

Rub: adapted from Epicurious
3 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coarse salt, either kosher or sea salt
3/4 teaspoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne

Combine well in an airtight container where you can store the rest. 

To prepare the chops, place two in a bag and douse generously with rub. Allow to sit for anywhere from 1 hour to 24. Preheat the broiler on high and place the rack 6 inches away. Carefully remove chops with tongs, keeping the rub on, and place on an oiled cooking sheet. Broil about 5-6 minutes per side, watching carefully so as not to burn or overcook. Pork chops should be moist, juicy, and barely pink in the center. Allow to rest a couple minutes, then serve.

April 1, 2011

A Very Lenten Lunch: Fried Eggs and Cheese over Creamy Polenta

This Lenten lunch is anything but depriving. I know, we're supposed to be less indulgent or more modest during lent, but I have problems doing that. During lent I would rather do something than take something away... like, I try to be nicer or I remember to pray every night before bed. The doing instead of taking during lent led me to this lunch. 

The warm, creamy polenta is already indulgent and satisfying enough on its own. Then it gets smothered with gently fried eggs and warm feta cheese. The minute my fork cut through the egg yolk it poured into the polenta and was soaked up. Every bite was incredibly rich and satisfying. This is a meal that would be wonderful for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, whether you're observing the holiday season or simply aiming for a meatless weeknight meal. One thing is for certain  -- I was not missing meat on this Friday during lent for a minute. 

Creamy Polenta: Adapted from Wolfgang Puck. Serves 3-4
2 T. butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup quality chicken broth
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup polenta or cornmeal
salt and pepper to taste
3 oz. cheese of choice (I used provolone and parmesan, but other great ones are fontina, gruyere, gorgonzola and mozzarella)
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
1 T. dried basil

Directions: In a steamer, or a heavy saucepan over medium heat, saute onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and clear. Add all the rest of the ingredients except for the milk and cheese, whisking when it comes time to gradually pour in the polenta to avoid lumps. Cook until steamer switches to warm, or on the stovetop for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then, add the cheese and milk, salt and pepper to taste, and stir again. Press the steamer cook button down again, or continue to cook and stir over the stovetop. When steamer switches to Keep Warm, or when polenta is thick in consistency, you are done. Stir in dried basil.

Fried Eggs and Cheese:
Add 1 t. olive oil to a small skillet and preheat over medium. Crack two eggs directly into the pan once it is hot and turn the heat to medium low, allowing the egg to cook until the centers are barely set. Turn off the heat, sprinkle with sea salt and cheese of choice. Allow the cheese to warm through, 1-2 minutes, then add freshly ground pepper. Gently remove from pan with spatula and serve atop the creamy polenta.


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