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Archive for December, 2008

shrimp1

These shrimp, leftover from a holiday cocktail platter, were crying out for creative employment. So shrimp bisque it was!  This preparation also made use of some leftover poaching liquid we had in the fridge – a mix of clam juice, white wine, herbs, pink peppercorns, leeks, and salmon juices. It all made for an incredibly flavorful soup that is light on the cream but no less tasty.

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Begin by sauteing a diced carrot, two celery ribs, a small onion, garlic and olive oil over medium heat, about 8 minutes. Then add a cup of dry white wine and a quarter cup of brandy while bringing the mixture to a boil. After a couple minutes, add 3 cups of clam juice, stock or poaching liquid and a cup of cream or milk. While stirring, add a quarter cup of rice, a can of tomato paste, fresh tarragon, and finely grated lemon peel before covering to simmer for 20 minutes.

makingbisqueWhen the rice is tender, puree the soup in batches using a traditional or immersion blender, as I did here. You can blend to your desired thickness/chunkiness. Then pour it back into a pot to simmer on the stove before serving. Garnish with some fresh shrimp.

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Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 1995.

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Flaxseed Oat Bran Bread

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I’m still a yeast-bread rookie, but this loaf turned out marvelously well. Made from a pre-blended mix of specialty flours by King Arthur Flour, the bread was nutty and modestly dense with a crisp crust.  Total prep/bake time was about three and a half hours.

One interesting tidbit regarding the yeast:  I blended the yeast packet into the flour mix before adding the warm milk (120-130 degrees). With the French baguettes earlier in the week, I mixed the packet of active yeast with warm water separately first – allowing it to foam before adding the liquid to the flour. Not sure what difference it makes…?

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112outside

Getting a table at this popular bistro in Minneapolis’ historic warehouse district is akin, I would imagine, to fighting off a posse of teenage girls stampeeding for tickets to Hannah Montana, though thankfully I’ve never actually had to do the latter. It was impossible to get a reservation less than a week in advance, and the two-story dining room was packed at 10:00, which is late by Minneapolis standards. But the food is well worth the hassle.

Chef Isaac Becker, a 2008 James Beard award nominee, has created an intriguing, inventive menu of homemade pastas, fresh fish, grilled meats and an eclectic assortment of sandwiches and small plates that include house duck pate, lamb scottadito with goats milk yogurt, fried bread with proscuitto, and cauliflower fritters.  It’s no wonder the New York Times characterized 112 as a “culinary adventure.” Check this place out the next time you’re in Minneapolis.

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From top left: the stringozzi with lamb sugo – homemade rope-like pasta with a light tomato-based sauce of braised lamb shoulder and fresh herbs; pan-friend gnocci with parmesan reggiano -these simple tender potato pasta have a crispy side from the pan-frying that makes them addicting; cauliflower fritters – these are incredibly tasty, like a cauliflower tempura, topped with grated parmesan, fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon; steak tartare – a generous portion of the classic with plenty of onion ground in, topped with a yolk (heart healthy!).

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French Baguettes

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Baking bread can be one of the most satisfying kitchen experiences. Forget the non-yeast “quick breads” or leaving the dirty work to a robotic bread machine, putting your hands on raw, yeasty dough is a fun and rewarding process that appeals to the senses.   The kneading and crafting; the ritual of preparing the yeast and watching it come alive as the loaves rise; the warm aroma that emmanates from the hot baker’s oven in action.

These baguettes are crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside — particularly delightful eaten warm with a smear of butter and jam or a slice of good cheese.

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Crusty French Baguettes

(1) Mix 1 cup of warm water (120-130 degrees) with a packet of yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar, stirring to dissolve. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes.

(2) Blend 2 1/2 cups of bread flour with 2 teaspoons of salt.  Add the yeast liquid and knead into a dough until it’s not sticky anymore. Use your hands!

(3) Place the ball of dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a dish cloth, and let it rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

(4) Punch the dough down. Then, on a lightly floured surface, roll out to a 16×12 inch rectangle. Cut the dough in half, creating two 8×12 inch rectangles. Roll up each half of dough tightly, pounding out air bubbles as you go. Roll gently to taper the ends.

(5) Place the loaves on a greased cookie sheet or in a bread pan. Make deep diagonal slashes across the loaves every 2 inches, or make one lengthwise slash. (In the photo above, I did one of each.)

(6) Cover the loaves and let them rise in a warm place 40 minutes until they double in size. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375.

(7) Mix one egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush over the top of the loaves. Then bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

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granolaraw

Store-bought granolas are often high in sugar, oil and fat not to mention price. They vary widely in terms flavor, consistency, and crunchy/chewiness. But making granola at home is surprisingly easy and the best way to ensure a wholesome cereal that suits your taste. The key is fresh, quality raw materials — whole oats, raw unsalted nuts, and fresh dried fruits. The “wet mixture,” or coating that creates those classic, flavorful granola oat-nut clusters, can be customized to your preference of sweetness and flavor. This recipe from the Lafayette Inn bed & breakfast in Easton, PA, plays with the flavors of peanut butter and jelly — the nuttiness of the peanut butter complements the tangy sweetness of the dried cranberries and raisins.

Lafayette Inn Granola

1/3 cup honey

1/2 cup peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup dried cranberries

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Heat the honey, peanut butter, vanilla and cinnamon over low heat, stirring frequently so the mixture doesn’t burn. Then, add the wet mixture to the oats and nuts.  (Leave out the raisins and cranberries until after baking.)

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The peanut butter will create clumps in the dry mixture, so do your best to break them up in the mixing process. Pour the coated oat-nut mixture on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 for 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Depending on your “crunch” preference, you can roast it longer.  After the granola cools, add the cranberries and raisins and store in an airtight container.

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choccake

Yes, this chocolate cake tastes as good as it looks.  The Little Pie Company of the Big Apple knows how to bake a moist, rich and fluffy dessert that is truly wonderful. If you’re a fan of the famous Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, I’d say this cake-and-frosting combo ranks right up there.

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Even though their pies get mixed reviews online, the cake is worthy of a stop by their stand the next time you travel through Grand Central station.

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Gyu-Kaku NYC

It’s mid-December and your Weber BBQ is probably hidden away in the garage or buried outside under snow and ice. But at Gyu-Kaku (34 Cooper Square) in the East Village, you can still enjoy the flavor — and the fun — of grilling marinated meats, seafood and vegetables right at your table.

A friendly and attentive waitstaff helps you assemble a meal from a vast a la cart menu: dozens of cuts of meat and fish, including Kobe beef, marinated in a variety of Japanese sauces (miso, shio, garlic, terriayki, and others) and assorted fresh vegetables.

I ordered miso marinated freerange chicken breast ($8), garlic marinated skirt steak ($7), and a platter of assorted veggies ($10).  Add a bowl of rice ($2) and a cold draft Sapporo ($6) and it’s a feast for under $40.

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