November 19, 2017

Zimsterne (Cinnamon-Almond Meringue Stars)


It's Christmas cookie season, and I couldn't be more excited.  I love Christmas -- it's such a happy time of the year!

Today's recipe is for a classic German cookie, zimsterne.  They are cinnamon almond star cookies painted with meringue.  The cookies are chewy with a crunchy meringue topping.  They aren't super sweet, so these are a good cookie for your cookie trays as they will balance the other sweet Christmas cookies out there.

These cookies have simple ingredients, with the primary ingredients being just ground almonds and cinnamon.  There is no butter in these cookies!

These cookies are often found at German Christmas markets and appear at specialty stores during the Christmas season.  Back in the 1700s, cinnamon was an expensive and rare spice in Europe, and almonds were considered a food for royalty since they had to be imported.  So, these cookies typically only made an appearance at Christmas.

The dough is very sticky.  If you have a hard time with the cookie cutters, just use a spoon instead and make little moons. ;-)  Your efforts will be rewarded with one yummy Christmas cookie!

Zimsterne (Cinnamon-Almond Meringue Stars)
Yields 40 cookies

Ingredients:
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp. salt
200 grams (1 1/2 cups and 2 tbsp.) confectioners' sugar
300 grams (3 cups) finely ground raw almonds
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites and salt.  Turn the mixer onto medium-high speed and gradually add the confectioners' sugar.  Continue mixing for 7-10 minutes or until the mixture is glossy and stiff.

Measure out 3/4 cup of the glossy meringue into a small bowl to reserve for later; you will use it for frosting the cookies.  Back in the bowl of the stand mixer, begin to gradually fold the ground almonds and the cinnamon into the egg whites.  Fold until the mixture becomes firm and slightly sticky.

Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap it in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

When ready to make the cookies, line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silpat.  Unwrap the dough, and leave the plastic wrap underneath it.  Place a second piece of plastic wrap on top of the tough and row it out to 1/4 inch thickness.  Discard the top piece of plastic wrap.  Using a small star cookie cutter (about 1 1/2 inch in diameter), cut out the cookies.  Dip the cutter in cold water every 2-3 cookies to keep the dough from sticking.  Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets.

Using a pastry push or a knife, spread the reserved meringue evenly over each star.  Allow the cookies to sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours.  This allows the meringue to dry.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Position the baking rack at the bottom of the oven.  Bake the cookie sheets individually for 3-4 minutes, or until the meringue is set but snowy white.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet.  Store in an airtight container.

Source: Classic German Baking

October 4, 2017

Zucchini Gruyére Scones




Today's recipe is inspired by the Flora Bar in NYC, which is known for their savory scones.  These flaky buttery scones are studded with nutty aged Gruyére cheese and zucchini along with a hint of Herbes de Provence--and they are topped with Maldon sea salt flakes.  I made for these scones for this month's wine club.

Gruyére is one of my favorite cheeses, and I especially like the cave aged versions.  The younger ones are very creamy and have a slight sweetness, but the fully aged (especially the 24 month aged) ones have a more complex nutty flavor that is slightly more salty and firm in texture.  The aged ones even seem to have white crystals develop.  And, yes, cave aged means it is actually aged in a cave in Switzerland.   The cave air helps the cheese develop a different and deeper complexity.

When baking scones, cold dough is key!  I prefer to freeze scones before baking.   It relaxes the gluten, which makes them more tender.  It also chills the fat from the butter, which makes them flakier.

These scones don't have a large rise, and I would attribute that to a lack of egg.  If you want a higher rise, I would substitute one egg for an equal volume of the cream in the recipe (so, I would probably do 3/4 cup cream and 1 egg).

These scones would be great for an appetizer, brunch, and afternoon tea!

Zucchini Gruyére Scones
Yields 3 dozen mini scones

Ingredients:
3 tbsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 tsp. Herbes de Provence
390 grams all-purpose flour (3 1/4 cups)
6 oz. or 3/4 cup cold butter, diced
1 cup heavy cream, plus an additional 1/2 cup for brushing
2 medium zucchini, shredded with excess liquid squeezed out
6 oz. Gruyére cheese, cut into small 1/4" cubes
Flaky sea salt, to sprinkle

Directions:
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (baking powder, sugar, salt, Herbes de Provence, flour, and pepper).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and the dry ingredients.  Mix on medium-low speed until the mixture becomes crumbly.  Gradually add 1 cup of heavy cream into the mixture.  The dough will begin to clump together and form a more cohesive dough.  Then, add the zucchini and the cheese and mix on low until everything is combined.

Take the dough onto a floured large piece of parchment paper.  Cover the dough with another piece of parchment paper, and roll out gently to about 1 inch think (if you try to put the rolling pin on the dough, it will likely stick and get messy).  Take the dough, leave it covered it with parchment paper, and place it in the freezer for at least 4 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 400ºF.  Using a dough scraper or sharp knife, cut the dough into small triangles to bake.  Place the triangles onto a lined cookie sheet about 2" apart.  Brush the tops with heavy cream and sprinkle with the sea salt.

Bake scones, rotating halfway through, for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

Source: The Flora Bar in NYC

September 21, 2017

Thomas Keller's Banana Bread

This was the dessert course at the French Laundry. 
Over Thanksgiving, my family and I went to Yountville, California (right outside of Napa).  Yountville's slogan is "Taste life here."  Yountville is a very special town, and I think there is no better place that combines the best in culinary, wine, and hospitality!  Yountville has multiple Michelin star restaurants, great wine, and beautiful accommodations, and you have gorgeous views and a kind small town culture to boot--and, the entire town is very walkable.

One of Yountville's most famous restaurants is the French Laundry.  Getting a reservation there is not easy and requires advance planning. I was out of the country when reservations opened, so my little sister kindly helped score a reservation there.  The menu changes daily, and for the weeks leading up to the reservation, I would look at the menu daily out of pure excitement.

Here is my family with Chef Thomas Keller!
I've been fortunate enough to eat at some incredible restaurants and other Michelin star restaurants around the world, and the French Laundry was by far my favorite.  I feel there are not enough words to adequately describe the creativity and perfection of the food.  For such a fancy restaurant, the team did a beautiful job at making you feel so at home and welcome.  They were incredibly hospitable.  At the end of our dinner, we had a surprise treat: a tour of the French Laundry kitchen with a sneak peak of their new kitchen -- and to make this even more special, we met Chef Thomas Keller!  He spent time chatting with my family and was so kind and down-to-earth -- he and my dad talked about steak restaurants in Palm Springs and golf.  It was such a memorable evening, and I was too excited to sleep that night thinking about what an incredible experience it was and how neat it was that I got to meet Thomas Keller!  The next morning, I went for a run in Yountville, and I saw Thomas Keller out and about. :)  A few nights later, we went to Thomas Keller's Bouchon for another amazing dinner.  Along the way, there were some stops at the Bouchon Bakery, of course.  Suffice to say, it was a delicious trip.

Since that trip, Thomas Keller's cookbooks have joined my ever growing cookbook collection.  His cookbooks are large and full of beautiful pictures and fine recipes.  Now, the vast majority of his recipes are not short and sweet.  However, if you study the techniques and embrace them, you will be greatly rewarded with some pretty spectacular food.  :)  For me, completely mastering his recipes is not my goal.  After all, there is no such thing as perfect food. :)  When I cook, my goal is to make people happy.
Couldn't say it any better. <3 
One thing that I've learned from Thomas Keller is to respect the food.  He has inspired me to think more carefully about what I'm doing in the kitchen, how I'm handling the food, and that each ingredient is very important, so recognize the effort of what you are doing in the kitchen.  Back in the spring, Thomas Keller appeared on Jimmy Kimmel and gave a great demo highlighting the carrot.  I loved this clip!  First, I think this shows how important each ingredient is, and second, it shows how you can creatively elevate anything to a whole new level.

The new French Laundry kitchen! 
This week end, I am going to New York for one of my best friend's wedding, and I am so excited to visit Thomas Keller's Per Se!  And, naturally, there will be a stop at the Bouchon Bakery for a pistachio macaron.





Today's recipe is banana bread, inspired by banana muffins from the Bouchon Bakery.  Now, I know everyone has a banana bread recipe, but I promise you, this one is different.  First, you beat the butter to a mayonnaise consistency.  I never knew you could do that with butter. ;-)  Second, you refrigerate the batter overnight, and this helps richen the banana flavor.  It makes a simple banana bread that is buttery with a tender and light crumb that is complemented with a crunchy walnut strudel.

Thomas Keller said, "A recipe has no soul.  You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe."  Make cooking fun.  As you cook, do it with love, happiness, and gratitude.  


Thomas Keller's Banana Bread
Yields 1 loaf (or 12 standard muffins or 6 large muffins)

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup and 1 tbsp. cake flour (168 grams)
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
4.2 oz. unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar (lightly packed) (144 grams)
2 extra large eggs
1 1/8 tsp. vanilla paste
1 tbsp. + 2 tsp. creme fraiche
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 1/3 cup walnut struesel topping (recipe below)

Walnut Struesel recipe:
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour (100 grams)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (100 grams)
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/8 tsp. Kosher salt
3.5 oz. cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces (100 grams)

Directions:
For the streusel:
Combine all of the ingredients, except the butter, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on the lowest setting.  Toss in the butter and mix on low speed for about one minute, or until the butter is incorporated.  Transfer to a covered container.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.

For the banana bread:
Sift the cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder into a medium bowl and whisk together.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the butter, and mix on medium-low speed until the butter has the consistency of mayonnaise.  Then, add the sugar and mix for 2 minutes, until fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the eggs and vanilla paste.  Mix on low speed for about 20 seconds until combined.

In two additions, add the dry ingredients, mixing on low speed for 15 seconds after each, or until just combined.  Scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that have settled there.  Add the creme fraiche and banana and mix on low speed for 30 seconds.  Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate overnight, or up to 36 hours.

To bake the muffins, preheat the oven to 425ºF.  Spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray or line a muffin pan with muffin papers and spray with nonstick spray.  Spoon the batter into the pan and sprinkle struesel on top.  Place the pan into the oven, lower the oven temperature to 325ºF, and bake for 40-45 minutes (24-27 minutes for muffins), or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.  Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

Source: The Bouchon Bakery

June 18, 2017

Balsamic Chicken Wings


Yay!  Summer time is officially here this week.  Summer is my favorite season -- it always feels more relaxed and carefree.  I love being outside during the summer, whether it's hanging by the water (which is more difficult to do in Colorado), being in the park, or eating on a patio.  Today's recipe would be great for any potluck.

Chicken wings are marinated in a combination of balsamic vinegar, honey, brown sugar, and soy sauce with garlic and rosemary.  The chicken then gets baked, and while it's baking, you cook the remaining marinade (bring it to a boil to kill any bacteria).  After the chicken is done, you brush it with the marinade and garnish with sesame seeds and parsley.

These were not overly sweet wings, despite the honey and brown sugar--the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce help cut the sweetness, which I appreciated.  :)  The chicken was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside - the sign of a good chicken wing, right?

These are a little sticky to eat, so make sure plenty of napkins are on hand.

Balsamic Chicken Wings
Yields about 5 servings

Ingredients:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
5 sprigs of rosemary
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. chicken wings (about 10-12)
2 tbsp. sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions:
In a large re-sealable plastic bag, add the balsamic vinegar, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, rosemary sprigs, and minced garlic.  Seal the bag, and shake and squeeze the contents to dissolve the honey and brown sugar.  Then, add the chicken drumsticks to the bag and seal with as little air as possible.  Place in the refrigerator and marinate for at least 4 hours later.

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.  Line a baking sheet with foil, and place the chicken on the baking sheet.  Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until the skin begins to caramelize.  While the chicken cooks, place the marinade into a wall saucepan.  Bring the marinade to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer and cook over low heat until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Then, use a pastry brush to brush the cooked marinade on the chicken.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and the chopped parsley.  Serve and enjoy!

Source: Giada De Laurentiis
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