Thursday, May 13, 2010

Better with Butter

Now I'm no Julia Child, in fact, I generally cringe when a recipe calls for butter. Although I don't mind the taste, I just don't like cooking with butter, especially frying in butter. My arteries seem to clog at the thought of it.

But I do admit that somethings are better with butter. Take for example, a scone. The crumbly, flaky dough is only possible with butter or ( heavens no!) shortening. And while I'm hesitant to cook anything in butter, I love baking with it. So of course, when I saw this recipe for Apricot Oat scones in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, ( which Gian Luca got me for our anniversary) I didn't even hesitate at the whole stick and a quarter that the recipe calls for. In fact, I took pleasure in crumbling it with my fingers, watching the flour and oats transform into a course grainy texture with the magic of butter.

Then this morning, when we bit into the scones, we smiled, as if to say, ahhhhhh butter.

Apricot Oat Scones
from Martha Stewart
makes 8

1 cup oats ( old fashioned or quick-cooking)
3/4 cup all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks ( 10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup diced dried apricots ( cut into 1/4" pieces)
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon heavy-cream
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling ( optional)

1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the oats, the all purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles course crumbs with a few larger clumps remaining. Fold in apricots.

2. Whisk together the whole egg and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to the flour mixture; using a rubber spatula, fold in, working in all directions and incorporating crumbs at the bottom of the bowl, until the dough just comes together.

3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, gently press and pat the dough into a rectangle, about 1 1/4 inches thick. Using a sharp knife or a pastry wheel, cut into eight triangles. Place triangles about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap and freeze until the dough is very firm, at least one hour or overnight. ( At this point, you can freeze the unbaked scones in a resealable bag until ready to bake, up to three weeks.)

4. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg yolk with the cream; brush over the tops of the scones, and sprinkle generously with sanding sugar, if using. Bake, rotating the sheet halfway though, until the tops are golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. They are best eaten the day they are baked.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ugly Ducklings

I'm reading Elizabeth Berg's newest book, The Last Time I Saw You, a novel about a group of people who get together for their 40 year high school reunion. It's very cute and entertaining to think that people still live the roles that they played in high school.
Though the novel enters into the minds of several characters ( each chapter focuses on a different one) I find myself rooting for Mary Alice the "ugly duckling". I like her because she doesn't grow up to be a swan like in the fairy tale, but does gain a slew of confidence in the 40 years since graduating high school, and goes to the reunion with her head held high.
Okay, so why am I telling you this? Because when I get into a book, I really place myself in it. I've been that way since the third grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Compton, kindled a love of reading in me ( and probably all of her students). I am usually never without a book in hand (or at least a magazine). But this book, and the concept of ugly ducklings does actually have something to do with the nubby little things pictured above.
I've never met a vegetable I didn't like. But I have met quite a few that I am scared of, mostly because I have no clue what to do with them. These are usually of the neutral, gnarled variety that I speed by on my way to the tomatoes in the grocery store. You know the ones. You probably walk by them too.
So when my friend Erica came into work the other day with Jerusalem Artichokes ( also known as sunchokes) I was intrigued. I'd heard of them before, maybe even seen them on an episode of Chopped but I'd never tasted them.

Erica, a bubbly vegetarian with a great big heart, eagerly offered me a piece, and with one taste I was hooked. The flavor was like a combination of potatoes and artichokes, only with a rich nuttiness. She sauteed hers in butter and topped them with toasted sunflower seeds which added to their inherent smokiness.
Erica told me they looked like ginger roots, so the next day in the market, I looked for them. And there they were, the ugly ducklings of the isle, surrounded by popular green leafy vegetables, and plump ripe tomatoes. But I knew better they to bypass these babies.
Today I did a quick Google search for recipes and surprisingly, I hardly found any. I improvised and came up with the recipe you'll find below. Give them a try, and if you have a recipe for them, please pass it along. These might be my new addiction!

Oh, two more things:
1) Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there! You are so special! I know without my mom, I would not be the person I am today. And now, I have a wonderful mother-in-law, who is like a second mother to me. I'm so lucky to have them both in my life. I hope to be a mother just like them some day. There they are- aren't they cute??

2) Tomorrow is Gian Luca and my First Wedding Anniversary!! I am so lucky and blessed to be married to him!

Ok, now for the recipe:

Jerusalem Artichokes

Serves 4

8 medium Jerusalem Artichokes ( sliced into 1/8" pieces)
1/2 medium onion ( chopped)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
salt and pepper to taste

1) Blanch Jerusalem Artichokes in boiling salted water until firm but tender ( about 5 minutes). Drain and set aside.
2) In a medium skillet, heat olive oil. Add onions and Jerusalem Artichokes, salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat and allow to simmer until the onions caramelize and the artichokes brown a bit ( about 3-5 minutes)
3) Add the butter and cook for an additional 2 minutes.


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Little Darlings

Wow- what a whirlwind April was! Remember when I told you way back when that Gian Luca and I got some really great news? Well, it's time to share: we'll be moving to Texas! Gian Luca got his dream job there and we'll be relocating in two months. So between traveling to Denver

I was so happy last Saturday because I actually had the chance to spend the day in the kitchen baking, which is what I love best. We'll be leaving Minneapolis in a month and we have cabinets full of ingredients for baking which I won't be taking with me. The only reasonable thing to do was to spend the afternoon making 100 mini cupcakes to take to a pot-luck on Sunday. I'm a reasonable girl, so that's exactly what I did.
for my conference and Texas to look for places to live, I barely had enough time to eat, let alone cook. But that seems to be the case with my life right now. It's all rush rush rush, and it's not going to stop for a few more months. But it's all good.

A gigantic tub of Nutella was among the ingredients that we needed to use up, and while I dreamed of eating a thick slabs of bread smeared with the creamy chocolate hazelnut spread for breakfast every day for the next month, I knew that was not going to happen. Instead, I used the entire tub to make Nutella Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Nutella Buttercream. The Nutella surfaced three-fold in these little darlings. It got mixed in the batter, squirted inside each baked cupcake, and piled high on top. The result: insanely rich chocolate goodness, similar to a Ferrero Rocher candy. Try them for yourself, but trust me, you'll be hooked.

Mini Nutella Cupcakes

adapted from How to Eat a Cupcake
Makes 24 minis and 6 regular

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup Nutella
1/4 cup milk

8 oz. semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips (or both)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup chopped, toasted hazelnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line mini muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt together and set aside.
3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes) . Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add 3/4 cup of Nutella and blend thoroughly. Alternately add flour mixture and milk, blending well after each addition (Don't overmix! Blend only until no traces of flour remain.)
4. Using a tablespoon, fill each cup with batter. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
5. When cupcakes are cool, fill them with the remaining Nutella.
6. Make the ganache. Put chocolate chips and cream in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 45 seconds to 1 minute, depending on your microwave. Stir gently with a rubber spatula. Heat for 15-20 more seconds. Stir until well blended. Stir in chopped hazelnuts and dip cupcakes into ganache. Let cool on a wire rack.


2 sticks of butter ( softened)
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup Nutella

1) Cream butter. Add Powdered sugar and Nutella. Stir until combined.
2) Place buttercream into a pastry bag and pipe on top of cupcakes. Or spread buttercream on with a knife.