Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Baking

What I look forward to most about Christmas is all the excitement and preparations leading up to the actual holiday, and best of all the smells of holiday baking. I especially love the yeasty fragrance of Christmas stollen baking in the oven. This holiday bread is laden with dried fruits, almonds, and butter, so that the yeast has a Herculean task in making the dough rise. My mother always gets trans-Atlantic tips and encouragement from her family in Germany since her stollen dough is several time zones behind. One year my parents did the stollen baking with friends, and while my father diligently kneaded his half of the dough, their friend gave his half a few perfunctory pats in between sips of Gluhwein. I distinctly remember when the two loaves came out of the oven: one nicely plump and the other sadly flat. I was outraged when my parents felt compelled to claim the flat one as theirs and my mother pretended to chastise my father for his poor kneading effort. With a food processor, the kneading is a lot easier, but we had to adapt our standby recipe from the Joy of Cooking (the 1975 edition) to fit into the machine: using 2/3 of the original recipe and preparing this in two batches.

The first thing to do to coax the yeast along is to mix it with warm milk until it's dissolved and frothy.

The buttery dough has just enough flour to come together in a ball,

which you leave in a warm place to rise until it's doubled in bulk.

Then you have to knead in the goodies: toasted almond slivers, and fruit. Over the years, our family has dropped the candied fruit and settled on plain raisins, plumped up in a little warm water, as the nicest accompaniment to the yeasty crumb, but one can add any variety of candied or dried fruit. It's always a challenge to get these incorporated into the dough, which seems to shed raisins like an overexcited labrador sheds fur.

Now this heavily laden dough, shaped into loaves, needs to rise again, and this time the best strategy is to proof it: cover the loaves with a clean dish towel and nestle them in the oven with a pan of steaming hot water underneath. (Just don't forget about them and start preheating the oven for cookies). Finally, after a day of pampering, the dough is baked until golden brown, and covered with a snowfall of confectioner's sugar. This is the perfect treat for Christmas morning to tide everyone over while the presents are unwrapped.

Of course, one wouldn't expect Santa to deliver any presents if he weren't rewarded for his troubles with a plate of home baked cookies. In our household, we've developed the tradition of leaving Santa a Jewish delicacy: rugelach. They are fun for kids to make, and Santa seems to like them because they always get eaten. The recipe comes from Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook, which uses cottage cheese for a surprisingly malleable and ultimately flaky dough. She gives a number of filling suggestions, but our favorite is hazelnuts and chocolate with cinnamon sugar.

The trick is to freeze the chocolate chips so that they don't melt while being pulverized into a coarse crumb.

Then you roll out the dough, sprinkle on the filling, and slice it like a pizza.

Roll the cookies from the center to the outside, and sprinkle any shed filling over the assembled cookies.

Then bake until golden brown. Make sure to reserve some for Santa before serving them for Christmas Eve dessert.

Christmas Stollen
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
5 cups flour, plus more for handling the dough
1 cup milk, just below scalding
2 Tbsp + 3/4 tsp (3 packages) yeast
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs

1 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 1/2 cup dried or candied fruit, including or exclusively raisins plumped in warm water and drained.

1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm milk. Prepare the dough in 2 batches in a food processor, combining the butter, sugar, and egg, then mixing in the flour and pouring in the yeast mixture while the processor is running. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add a little more flour. Combine the two batches, cover, and allow to rise in a warm place for several hours, until doubled in bulk.

2. Knead in the nuts and fruit, using a little more flour if the dough is too sticky. Shape into two loaves and place on greased cookie sheets. Cover with clean dish towels and place in the oven beneath a pan of steaming hot water. Allow to rise several hours until doubled in size.

3. Remove the dough, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake the loaves for about 45 minutes until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with a finger nail. Cool on a rack. Dust with confectioner sugar. Serve slices as is or toasted.

adapted from Mollie Katzen

for the dough
1/2 cup (1 stick butter)
1 cup cottage cheese
1 1/3 cup flour, and more for handling
1/4 tsp salt

for the filling
1/4 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips, frozen
scan 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

1. Chop the filling ingredients in a food processor until they have the consistency of a coarse crumb. Reserve.

2. Wipe out the food processor and prepare the dough, processing the ingredients until they come together into a ball. If the dough is very sticky, add a little more flour. Remove the dough and shape into two balls. Wrap in plastic wrap or a silicone baking mat and chill  for a few minutes. 

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove one dough ball from the refrigerator, roll into about a 12 inch diameter circle, sprinkle with half of the filling, and slice into 12 slices. Roll each slice from the center to the perimeter and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle any filling that fell out over the rolled cookies. Prepare the second ball like the first. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dutch Bullet Bean and Roasted Squash Soup

Enough testosterone-driven, world domination food fare. Let's talk about what to cook when it's cold and drizzly outside and everyone in the house has the sniffles. The answer of course is soup. And if you have approximately 23 pounds of heirloom beans in the cellar, the answer of course is bean soup. We also had a nice selection of winter vegetables from the farmers market at the Eugene Holiday Market, including a delicata squash and a kohlrabi. I usually think of a bean and vegetable soup as some variant of a minestrone, but I was inspired by a pumpkin and white bean soup from the Green's Cookbook that incorporated beans into a creamy squash soup. I thought the Lonesome Whistle Farm Dutch bullet beans, a small golden variety, might go well with the delicata squash roasted with herbs (similar to a preparation by Jamie Oliver). 

My son helped me brush the squash quarters with olive oil and sprinkle on fennel seeds, herbs de Provence, and red pepper flakes, and we roasted these for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, we simmered the squash seeds and pulp in 4 cups of chicken broth to make a quick stock.

I chopped onion, carrots, and kohlrabi and sauteed these in some olive oil until soft. Then I added the squash stock and the roasted squash, scooped from the peel, and simmered these until the vegetables were very soft.

I'd soaked 1 cup of the Dutch bullet beans during the morning, and now I simmered them on very gentle heat with a couple sprigs of thyme and 2 cups of water for about an hour until they were tender. Then I pureed the squash and vegetables with an immersion blender, and mixed in the beans with their liquid. To finish the soup, I added a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for sharpness to balance the sweetness of the squash. The creamy texture of the pureed vegetables with the roasted squash and herb flavors and a slight bitterness from the kohlrabi, contrasted nicely with the small, round, meaty beans.

I'd prepared a swiss chard and mushroom quiche for brunch (also adapted from a Green's Cookbook recipe, but with added leftover mushrooms from Eric's shooter sandwich and almonds instead of pine nuts because of the latter's short supply). This was the perfect accompaniment to a restorative soup.

Dutch bullet bean and roasted squash soup

1 cup (1/2 lb) Dutch bullet beans (could substitute small white kidney beans)
1 delicata squash
1 onion
1 kohlrabi
3 small or 2 medium carrots
3 cloves garlic
4 cups chicken stock
olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp herbs de Provence
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
a few sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste
drizzle of balsamic vinegar

1. Soak the beans for 4-8 hours until the plump up. Then change the water and simmer them with a few springs of thyme and 2 cups of water until soft, about 1 hour. Discard the thyme stems.

2. Halve squash and scoop out seeds and pulp into a sauce pan with 4 cups of chicken stock. Simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes. Brush squash quarters with olive oil and sprinkle over fennel seeds, herbs de Provence, and red pepper flakes. Roast in an oven or toaster over at 450 degrees until they start to brown a little and are soft through, about 25 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop the roasted squash from the skin.

3. Meanwhile peel and chop the onion, carrots, kohlrabi, and garlic. Saute in olive oil in a dutch oven until soft. Strain the squash stock into the pot and add the roasted squash. Simmer on low heat until the vegetables are very soft. Puree with an immersion blender, and add the cooked beans with their liquid. Drizzle in a couple tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and adjust seasonings. 

Here's the recipe for the Green's Swiss chard tart.

And here are some other recipes for heirloom beans:
Rio Zape Beans with Toasted Chile Sauce
Arikara bean gratin 
Calypso bean and leek soup

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Shooter Sandwich

I have high standards for the contents of this blog, but for the best sandwich ever, as prepared by my husband Eric, I was willing to cede the floor. Here is his report.

The Edwardian gentleman's "shooter's sandwich" was recently named best sandwich in the world by The Guardian (UK).  It looked perfect for a joint Guillemin/Johnson labs holiday potluck get together, and a change of pace from the multitude of (delicious) beans in our household.  It was fun to make and looked good on a platter. I think the 'best sandwich' is still open for debate, but it was quite tasty!

First I took a large steak, peppered,

mushrooms and shallots,

and some potato rustica bread, hollowed out.

I seared the steak and placed half into the hollowed out bread.

Next I cooked the mushrooms and shallots, adding some red wine, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

I piled the mushroom mixture on the steak,

added parsley and the second half of the steak,

smeared with horseradish and mustard,

then compressed overnight in the fridge and at room temperature for a few hours before the party. Then sliced and ate.

Shooter Sandwich

1 large top sirloin steak.  Probably the suggested ribeye would have been better, but I was reluctant to double the cost.  
2 pounds mushrooms. This sandwich used a mixture of shitake and brown crimini.
salt, pepper, red pepper, Worcestershire sauce, red wine.
Horseradish and mustard

I started in the late evening, and while the steaks were searing chopped the mushrooms and shallots and carved out the bread loaf.  While the mushrooms were cooking I tucked the steak (just salted) into the bread.  It took a while to reduce the mushroom liquid and red wine and Worcestershire sauce to a syrupy thickness, so I chopped the parsely.  The mushroom mixture piled onto the steak, and at this point had filled the bread loaf.  But I forged ahead and piled on parsely and then capped the mountain of ingredients with the other half of the steak, smeared on horseradish and mustard, and then squashed it down with the top of the bread loaf.  

I wrapped it in foil and plastic wrap, put it on a cookie sheet in case it leaked, then put a heavy cutting board on top, some cast iron pans, flour, more cast iron.  Since it was going to compress overnight, I put it in the fridge with just some of that stack on top, then resumed the heavy compression at room temperature a few hours before the party.  Just before the party I unwrapped it, sliced it and arranged on the platter.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rio Zape Beans with Toasted Chile Sauce

The different Lonesome Whistle Farm's heirloom beans we received in our CSA package are eye catching. My favorite is the rio zape: a beautiful purply red bean with black swirls. Apparently this variety was unearthed in the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi in the American Southwest. They are described as having a rich, chocolatey flavor. I decided to try preparing these with a mole sauce of toasted chiles and cumin. I was also inspired by a black bean recipe from Smitten Kitchen that claimed that using a slow cooker would allow you to prepare perfect beans without the bother of presoaking. I thought it was worth a try.

For the toasted chile sauce I used a combination (pictured from left to right above) of dark, mild anchos, reddish, slightly spicier guajillos, and dark, fruity negros. (A good source for dried chiles in Eugene is the Plaza Latina Supermarket.) For more flavors, I used cumin and fennel seeds, cocoa powder and cinnamon, and sun dried tomatoes and garlic.

To bring out the chiles' flavor, I toasted them in a dry cast iron skillet for a minute or so on each side until they puffed up and became fragrant. I also threw in some garlic cloves to let them develop a roasted flavor. Once the chiles were toasted, I removed their stems and seeds and immersed them in 2 cups of boiling water to soften them. I also added the sun dried tomatoes to this brew. Then I peeled the garlic cloves and put them in a blender. Next, I used the warm skillet to toast the cumin and fennel seeds until they started to brown and became fragrant. I added these to the blender, spooned in the soaked chiles and tomatoes, added the chocolate and cinnamon, and poured in 1 cup of the soaking liquid (using a tea strainer to remove stray seeds), and blended this into a rich, thick paste. 

The next step to developing a complex flavored sauce was to fry the paste in some neutral oil. I have a convenient slow cooker that you can use right on the stovetop and then transfer directly to the heating element. I cooked the chile paste for about five minutes, until the oil had incorporated into the paste, and the sauce developed an intense fragrance of cumin, chiles, cinnamon, and chocolate. Then I moved the pot to the slow cooker base. I used the remaining cup of chile soaking liquid to rinse out the last of the paste from the blender jar, stirred in one pound of rinsed rio zape beans and three more cups of water, and set the beans to cooking. 

After six hours (returning from a pleasant evening out), the beans were absolutely perfect: soft but intact, with a thick, rich sauce. They only needed a generous sprinkle of salt, which I'd left out during the cooking process to avoid toughening them. The rio zape beans tasted somewhat similar to pintos, which would be a reasonable substitute in this dish, but they had much more flavor and a wonderful plump, dense texture. They were delicious as a main dish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, and would also make a great side dish. 

Rio Zape Beans with Toasted Chile Sauce

1 pound rio zape beans (or substitute pinto or black beans)
5 dried chiles (for mild spiciness use 2 anchos and 3 negros, for a little more heat, substitute in some guajillos)
6 sun dried tomato halves
4-6 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp neutral oil such as grape seed or canola
5 cups water, heated
salt to taste

1. Heat a skillet and toast the chiles about one minute on each side until they puff up and become fragrant. Also heat the garlic cloves until they start to blacken. Meanwhile remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and immerse them in 2 cups hot water, along with the sun dried tomatoes. When the garlic cloves are done, peel them and put them in a blender. Toast the cumin and fennel seeds in the skillet for about one minute and add these to the blender, along with the cinnamon and cocoa powder. Spoon in the softened chiles and tomatoes. Add one cup of the soaking liquid, strained. Blend until you have a smooth paste.

2. Heat oil in a stovetop slow cooker or other pan and add the paste. Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes until it has darkened in color and become very fragrant. Rinse the blender jar with the remaining soaking liquid and add to pan. If necessary, transfer to your slow cooker. Add the beans and 3 more cups of hot water. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours (the cooking time will depend on the dryness of the beans and the slow cooker model). When the beans are soft, add salt to taste.

Here are some other recipes for heirloom beans: 
Arikara bean gratin 
Calypso bean and leek soup

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bean Bonanza

It really feels like Christmas! This weekend at the Eugene Holiday Market we picked up our CSA beans from Lonesome Whistle Farm: 24 pounds of 7 different heirloom varieties. I'm so excited to try cooking them. Stay tuned...