Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cottage Cheese Rugelach with Walnuts

I found this recipe on epicurious after Lou made a request for cookies and I realized I had cottage cheese that needed to be used up. (One of the great things about using Epicurious is you can search by ingredient.) Rugelach are like little crescent rolls that in this case are filled with a brown sugar/walnut mixture. If you are reluctant to make a rolled cookie, this is a great recipe to try. The dough at first may seem a little sticky, but after being refrigerated, it is very easy to work with. The dough calls for just three ingredients- Cottage cheese, margarine, and flour. The obvious change that must be made here is to use butter instead of margarine. Because, as you should well know after reading this blog, we do not use margarine in anything- and if you forget why, just remember simply that margarine is not natural and more specifically, the trans fats will eventually kill you. I replaced the margarine with unsalted butter, which I always use in baking and cooking so I can control the salt content. This required an addition of about 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, which would equal about 1/2 teaspoon table salt. I tasted the dough to determine this. If you use salted butter, you may not need to add any salt as one stick of butter contains about 1/2 teaspoon on average.

With the above substitution and addition of salt, these came out to be some top notch cookies. They are dangerously easy to scarf down, and as I've just determined, make for an excellent breakfast treat with your coffee- like a mini danish. Here's the recipe, revamped:

Cottage Cheese Rugelach with Walnuts
(based on this recipe from Bon Appetit, March 1996)
2/3 cup small-curd cottage cheese
2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/2 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Egg wash:
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk

Mix cottage cheese and 2/3 cup butter in a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in flour and salt until dough is smooth, about 1 minute. Divide dough into 2 balls. Flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm enough to roll, about 10 minutes, or place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, vanilla and 3 tablespoons margarine in a food processor. Blend until almost smooth paste forms.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out 1 dough disk on lightly floured surface to 10-inch round. Spread half of brown sugar mixture evenly over. Cut round into 16 wedges. Starting at wide ends, roll up wedges. Bend ends in, forming crescents. Place on ungreased heavy baking sheet. Repeat rolling, filling and shaping with remaining dough disk.
Beat egg and milk to blend in small bowl. Brush glaze over crescents. Bake until cooked through and light brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Chocolate Pots de Creme

When there are fresh strawberries in my house, there is usually Angel Food Cake. And, when there is Angel Food Cake, there are unused egg yolks. As we sliced into the light spongy Angel Food Cake and prepared to devour it with fresh strawberry topping, Lou asked me why you never see Angel Food Cake in restaurants. Good question, I thought, but didn't know the answer to it. Perhaps it is just too common? Lou asked if there would be a good use for the leftover egg yolks in a restaurant...I replied, yes easily, for we often see creme brulee on a menu, which is basically baked custart and uses only the yolk. Lou's question reminded me that I myself had meant to use the leftover egg yolks for Pots de Creme, custards baked in individually sized ramekins. Pots de Creme are the antithesis of Angel Food Cake (which Lou thinks is healthy because it contains no fat, never mind all that sugar). Pots de creme are virtually all fat.

To make this decadent dessert, I would only need some whipping cream since I had the other three ingredients- yolks, sugar, and some very fine chocolate that I had bought on my trip to Chamonix, France in February. (Good quality chocolate is key to this dessert.) The following day, I purchased a pint of heavy whipping cream and set to work, very little work, for this is one of the easiest desserts on earth to make...

Chocolate Pots de Creme

2 cups (1 pint) heavy whipping cream
5 ounces bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces
6 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and heat a tea pot of water to simmer for a hot water bath.

Rinse a medium saucepan with water, then add the cream to the pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. (By rinsing the pan with water, there will be a small shield between the cream and the pan that will keep the cream from scorching.)

While the cream is coming to a simmer, stir the granulated sugar into the egg yolks in a large bowl until blended. Set aside.

When the cream has reached a low simmer, remove from heat and break the chocolate into the cream. Stir until completely melted.

Whisk a small portion of the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture to temper the egg, taking care not to "cook" it. Add the remaining chocolate mixture whisking continuously.

Pour the custard into six 3/4 cup custard cups. Place in a flat-bottomed roasting pan and add the simmering hot water until it comes halfway up sides of cups. Bake until the custards are set around the edges but still soft in center. (they'll move slightly when shaken) About 30 to 35 minutes. Remove the cups from the water bath and chill in the refrigerator, uncovered until cold. If making ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap- they'll keep for a few days covered and kept chilled.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Easy Strawberry Freezer Jam

Each year, I look forward to strawberry season. I've been well aware of this time of year since I was about 3 feet high. My mom would return from the garden and announce the berries were ripe for the picking, with a sample in hand to taste. She'd gather some ice cream pails and we'd start our journey down to the garden, (which being only 3 feet high, seemed like a long ways) passing by the blooming lilac bushes along the driveway, taking in their essence. My mom would make note that on the way back, we should cut some branches to put in vases for the table. We'd harvest what seemed like an endless supply of strawberries which was lucky for me, because no one seemed to notice that I ate more than went into my pail. This was an exciting time for a little girl on the farm- ripe strawberries on the vines meant it was time to celebrate, it meant it was summer. The Wisconsin sun dried up the spring rains and it could go to work on the newly planted garden and crops. Soon there would be cucumbers and beans and fresh peas that we would eat straight from the pod.

When the fresh strawberries were long gone, we still enjoyed fresh strawberry taste in what seemed an endless supply of strawberry jam. My mom's jam is not the same dark strawberry preserve you can buy off the shelf in the store. This is bright red, real strawberry-tasting freezer jam. It's kept in the freezer, so the berries do not need to be cooked and the jars do not need to be sealed by processing with heat-the key to its fresh taste.

These days, I don't garden much, unless you count a few herb plants. I lack my mom's green thumb and time. Luckily, that doesn't mean we have to go without strawberry jam. When strawberry season rolls around, which I look forward to each year, I count on the local farmers to bring some quality berries to the market. To make good jam, you've got to start with great strawberries. On Saturday, Lou and I went to the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market with the mission in mind to find some great tasting organic berries. We found some at Ella Bella Farm's stand. The berries were not too big, were red all the way through, and gushed with juice. Not at all like the flavorless, over-sized conventional berries with fibrous centers that you find in the large grocery stores that have been engineered to be transported for miles and even across states. These were the berries of my youth.

To make the Easy Strawberry Freezer Jam, you'll just need a little patience for de-topping all those berries, some sugar, pectin, and possibly some lemon juice- depending on which pectin you purchase. I like to use Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin. Whichever pectin you choose to use, the key is to follow the directions that come with it for "freezer jam", because the amount of sugar needed varies with the brand and variety you use. Some include citric acid -those that do not will require you to add some lemon juice. I use a stiff pastry blender to cut through and mash the berries. A potato masher would work well too. A food processor would take the elbow grease out of this process, but beware not to overdo it. The jam is best when there are some nice chunks of berry. Stir well to make sure the pectin and sugar are thoroughly mixed with the crushed berries. Oh, and don't over look your freezer space. The jam will last a month in the refrigerator, but I like to make enough to last us until next year's strawberry season, so make sure you have room to store it. For containers, I use 8 oz. jelly jars that you can find at the hardware store- they are the perfect size, although Lou can sometimes dust one in a week. You can also use plastic storage containers.

After the jam is made, go find some lilac blossoms or buy some flowers. Because there's nothing like fresh strawberry jam in your fridge and flowers on your table to remind you it's summer.