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Posts Tagged ‘Labors of Love’

I think I have made up for my food blog neglect with preparing one of the most labor intensive dishes I’ve ever made.  This dish was really good and it makes a ton, so it was worth the work.  Shelling that many favas takes a while, but my DVR was filled with Glee and the Good Wife, so I set to work shelling while catching up.

Ravioli Stuffed with Fava Beans, Ricotta, and Mint
Recipe by Martha Stewart

Ingredients
Makes about 3-4 dozen

3 cups shelled fresh fava beans (3 pounds in pods)
10 ounces ricotta cheese, drained in a sieve (I used homemade)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Coarse salt

Pasta Dough – I used the recipe that came with my Kitchenaid pasta attachment

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add beans. Cook approximately 1-2 minutes.  Drain and run under cold water to cool.  Remove the beans from the skin. 

Place about 2 cups of the beans in the food processor and pulse.   Add the parmesan and ricotta, mint, lemon juice, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Process until smooth. Refrigerate filling at least 1 hour (up to 2 days).   At this point, it would be a really yummy spread.

Roll out the dough however you prefer.  If you’ve got the Kitchenaid attachment, I rolled mine out to the 5th setting.

Dust 2 rimmed baking sheets with cornmeal or flour and set aside.  Place 1 piece of pasta sheet on a lightly floured work surface (keep unused pieces covered). Space heaping tablespoons of filling  evenly across the sheet.  Using a wet pastry brush, moisten pasta around each mound of filling. Fold top half of sheet over filling to meet edge; press around mounds to eliminate air and to seal.

Cut pasta into 2 1/2- to 3-inch squares and place on dusted baking sheets.  Roll out remaining pasta dough, and repeat. (If serving that day, cover ravioli with plastic wrap, and refrigerate on baking sheets until ready to use. If making ahead, freeze on baking sheets until firm, about 1 hour, and then transfer to an airtight container; freeze until ready to use, up to 1 month.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt.  Cook at a gentle boil until ravioli are just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to a colander using a slotted spoon; drain.  

To serve, I heated a couple tablespoons of butter and a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and added the remaining fava beans.  I gently tossed in some of the ravioli and served it up with grated parmesan.  I enjoyed the fruits of my labor with a Napa Sauvignon Blanc – perfection.

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I should have known from the moment I saw these in the February 2009 Martha Stewart Living, that they would be another labor of love.  But I’m a sucker for pretty foods and I didn’t listen to the little voice in my head telling me that my cupcakes would never be as gorgeous as Martha’s.

After a few ugly cupcakes and some internet consultations, I figured out the trick to making the pools of jam to look almost as nice as those of the domestic goddess.  Hopefully, my tricks will help you out should you dare to attempt them.

I made a couple substitutions from the original recipe, namely, replacing the chocolate cookie crust with a gingersnap one.  Chocolate just didn’t sound right to me with a springy, apricot dessert.  If you wanted to do chocolate, then I think a berry jam would go better.  Of course, I happen to think apricot really is the only jam worth making this with.  Red jam wouldn’t look like anything, and I love how these look like eggs or suns.

Finally, the recipe says it makes 18, but I think it’s really a 14-16 cupcake recipe.  The crust recipe was a little short, and I had to grind more cookies up.  Then, I filled the tins, but couldn’t get to the top and they didn’t rise up.  They were a little bit flat.  So, I’ll probably do 15 next time.

Mini Cheesecakes with Apricot Jam

Ingredients

3/4 cup crumbled chocolate-wafer cookies (about 18 cookies)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup sour cream  (I used nonfat plain yogurt)
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup apricot jam (at least, I probably used about 3/4 cup)

I also added a teaspoon of lemon zest.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Mix cookies and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar in a bowl. Stir in butter. Press 1 tablespoon of mixture in bottom of each cup. Bake until set, about 7 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.

Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees.  Beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, then vanilla and lemon zest, if you are using it.  With mixer running, add eggs slowly, scraping down side of bowl.  Add sour cream (or yogurt) and salt.  Pour batter into muffin cups, filling almost to the tops.

Bake until sides are set but centers are wobbly, about 20 minutes.  Let cool in tins on wire racks.  Wrap tins tightly with plastic, and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Now, this is where things get tricky.  My cheesecakes were not wobbly, they were firm and slightly domed.  To make the pools, here’s what I did. 

First, I lightly etched circles in each of the cupcakes using the tip of a grapefruit spoon.  You could use a knife or whatever you’ve got.  I recommend the grapefruit spoon if you have one, since it’s sharp, it will scoop better than a knife will, and it’s a little smaller than a spoon.  

After etching the circles, I wiped the spoon clean, and heated it over a flame (just turned on a burner on my gas stove top).  When it was still very hot, I carefully cut away the circles.  It’s important that the spoon or knife that you use is hot, because that helps melt the cheesecake and you get a neater hole.  You’ll have to wipe the spoon off and reheat every cupcake or two.  You also may have to go back over the holes with a warmed spoon to smooth out the edges a little.

Warm the jam in a small saucepan until liquidy.  Strain through a sieve.  Spoon 1 teaspoon jam on top of each cake.   It’s really much easier to do this while the jam is warm because it will firm up again as it cools, so you may  have to reheat in the middle of the process.

The good news is that the jam pools do firm up, so these are fairly portable.  I carried mine in tupperware about 12 blocks and they were still pretty looking upon arrival.

The recipe says that the cheesecakes will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.  While this is probably true, the leftover ones were looking not so pretty after about 24 hours.  So, don’t make the jam pools until the day you want to impress people with them.

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Good god.

I had a holiday party to go to and wanted to make Christmas cookies for it. I was torn, however, between making really delicious cookies and making really beautiful cookies.

Then, this piece about Zimtsterne, the German meringue-like Christmas cookie,popped up on my blog reader, prompted me to seek out a recipe, and I realized I could have the best of both worlds.

While the end result does indeed live up to that goal, it did not happen without a lot of hard work, patience, and cursing.

Thankfully, they taste amazing and while not flawless, still pretty damn beautiful. They taste unlike any Christmas cookie I’ve ever had. They are both crunchy and soft, and have such a wonderful flavor. Once I got the hang of it, they got a little easier, but they do take a long time (particularly if you want the Martha-esque frosting and almond topping). If you are patient and ambitious, I highly recommend attempting these things. Or if you really want to make a gluten-free holiday dessert and are a glutton for pain.

Inspiration from these recipes comes from David Lebovitz, and the recipe used comes from the Food Network. I’ve changed the directions significantly, based on other information I read online before embarking on this project (many from the Food Network commenters) and my own trial and error attempts to make these cookies.

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
Lots of granulated sugar for rolling
15 ounces sliced almonds, with skin (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large egg whites, room temperature
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

The one nice thing about this recipe is that it’s very forgiving, flexible dough. I could see using other spices or other nuts in the mixture, so I think you could adapt this based on preferences and what you have in the cupboard.

While the recipe calls for lemon zest, I used orange zest. It seemed more holiday-like to me. This was a good choice. The cookies are more cinnamon-orange flavored than almond flavored, so I think if there were lemon there, they might taste a little strange. A couple other recipes online used either Kirsch or brandy in place of the zest. I think those would be good too, particularly because it would be good to have alcohol on hand for when you are ready to throw the dough out the window. Vanilla extract would probably work well too, though you’d lose the nerve-soothing qualities of something more alcoholic.

Also, the Food Network recipe called for confectioners’ sugar for rolling. Don’t even think about it. Use granulated. Other recipes online were split between the two sugars and when the confectioner’s sugar was giving me trouble, I switched to granulated and this became much, much easier.

Directions

The first thing I did, since I’m OCD, is sort through the almonds to find nicely shaped ones to use for decorating the cookies. I don’t know if all sliced almonds are as broken and chipped as mine were, but I wanted perfect cookies, so I painstakingly combed through my almonds to make sure I had enough perfectly shaped ones to use for the tops. Skip this step if you aren’t insane.

Ugly Almonds for grinding

Pretty almonds for decorating

Sift the confectioners’ sugar. Put 1/2 cup of the sifted confectioners’ sugar, 10 ounces (3 heaping cups) of the almonds and all the cinnamon in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground, with just a few larger pieces.

Whip the egg whites in a large, clean bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 1 minute. Gradually add the remaining confectioners’ sugar while whipping, until the whites are thick, creamy and somewhat stiff, about 2 minutes more. Set aside 2/3 cup of this meringue for topping the cookies.

Fold the ground almond mixture and the lemon zest into the remaining meringue to make a stiff dough. The dough is going to look chunky and weird. Don’t worry.


Divide in into two portions, wrap it in plastic wrap, and stick it in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, though longer won’t hurt it.

Now the easy part is over.

The recipe recommends laying parchment or wax paper down to roll the dough out. I didn’t have any, and frankly, I’m not sure it would make a difference. Instead, dump a handful of granulated sugar down on the counter (or the paper, if you want to use it), and spread it out, like it was flour and you were making normal, sane people cookies.

Take one of the dough balls out of the freezer and put it down on the work surface. Keep the plastic wrap and put that over the dough to roll out (actually, here I think wax paper probably would be helpful). Roll the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. I found it helpful to keep turning and lifting the dough, and adding more sugar beneath it whenever I thought it was sticking to the counter. As I said before, it’s forgiving, so if you tear it, you can just roll it back together.
Cut cookies with a 3-inch star cutter and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Cutting the cookies is also a pain. Don’t do this:

You will never be able to get them off the counter.

Instead, cut one star, use a butter knife to get underneath it, and carefully move it to the cookie sheet (greased or lined with parchment) and poke it through the cookie cutter onto the cookie sheet.

Keep a bowl of lukewarm water handy and rinse your cookie cutter off every couple of stars.

The saving grace in all of this is that excess dough can be rerolled, over and over again. I just would put it back in the freezer for 5-10 minutes before doing it because it does make things much easier.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats, or just grease them.

At this point, I stopped taking pictures because I was covered with sugar and getting kind of cranky.

Use a small spoon, brush or offset spatula to spread the reserved meringue over the top of each cookie, taking care not to let the meringue drip over the sides. I used that weird-shaped butter knife thing that comes in most cutlerly sets. That worked well, since it has a little point to it, making it easy to spread the frosting on the star points. It still takes forever though, and then you get to painstakingly press remaining sliced almonds in a decorative pattern into the meringue.

See? Total labor of love.

You could also just grind up more almonds and sprinkle those on the meringue. Or save yourself the headache, and leave the meringue plain.

Bake cookies until bottoms are light golden brown and meringue is set and crisp, about 30 minutes. (Adjust this time based on the size of the cookie cutter. Food Network recommended 30 minutes for a 3 inch cutter. I did it for 20 minutes with my 2 inch cutter.) I think this is an area where you can use your judgment. Cook them the maximum time if you want them crispy, cook them for less if you want them chewy. I’d just keep an eye on them. When they are done, turn off the oven and open the oven door to release heat and dry cookies out in the oven for 10 more minutes.
And there you have it.

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For my elections return party tomorrow night, I embraced my inner political nerd by baking cookies in the shape of swing states. I found the cookie cutters for sale online, and followed Martha’s sugar cookie recipe, which The Good Wife used a few weeks ago for her gorgeous fall sugar cookies.

The recipe was fairly straight forward and I had a lot of fun baking these. Since it’s a basic cookie recipe, I’ll spare you the baking details and skip ahead to the finished product.
The Bellweather State

Is that a Florida cookie, or are you just happy to see me?


Real and Fake Virginia


So many undecided voters…

Later this week, I’ll post a few other recipes from my party. In the mean time: GO OBAMA! And NO ON PROP 8!

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