Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Daring Bakers Challenge - Opera Cake

This month’s Daring Baker’s challenge was an Opera Cake, selected by the founders of The Daring Bakers: Lis of La Mia Cucina , Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice , Fran of Apples Peaches Pumpkin Pie and Shea of Whiskful. Here’s how they described an Opera Cake… “an extremely elegant and polished French dessert that is believed to have been created around the beginning of the 1900s. Many people credit a gentleman by the name of Louis Clichy with inventing the cake and that's why it's sometimes referred to as Clichy Cake.”

So what exactly is an Opéra Cake?

It is a cake that is made of five components: a joconde (a cake layer), a syrup (to wet the joconde), a buttercream (to fill some of the layers), a ganache or mousse (to top the final cake layer) and a glaze (to cover the final layer of cake or the ganache/mousse).

I first put the instructions in Microsoft Word to print them out… Seven pages! To say I was a little intimidated was an understatement. But, I just had to make this dessert, it’s French! And, I’m French. Problem with big desserts like this is that there is no possible way for Eddie and I to eat it all before it goes bad. But this month I was in luck. My sister is graduating from high school and my mom was throwing her a graduation open house. Perfect.

I decided to make the cake at my mom’s house the day before the party so I wouldn’t have to transport a finished cake. Despite some minor setbacks (the oven wouldn’t heat up properly so there was a mad dash to find a neighbor who was home where I could bake the joconde), the cake turned out great. I took me a while to make all the components and put it together, but that was probably because I was multitasking to get other food made for the party at the same time. I ground almonds in the food processor to make the meal, used brandy to flavor the syrup, and almond extract to flavor the buttercream. The amount of white chocolate called for in the glaze was too much. I had a more than enough to cover the top of the cake and still drip down the sides.

The cake looked great when you cut into it and saw all the layers. Everyone raved about it and it was the first dessert to go. I like the nutty texture of the cake that was a result of grinding the almonds myself instead of using store bought ground almonds. Personally, I thought it was too sweet, and I’m not a fan of white chocolate. So, next time I make this I might go for a dark chocolate and coffee flavoring – like tiramisu.

The amount of time needed to make this cake definitely makes it one for special occasions. All in all – I had fun putting this together, it was definitely the most involved dessert I have every made. Hope you have fun if you decide to try!

** Notes**
* The recipe is long, but don’t let that intimidate you. The individual steps are very easy.
* Sorry for the terrible picture, but I took it during the party when there was 50 people around wanting to try the cake. So I didn’t have time to be creative. Besides, Eddie thinks the paper plate adds class.

A Taste of Light: Opéra Cake

This recipe is based on Opéra Cake recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets and Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty’s Chocolate Passion.

For the joconde

(Note: The joconde can be made up to 1 day in advance and kept wrapped at room temperate)

What you’ll need:

•2 12½ x 15½-inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans (Note: If you do not have jelly-roll pans this size, do not fear! You can use different-sized jelly-roll pans like 10 x 15-inches.)
•a few tablespoons of melted butter (in addition to what’s called for in the ingredients’ list) and a brush (to grease the pans)
•parchment paper
•a whisk and a paddle attachment for a stand mixer or for a handheld mixer
•two mixing bowls (you can make do with one but it’s preferable to have two)


6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tbsp. (30 grams) granulated sugar
2 cups (225 grams) ground blanched almonds (Note: If you do not want to use almond meal, you can use another nut meal like hazelnut. You can buy almond meal in bulk food stores or health food stores, or you can make it at home by grinding almonds in the food processor with a tablespoon or two of the flour that you would use in the cake. The reason you need the flour is to prevent the almonds from turning oily or pasty in the processor. You will need about 2 cups of blanched almonds to create enough almond meal for this cake.)
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
6 large eggs
½ cup (70 grams) all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. (1½ ounces; 45 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1.Divide the oven into thirds by positioning a rack in the upper third of the oven and the lower third of the oven.

2.Preheat the oven to 425◦F. (220◦C).

3.Line two 12½ x 15½- inch (31 x 39-cm) jelly-roll pans with parchment paper and brush with melted butter.

4.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or using a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the granulated sugar and beat until the peaks are stiff and glossy. If you do not have another mixer bowl, gently scrape the meringue into another bowl and set aside.

5.If you only have one bowl, wash it after removing the egg whites or if you have a second bowl, use that one. Attach the paddle attachment to the stand mixer (or using a handheld mixer again) and beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and voluminous, about 3 minutes.

6.Add the flour and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined (be very careful not to overmix here!!!).

7.Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture and then fold in the melted butter. Divide the batter between the pans and spread it evenly to cover the entire surface of each pan.

8.Bake the cake layers until they are lightly browned and just springy to the touch. This could take anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes depending on your oven. Place one jelly-roll pan in the middle of the oven and the second jelly-roll pan in the bottom third of the oven.

9.Put the pans on a heatproof counter and run a sharp knife along the edges of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Cover each with a sheet of parchment or wax paper, turn the pans over, and unmold.

10.Carefully peel away the parchment, then turn the parchment over and use it to cover the cakes. Let the cakes cool to room temperature.

For the syrup

(Note: The syrup can be made up to 1 week in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan


½ cup (125 grams) water
⅓ cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 to 2 tbsp. of the flavouring of your choice (i.e., vanilla extract, almond extract, cognac, limoncello, coconut cream, honey etc.)

1.Stir all the syrup ingredients together in the saucepan and bring to a boil.

2.Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

For the buttercream

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a candy or instant-read thermometer
•a stand mixer or handheld mixer
•a bowl and a whisk attachment
•rubber spatula


1 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
¼ cup (60 grams) water
seeds of one vanilla bean (split a vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds) or 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract (Note: If you are flavouring your buttercream and do not want to use the vanilla, you do not have to. Vanilla will often enhance other flavours but if you want an intense, one-flavoured buttercream, then by all means leave it out!)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1¾ sticks (7 ounces; 200 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
flavouring of your choice (a tablespoon of an extract, a few tablespoons of melted white chocolate, citrus zest, etc.)

1.Combine the sugar, water and vanilla bean seeds or extract in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves.

2.Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 225◦F (107◦C) [*Note: Original recipe indicates a temperature of 255◦F (124◦C), however, when testing the recipe I found that this was too high so we heated to 225◦F and it worked fine] on a candy or instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that temperature, remove the syrup from the heat.

3.While the syrup is heating, begin whisking the egg and egg yolk at high speed in the bowl of your mixer using the whisk attachment. Whisk them until they are pale and foamy.

4.When the sugar syrup reaches the correct temperature and you remove it from the heat, reduce the mixer speed to low speed and begin slowly (very slowly) pouring the syrup down the side of the bowl being very careful not to splatter the syrup into the path of the whisk attachment. Some of the syrup will spin onto the sides of the bowl but don’t worry about this and don’t try to stir it into the mixture as it will harden!

5.Raise the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the eggs are thick and satiny and the mixture is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes or so).

6.While the egg mixture is beating, place the softened butter in a bowl and mash it with a spatula until you have a soft creamy mass.

7.With the mixer on medium speed, begin adding in two-tablespoon chunks. When all the butter has been incorporated, raise the mixer speed to high and beat until the buttercream is thick and shiny.

8.At this point add in your flavouring and beat for an additional minute or so.

9.Refrigerate the buttercream, stirring it often, until it’s set enough (firm enough) to spread when topped with a layer of cake (about 20 minutes).

For the white chocolate ganache/mousse (this step is optional – please see Elements of an Opéra Cake below)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan
•a mixer or handheld mixer


7 ounces white chocolate
1 cup plus 3 tbsp. heavy cream (35% cream)
1 tbsp. liquer of your choice (Bailey’s, Amaretto, etc.)

1.Melt the white chocolate and the 3 tbsp. of heavy cream in a small saucepan.
2.Stir to ensure that it’s smooth and that the chocolate is melted. Add the tablespoon of liqueur to the chocolate and stir. Set aside to cool completely.
3.In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form.
4.Gently fold the whipped cream into the cooled chocolate to form a mousse.
5.If it’s too thin, refrigerate it for a bit until it’s spreadable.
6.If you’re not going to use it right away, refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

For the glaze
(Note: It’s best to make the glaze right when you’re ready to finish the cake.)

What you’ll need:

•a small saucepan or double boiler


14 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
½ cup heavy cream (35% cream)

1.Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream. Whisk the mixture gently until smooth.
2.Let cool for 10 minutes and then pour over the chilled cake. Using a long metal cake spatula, smooth out into an even layer.
3.Place the cake into the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.

Assembling the Opéra Cake

(Note: The finished cake should be served slightly chilled. It can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1 day).

Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Working with one sheet of cake at a time, cut and trim each sheet so that you have two pieces (from each cake so you’ll have four pieces in total): one 10-inch (25-cm) square and one 10 x 5-inch (25 x 12½-cm) rectangle.

Place one square of cake on the baking sheet and moisten it gently with the flavoured syrup.

Spread about three-quarters of the buttercream over this layer.

Top with the two rectangular pieces of cake, placing them side by side to form a square. Moisten these pieces with the flavoured syrup.

Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake and then top with the third square of joconde. Use the remaining syrup to wet the joconde and then refrigerate until very firm (at least half an hour).

Prepare the ganache/mousse (if you haven’t already) and then spread it on the top of the last layer of the joconde. Refrigerate for at least two to three hours to give the ganache/mousse the opportunity to firm up.

Make the glaze and after it has cooled, pour/spread it over the top of the chilled cake. Refrigerate the cake again to set the glaze.

Serve the cake slightly chilled. This recipe will yield approximately 20 servings.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper-Feta Sauce

Ever have one of those days… You go to work, contemplate what to have for dinner. You finally figure it out, assure yourself that you have all the ingredients in the pantry and don’t worry about it again until its time to make dinner.

Well, that was me last week. I had taken cod out of the freezer for dinner. Went to work and decided I was going to make a Thai Cod in Coconut Curry Broth. It was a recipe I saw Ellie Krieger make on Food Network a few weeks ago with halibut. I just knew I had all the ingredients at home, even bought a big bunch of cilantro at Safeway over the weekend. So, I went home that night, went on a run, showered and moseyed on down to the kitchen around 7:00. Opened up the pantry door…… NO COCONUT MILK! I have no idea what I had used the last can in, but obviously I used it in something. So, now what I was going to make? Going to the store was just not an option.

Conveniently, I had also watched Ellie make a Roasted Red Pepper Pasta and I had all the ingredients. So, pan fry up the cod to serve along with the pasta and that was going to be dinner. Hopefully a good one.

Well, Ellie did not disappoint. The pasta was fast, easy, and delicious. If you have jarred roasted red peppers then the amount of cooking is minimal. Just have to boil the pasta and sauté the garlic, onions and peppers in a skillet. I didn’t have jarred peppers, but did have two fresh ones. So, I popped them under the broiler until they were blackened (about 8-10 minutes), removed the skinned and diced them up. There. Fresh roasted red peppers… even better than jarred. I tossed them in the skilled for a minute with the garlic and onions, and added a handful of cherry tomatoes that I wasn’t sure would last one more day. Dumped all of it in the food processor, added some vegetable stock and feta cheese and walla! Dinner.

This was super easy and really tasty. A great deviation from the normal pasta with tomato sauce. I served this with pan-fried cod and sauted spinach. This is sure to be a staple meal in this house.

Fettuccine with Creamy Red Pepper-Feta Sauce adapted from Ellie Krieger

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 to 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 (16-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 cup crumbled feta cheese or a 6-ounce block
1 pound whole-wheat fettuccine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Saute onion and garlic until soft, about 10 minutes. Add roasted peppers and cherry tomatoes, and saute until heated through. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

3. Place mixture in the bowl of a food processor with stock and all but 2 tablespoons of the feta. Process until combined and smooth, about 30 seconds.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Toss pasta with sauce, adding pasta water by the tablespoon, if needed. Sauce should cling nicely to pasta.

5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

6. Divide among pasta bowls. Sprinkle with parsley and remaining feta cheese.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

TWD- Traditional Madeleines

This week’s TWD challenge, Traditional Madeleines, was selected by Tara of Smells Like Home. I have a serious crush on these cookies, but never thought to make them myself, because I believed the task to be far too daunting, given that a special pan is needed for those precious seashell shapes. Once I sprung for the metal pan at Williams Sonoma, the rest is easy. I believe I overfilled the shells of my pan, because there is very little definition so they just look like blobs. There is no "hump", to speak of, which is the defining feature of the madeleine. They still taste great, though. The possibilities are endless; I have seen so many variations, like this, or this, or this on the blogosphere, that I am so looking forward to getting my money’s worth from this pan! The traditional variety is flavored with lemon zest and vanilla extract. They are the perfect accompaniment to tea, especially once dusted with powdered sugar. Now that I know how easy they are to make, I won’t be buying the stale ones from Starbucks anymore, just to get my fix! Thanks, Tara, for a great selection! Please visit the other TWD bakers to view their creations!

Traditional Madeleines

Source: Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Working in a mixer bowl, or in a large bowl, rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the eggs to the bowl. Working with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on medium-high speed until pale, thick and light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. With a rubber spatula, very gently fold in the dry ingredients, followed by the melted butter. Press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the batter and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, or for up to 2 days. This long chill period will help the batter form the hump that is characteristic of madeleines. (For convenience, you can spoon the batter into the madeleine molds, cover and refrigerate, then bake the cookies directly from the fridge; see below for instructions on prepping the pans.)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter 12 full-size madeleine molds, or up to 36 mini madeleine molds, dust the insides with flour and tap out the excess. Or, if you have a nonstick pan (or pans), give it a light coating of vegetable cooking spray. If you have a silicone pan, no prep is needed. Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet.
Spoon the batter into the molds, filling each one almost to the top. Don’t worry about spreading the batter evenly, the oven’s heat will take care of that. Bake large madeleines for 11 to 13 minutes, and minis for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they are golden and the tops spring back when touched. Remove the pan(s) from the oven and release the madeleines from the molds by rapping the edge of the pan against the counter. Gently pry any recalcitrant madeleines from the pan using your fingers or a butter knife. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature.
If you are making minis and have more batter, bake the next batch(es), making certain that you cool, then properly prepare the pan(s) before baking.
Just before serving, dust the madeleines with confectioners’ sugar.
Makes 12 large or 36 mini cookies

Serving: Serve the cookies when they are only slightly warm or when they reach room temperature, with tea or espresso.

Storing: Although the batter can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, the madeleines should be eaten soon after they are made. You can keep them overnight in a sealed container, but they really are better on day 1. If you must store them, wrap them airtight and freeze them; they’ll keep for up to 2 months.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Madhur Jaffrey's Sweet and Sour Okra

I grew up eating Indian food for nearly every meal while I lived under my parent's roof. As I've told you before, this did not please my burgeoning tastebuds. I only craved what I could not have, i.e. processed junk. I did not learn to appreciate Indian food's complexities and layers of flavor until I went away to college and could finally have all the processed junk I had been denied thus far. Needless to say, I quickly tired of how bland and uninspiring this food can be. Whenever I visited home during semester breaks, I pestered my mother to share her recipes. My mother is an excellent cook, but she does not rely on recipes. It's all off the top of her head. Indian food lends itself very well to this, because it has the same basic formula which can be altered depending on what is on hand. One unfortunate by-product of cooking without recipes is that consistency is lost; that is, subtle differences exist between two supposedly identical dishes. When pressed, my mother frequently will say "oh, you know, just a bit of tumeric" or "I just eyeball it" (when referring to exact quantities of a certain spice). It's quite frustrating to have this fantastic resource, a bona fide arsenal of Indian recipes, yet be unable to access it! So, I've turned to the internet for finding exact measurements and recipes for Indian food. And I struck gold with Madhur Jaffrey's Sweet and Sour Okra. Fresh lemon juice makes it tangy and a combination of whole cumin and ground cumin give it a classic spicy/smoky flavor. The proportions of spices are perfect, so much that I've altered here and there, with the addition of tomatoes and once, the addition of potatoes, and every single time, it's been a showstopper.

Madhur Jaffrey's Sweet and Sour Okra

1 1/2 lbs fresh okra, defrosted or 2 (10 ounce) packages frozen okra, defrosted
2 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
7 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup peanut oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon sugar
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1) If fresh okra is used, trim off any tough stems.
2) If frozen okra is used, defrost and drain.
3) Cut each pod into 3/4 inch lengths.
4) Put the garlic, pepper flakes and three tablespoons of water in the blender and blend as thoroughly as possible.
5) Empty the mixture into a small bowl and add the ground cumin, coriander and turmeric and blend well.
6) Heat the oil over medium high heat in a nine inch skillet and add the whole cumin seeds.
7) Cook briefly until the seeds start to sizzle and add the spice paste.
8) Cook, stirring, about one minute.
9) Add the okra, salt, sugar and lemon juice and the remaining four tablespoons of water.
10)Stir to blend.
11)Bring to a simmer, cover closely and cook over very low heat about ten minutes.
12)Serve with basmati rice or naan.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

TWD - Florida Pie

This week’s TWD selection is Florida Pie chosen by Dianne of Dianne’s Dishes. I can’t tell you how much I love citrus desserts, especially lime. Unfortunately for me, Eddie does not. So, usually lime desserts don’t get made in my house because I am not about to eat the entire thing. Well, I could eat the entire thing, but by thighs wouldn’t thank me in the morning.
This weekend was Mother’s Day… a perfect reason to make Florida Pie and share it with the rest of my family.
This recipe was super easy and I would recommend it to any pie novice or expert. It took a little while to make, but most of that time was freezing the pie for various steps. The one interesting aspect of this pie is that in making the meringue the egg whites and sugar were heated on the stove before whipping them with a mixer. As usual, Dorie was spot on. The meringue was light and delicious, and the addition of coconut gave it great texture.
Needless to say, the pie was a huge hit. I had to beat off my family to get a few pictures for the blog before it was devoured. The coconut cream was divine and the lime filling was so fresh and light. I couldn’t find key limes. It took about 4 regular limes to get the half cup of lime juice necessary. Again, for any novice citrus users… ONLY USE FRESH LIME JUICE. When I first began to really learn to cook I always kept those little plastic bottles of lime and lemon juice in the fridge. I mean come on, how different can the fresh stuff be? Plenty different. The taste just cannot compare. So, if you find yourself making this pie only to realize you don’t have enough lime juice, the trip to the grocery store for fresh limes is worth it.
Okay, enough preaching. Just go out and make this pie. And please go check out the results from my fellow TWD bakers.

Florida Pie

1 9-inch graham cracker crust (page 235), fully baked and cooled, or a store-bought crust
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
4 large eggs, separated
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh Key (or regular) lime juice (from about 5 regular limes)
1/4 cup of sugar

Getting Ready:

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the pie plate on a baking sheet lined with parchment of a silicone mat.

Put the cream and 1 cup of the coconut in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly. Continue to cook and stir until the cream is reduced by half and the mixture is slightly thickened. Scrape the coconut cream into a bowl and set it aside while you prepare the lime filling.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl beat the egg yolks at high speed until thick and pale. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the condensed milk. Still on low, add half of the lime juice. When it is incorporated, add the reaming juice, again mixing until it is blended. Spread the coconut cream in the bottom of the graham cracker crust, and pour over the lime filling.

Bake the pie for 12 minutes. Transfer the pie to a cooling rack and cool for 15 minutes, then freeze the pie for at least 1 hour.

To Finish the Pie with Meringue:

Put the 4 egg whites and the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, whisking all the while, until the whites are hot to the touch. Transfer the whites to a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, or use a hand mixer in a large bowl, and beat the whites at high speed until they reach room temperature and hold firm peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the remaining 1/2 cup coconut into the meringue.

Spread the meringue over the top of the pie, and run the pie under the broiler until the top of the meringue is golden brown. (Or, if you've got a blowtorch, you can use it to brown the meringue.) Return the pie to the freezer for another 30 minutes or for up to 3 hours before serving.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Potatoes and Feta au Gratin

Potatoes and cheese. I mean really, can life get any better. There is just something about the humble potato cooked in a creamy cheesy sauce that screams comfort. Many people have a hard time making augratin potatoes from scratch and resort to that box stuff in the store. In fact, a friend of mine called me up the other day wondering what went wrong with hers. Somehow she ended up with a liquidy mess and despite being in the over for well over an hour, the potatoes weren’t cooked through.

I usually make the Julia Childs recipe from the Art of French Cooking with great success. The key to her recipe is to cut the potatoes very thinly, but not to wash them off before layering them. It is the starch in the potato that she relies on to thicken the milk while cooking. Then, the augratin is cooked for a long time in the oven, first covered to allow the potatoes to cook, then uncovered do the milk can thicken up and the top brown over.

When I saw a recipe for Potatoes and Feta au Gratin by Peter at Kalofagas I knew I just had to make it. I always buy have a big slab of Feta from Costco in the fridge. Usually I use about half of it, then it takes me months of contemplation of figuring out how to use the rest. As much as Eddie and I love feta, there are only two of us in the house and this is a lot of cheese to eat. So, this recipe was the perfect way to consume what I had in the fridge. The recipe itself is really simple. Peter calls for par boiling the potatoes first, then slicing and layering them in the casserole dish. This does two things: 1) reducing the total cooking time because the potatoes are half cooked before going in the oven; 2) requires you to make a béchamel sauce because the starch from the potato cannot be relied on to thicken the milk. I actually like this method. It is good for a work night when you don’t have 2 hours before dinner to put this together and get it in the oven. I was able to assemble this dish (including par boiling the potatoes) and get it into the oven in 20 minutes. Forty minutes later and it was ready.

I did adapt Peter’s recipe slightly and think it still turned out great. Since there was so much flavor in the cheese sauce I thought simplicity was better for the rest of the meal. Eddie grilled up some fish and fresh local asparagus I had picked up from the farmer’s market and we had one heck of a meal. I thought the salty sharpness from the Feta would be a prominent flavor, but it really wasn’t. The creamy béchamel sauce mellowed out its pungency. And, the incorporation of rosemary and olives really rounded out the dish. This was so good, that I ate it for breakfast the next day. And the next day.

Potatoes and Feta au Gratin, adapted from Kalofagas
(for 4)

4 large potatoes (I used 6 red-skinned potatoes)
3 tbs. unsalted butter
1 large onion, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/4 cup flour
2 cups of milk
1 sprig of rosemary, plus 2 teas. finely chopped
2 cups of crumbled feta
1/3 cup chopped greek olives (*see note)
salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heated 400F oven

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add a good amount of salt and potatoes and boil for 12-15 minutes. Drain. Bring the temperature of the potatoes down by placing in an ice bath until they are safe to handle.

2. Slice the potatoes into thin slices and reserve. I used red potatoes and there was no need to skin them.

While potatoes are cooking:
3. In a medium saucepan, add your butter over medium-high heat and then add your onions, garlic, bay leaf, half of your rosemary sprig and saute for 5 minutes until your onions have softened. (Just put the rosemary spring in whole, you will remove it later.)

4. Add your flour and stir to cook the flour for a couple of minutes. Add the milk over medium heat and stir until the Bechamel has thickened.

5. Remove your bay leaf, rosemary and garlic.

6. Add half (1 cup) of your crumbled feta. Stir until incorporated, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Keep warm and reserve.

7. Grease an approx. 9" X 13" baking dish and line the bottom with a coat of Bechamel. (I actually used a smaller pan so that the end product was thicker.)

8. Divide sliced potatoes in half. Lay down one half of the sliced potatoes in rows, overlapping each other. Keeping making rows until you use up half the potatoes.

9. Spread about 1 cup of the Bechamel over the potatoes.

10. Lay down the other half of potatoes on top.

11. Spread the rest of the Bechamel over the potatoes, scatter the remaining crumbled feta on top, followed by the chopped olives and 2 teas. chopped rosemary.
Crack some fresh black pepper over the top and bake in the middle rack of your oven for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Note: I had a jar of chopped olive bruscetta from Trader Joe’s in my fridge and used this instead. Key here is to use really good olives. No canned black or green olives in water. Spring for the good olives packed in oil. It will make a huge difference in the flavor.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Meyer Lemon and Cherry Scones

I finally get what all the fuss is about regarding Meyer Lemons. I saw a bin at our local gourmet grocery store and having never tried one, I was instantly intrigued. Would I make meyer lemon bars? Meyer lemon pudding? Meyer Lemon aioli? There have been hundreds of meyer lemon recipes on various food blogs recently so I figured now was the time to experiment with this exalted hybrid of humble orange and lemon. But could I really pay $1.49 cents for ONE lemon? My father diligently taught me to bargain shop, to clip coupons, and to never become emotionally attached to any object, because emotional attachment forces any rational decision making to be thrown completely out the window. Well, I've failed in all three tenets of his tutelege. My first dereliction was browsing in a gourmet grocery store. Naturally, he equates "gourmet" with "overpriced." Secondly, nary a coupon was in my possession. Thirdly, I sniffed the Meyer lemon, and an instanteous emotional attachment was born.

Anyhow, what to do with this gorgeous specimen? I wanted my new acquisition to manifest in something not overly tart (so my husband would enjoy it) and not overly sweet, (I've been eating entirely too much sugar lately). Since I love scones with jam and a cup of tea or coffee, I decided to try incorporating my prized lemon's juice and zest into scones. I also added dried sour cherries. These scones were adapted from here, and they were perfect. This recipe is nice because the base is flexible to allow for infinite possibilities: any other dried fruit, chocolate, nuts, brown sugar, vanilla bean, and so on. Topped with jam and alongside a cup of tea; I can't think of a better way to spend my afternoon. I'll just skip the part about paying $1.49 for one lemon when I tell my father how good these scones were.

Meyer Lemon and Cherry Scones
Bon Appetit, December 2001

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons grated Meyer lemon peel
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
1 large egg
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
2 teaspoons raw sugar

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, 1/3 cup sugar, peel, baking powder, and salt in bowl to blend. Add 1/2 cup chilled butter. Using fingertips, rub in until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in cherries.
Whisk crème fraîche or sour cream, lemon juice, and egg in medium bowl to blend. Gradually add to flour mixture, using fork to toss until moist clumps form. Knead dough briefly on lightly floured surface until smooth. Pat dough into 8-inch round. Cut into 8 equal wedges. Transfer to prepared baking sheet, spacing apart. Brush with melted butter; sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Can be made up to 1 month ahead. Cool completely. Wrap in aluminum foil; freeze. Serve at room temperature.)

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