Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daring Bakers Go GaGa over Buns

Gentle readers, let me apologize yet again...

That sweet and cinnamoney smell whafting across the blogosphere this morning making you want to run out for a pan of ooey and gooey cinnamon or sticky buns and throw all caution along with pointless carb counting out the window is our fault.

Because we're back...

We're bad...

And we are covered in sugar, cinnamon, spice and everything oh so nice...

We are the Daring Bakers!

and we are taking no prisoners this month with (be still my fluttering heart) Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon and Sticky Buns from his incredible tome, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.

This book has become one of the bibles for anyone who dreams of making world class bread. For this month's delightfully yummy challenge we were hosted by Pip in the City's mistress of food in Buenos Aires, Marce.

I own The Bread Baker's Apprentice and bake from it often but had never made these rolls because I have to admit, I didn't think I would find them all that challenging because I have made hundreds of cinnamon rolls over the years; enough so that I have perfected my own recipe for them that starts with my sweet sourdough starter as well as one that doesn't use a liquid starter. But, when I put on the Daring Baker secret decoder ring and ninja costume, I took an oath on Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours to complete all challenges even if you have made something a million times. A good creed because you know what, even if you have made something a bizillion times and your results are considered award winning, you can always learn something from trying another recipe.

And what did Breadchick learn from this recipe? I learned that I like a little dash of lemon and lemon zest in my cinnamon roll. It really heightens the taste of the cinnamon and takes this roll from being kid sweet to adult sweet.

As usual, we all had to make the same recipe but had the choice to make either the cinnamon rolls or the sticky buns or both! I chose to make only the cinnamon rolls because I'm just not all that big of a fan of sticky buns. I find them just too over the top in regards to sweetness; you know that tooth-aching sweetness. Besides, after last month's fabulous tart, I needed a break from caramel and burnt fingers!!!

The recipe we all used was quite easy to put together and didn't require any unusual skill for anyone who has worked with yeast before. One of the things that came out during the challenge was how many people have a fear of yeast. I won't go into details here but will address yeast fear in an upcoming "Ask Breadchick" post. Let's just say, today's yeast isn't your grandmother's yeast and if you are using your grandmother's throw it out. It is dead, dead, dead...unless you are using her sourdough starter in which case email me because I want some of your starter! But, I digress and I can see you drumming your fingers because by golly you want to hear about rolls and not my pedantic meanderings about yeast, grandmothers, and you do have over 90 other Daring Baker posts to read...

Anyways, the recipe came together really easily. I used the buttermilk option since I knew it would mimic the zing that my sourdough starter normally imparts in my buns. There wasn't any problem with any step of the recipe; a first I think for me during a Daring Baker Challenge. It was either this recipe is really well written and understandable, the fact that I have made so many cinnamon rolls or maybe cause I had good helpers in the kitchen for this challenge, in the form of the Traveling Eggs!

I found the dough was a quick riser both the fermentation step and the bun rising step (other DBers reported it was a slow riser, so be careful, your results will vary here). In fact, this recipe was such a prolific riser for me that I got almost double the number of rolls the recipe calls for with a whopping 28 rolls!

and I had to improvise to find a container for the last lonely roll.

Which was OK because I was planning on giving all the rolls away and that gave me one solitary roll for me to enjoy and not devour an entire pan of these goodies.

So, now that I have you squirming and trying to figure out how fast you can make it to the mall for one of those better smelling than tasting cinnamondoughblobbythingamabobs, how did they turn out?

Well, my co-workers snarfed the whole pan down by 9:30am and the neighbor across the street called me and asked me if I took orders because she wanted to order two dozen for next weekend.

As for me, I liked them a lot. They have a more bread like texture than is normally to my liking but I will probably make these again because they are good and much quicker than my sourdough cinnamon rolls. And who knows, this recipe may even make me give sticky buns another chance!

To see how all the rest of my fellow brother and sisters liked these buns, both types, go get yourself a gallon of milk, lots of napkins and click on over to the Daring Baker Blogroll and check it out for yourself!

And if you want to try this challenge for yourself, here is the recipe as we received from Marce!

Cinnamon and Sticky Buns
(from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice)

Daring Bakers Challenge #10: September 2007
Host: Marce, Pip in the City

Allowed Modifications:

  • You can mix up the spices to your liking. Meaning you don´t have to use cinnamon if you don´t like it. I´m thinking you could use ginger, allspice, cardamom, etc. (Personally, I´m going to leave the sticky buns as they are and mix up spices in the cinnamon buns)

  • You can do both cinnamon and sticky buns or choose one.

  • You don´t have to use nuts for the sticky buns if you are allergic or you don´t like nuts.

  • You don´t have to use raisins for the sticky buns, and you can substitute the raisins for any other dried fruit you like and think would work with the other flavors.

  • Recipe ingredient exception allowed only if allergy or an ingredient not available or cost prohibitive in your region

Days to Make: One (1)
Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 - 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) - twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) - sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough


  • 6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine

  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten

  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon

  • 3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast*

  • 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water

  • 1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)

  • White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)

  • Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)

  • Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)

*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 - Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 - Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Step 3 - Form the Buns: Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.

Step 4 - Prepare the Buns for Proofing:

  • For cinnamon buns: line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.

  • For sticky buns: coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

Step 5 - Proof the Buns: Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Step 6 - Bake the Buns:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.

  • Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

Step 8 - Cool the buns:

  • For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving.

  • For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

Toppings for the Buns:

White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns

Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)

Caramel glaze for sticky buns

Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California.
NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature.

2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Apple Day: Harvest Apple Bread

Happy Apple Day!!

Zorra, of Kopftopf is hosting a one off event in honour of Apple Day. Here in New England, we are at the height of the apple season and that means one thing for me; time to make a favourite recipe of mine for Apple Bread.

A former work colleague of mine gave me this recipe almost 20 years ago and it has become a family favourite. You want to use tart and hardy apples like Macon or Cortland or Granny Smith. You will need 6 medium apples for this recipe.

Harvest Apple Bread

3 cups chopped apples
2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1 1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

In a large glass or metal bowl, squeeze the juice of one lemon into 2 cups of cold water. Peel and core the apples, one at a time. Chop the apple into coarse cubes and soak in the lemon water to prevent browning.

When all the apples are chopped add 1/2 cup of the sugar and the cinnamon. I also like to add a dash of nutmeg, about 1/2 tsp. Set the apples aside. In a separate bowl, mix the remainder of the sugar, the salt, the baking soda, vanilla and the eggs together. Add the oil and combine well.

Add the flour, the nuts and the apple mixture. Combine well.

Batter will be very moist. Divide between two well greased 8.5" loaf pans and bake for about 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted at 325 degrees. Remove from oven and loaf pans and let cool on racks. You can slice this when it is still warm but don't slice it for at least 10 minutes after if comes out of the oven.

Look at the chunks of apples in those slices!!

Presto Post for Presto Pasta Night

OK, down and dirty tonight because it is 8:30pm, I got a plane to catch early thirty and I haven't even packed.

You have one serving of fresh linguine, four small porcini mushrooms, 1/4 cup of tomato paste, four left over meatballs and a basil plant, quick what do you do?

Well, you zap it of course silly!!

Then you sit down and watch your "Tivoed" Top Chef Finale Part One with Presto Pasta Linguine and Meatballs...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Traveling Eggs: Guest Bakers and a Lovely Gift

Hello! We are the Traveling Eggs!!!

A few months ago, Helene at Tartlette received us in a package from Hannah of Bittersweet and decided to send us on a journey to other blogging friends. Our first stop was to the fun filled house of Lisa at La Mia Cucina where we got to sit on her desk on top of her favourite cookbooks and a picture of her dog, Nigel.

Now, we are spending the weekend in the kitchen of Breadchick, who writes the bread and baking blog "The Sour Dough".

On Friday, Breadchick got a housewarming present from Helene. The housewarming present was a tea towel in the same colours as Breadchick's kitchen and packages of yeast.

and the fabulous book "100 Great Breads" by Paul Hollywood.

She baked the "Batch Bread" on Saturday from the book and loved how crunchy the crust was and sweet the bread tasted. Since we were sitting in the kitchen when she was baking that bread, we overheard her say, "The next bread I'm going to try is the Beer Bread". Breadchick has been a wonderful hostess, letting us sit in the kitchen to watch her bake and cook. We wanted to do something nice for her. So while she was out playing in the sunshine this afternoon we decided to surprise her by making the "Beer Bread". It sounded like the perfect bread to go with the chicken noodle soup she put in the crockpot before taking her bike and book to the ocean.

First, we had to find the recipe in the book.

Once we found the recipe, we read the recipe and gather all the ingredients. Thank goodness there were no eggs in the recipe!!!

After struggling with the twist on cap of the beer bottle (we have no hands!), we measured 1 1/4 cup of it out into a glass measuring cup and let it come to room temperature.

Then we had to mix one package of yeast with the beer.

Thank goodness Breadchick left a tall cup of cold coffee on the counter for us to climb on! It was the perfect height for eggs to hold a spoon and stir things in big plastic bowls with tight fitting lids!!

Then we had to add some flour, 1 2/3 cup of bread flour to be exact. This took four of us to do! One to scoop out the flour from the canister, one to hold the spoon, one to point to where to get the flour from and one to hold the measuring cup.

Next, we stirred it up with the beer and yeast to make a ferment!

and put the lid on the bowl to make it air tight. This took all of us to do and we built an egg pyramid on the lid to shut it with a snap!!

About two hours later we checked on the ferment. Look how high it was!!

Now we had to add 2 Tbsp of melted butter, 2 tsp of salt, and 1 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and knead the dough. Since this bread making is a lot of work, we decided to play a game of rugby with the dough to finish the kneading!

Next the dough went back into the container and left in a warm place to double in size.

When the buzzer went off we sure were impressed with the height of the dough! We had to all climb on to see how tall we could be!!

But we were too heavy and the dough fell down and we fell into the big hole!!

Which meant we had to climb out of the bowl...

Good thing the dough sinkhole happened, because after we finally made it back down to the counter, we read in the recipe we were suppose to "punch down" the dough after it had risen before dumping it out on the counter!

Once we tipped the bowl with the punched down dough over onto the counter

we spread the dough out into a long rectangle and folded over on side about 1/3 of the way up the rectangle.

Then folded over the other part on top of the first part, making a nice package of dough!

Now, into a butter greased glass loaf pan, seam side down, we placed the dough and covered it with plastic wrap to rise. One and a half hours later the loaf of bread had risen to 1/2 an inch above the edge of the loaf pan. This time, the dough didn't collapse when we got on top!!

After pre-heating the oven to 375 degrees, we put the bread in the oven and one of us decided to keep an eye on it while it baked because we heard Breadchick say yesterday that her new oven ran "hot" and we didn't want the bread to get too brown on top!

After 35 minutes in the oven, a perfect loaf of bread came out of the oven! We tipped the loaf pan over and let it cool. Boy oh Boy, would Breadchick be surprised when she got home! It smelled really good, like a good lager or ale!! We bet it will taste just as good too!!!

After all that hard work and before we leave tomorrow on our way to a new blogging friend, we think we need a nap!


We hope Breadchick enjoys the Beer Bread.....


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Presto Pasta Night: Kid Food for Grown-Ups

Hard to believe this week has flown by so fast! The weather this week has brought us the first inkling of fall with cool temperatures and an ever earlier dusk. I've been cooking dinner almost every night and I'm slowly getting the hang of my electric stove (medium on electric = high on gas) and have even been doing some baking ala working on my BrownieBabe recipe and something really special for that once a month affair I know you can't wait to know about (Love my oven thermometer!). Between all that cooking/baking, I've been in NYC two of the three days this week for project meetings. Busy, busy, busy...

Tonight, on the way back from yet another meeting, I was sharing a seat on the 3:48pm from Grand Central with a mother and her young son. He was four and had gone into the city with his mother. All the way back, he chatted with me about all the toys he saw at the Children's Museum and how he had peanut butter, jelly and banana for lunch and saw Dora the Explorer and then went and played in the park. He was so cute and articulate. As he and his mother were leaving the train, I heard him say he wanted "Spaghettios with hotdogs and chocolate milk" for dinner. All the sudden, I wanted to be four again and have my mom fix me spaghettios with sliced hotdogs and chocolate milk for dinner. While my mother may not be able to cook dinner for me tonight, that doesn't mean I couldn't fix myself a grown-up version of spaghettios and hotdogs and I wanted to fix it quickly; a perfect Presto Pasta challenge!!

On the way home, I stopped at what is quickly becoming my favourite neighborhood store, The Market Basket. I figured I would pick up a package of ring noodle soup and use the noodles for my spaghettios and some all-beef skinless hotdogs from the butcher. When I walked down the pasta aisle, I saw a pasta I had never seen before, Ditalini. Perfect! A heartier version of the "O's", this pasta cooked up wonderfully quick and held its shape. While the pasta was cooking, I sliced the hot dogs and added them to the pasta during the last three minutes of cooking to heat up. The sauce was a cheat, I admit it. I picked up a small jar of Prego Fresh Mushroom sauce and added some fresh grated cheese and chopped basil to liven it up. A big dollop of the sauce on top of the pasta and hotdogs, more cheese and fresh cracked pepper and I had a grown up version of a kid's classic.

Easy Peasy Pasta and Dogs
Serves 2

1 1/2 cup of Ditalini or any short tube pasta
three skinless hotdogs, sliced
1 small jar of pasta sauce
2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
1/8 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano plus extra to sprinkle on top
Fresh cracked pepper to taste

Boil pasta for 8 minutes in salted water. Add hot dog slices and cook until pasta is al dente. While pasta is cooking, add basil and 1/8 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano to 1 1/2 cup of pasta sauce. Drain and toss pasta and hot dog slices with the sauce. Sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh cracked pepper on top.

Serve with a crisp Pinot Grigio and Ceasar salad.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Presto Pasta Night: Back in the Saddle Again


I'm back in the kitchen!!!!

After what seems like forever, I have finally finished unpacking all the boxes, that I know of anyways, labeled "kitchen". There may be one or two more boxes lurking in a closet I haven't uncovered but if there is, I haven't figured out that I'm missing a critical pan or utensil yet.

My new kitchen isn't as big as my old kitchen and somehow, when I was looking at the apartment, I missed that it didn't have a full set of cabinets (more on that in a later post). But I adore the layout, the long two level counter space, and most of all the track lighting. My old kitchen was dark and the lights were obviously installed by someone who never cooked (they were, trust me..) because all the lights in that kitchen were above and behind me trying to light the workspace vs over the workspace as my track lights in the new kitchen are installed. The other bonus of track lighting in the kitchen is if a light isn't the right place over the counter, I can stand on my step stool and move it!

Anyways, I'm back in the kitchen and I was so excited last night when I made the first full dinner in the new kitchen that I giggled, gushed, and chatted with LB, who was under foot exploring new cubbyholes and hoping for a morsel of something a cat would like to fall onto the floor, all the time I was dicing and slicing.

One of the other things I've missed is being able to participate in Ruth of Once Upon a Feast's wildly successful Presto Pasta Night event. In case you haven't heard about this fun filled night of Fusulli, Farfalle, and Fettuccini, as well as any other type of noodle/pasta you can think of, every week Ruth asks food bloggers to email her with quick and not so quick posts and recipes that use pasta. Doesn't matter what else you use with the pasta or how you serve the pasta, you have to use pasta in the dish.

Since we are fast nearing the end of the tomato season, I had stopped at the Westport Farmers Market yesterday, after the gym and Starbucks, to pick up some fresh tomatoes and a few other fruits and vegetables for my week. When I got to the market, most the big tomatoes were already gone but one of the farmers had these nice plump Amish Paste tomatoes. They were stunning and I knew exactly what I was going to do with the tomatoes when I got them home. I was going to make a simple sauce with the fresh sweet Italian sausage I picked up from my local butcher shop on Saturday and serve it over the fresh fettuccine I had in the fridge.

I started with the same method for the tomatoes I used when I made the Polenta with Tomato Sauce and Sausage Ragu for the cookbook spotlight on Faith Heller Willinger’s new cookbook “Adventures of an Italian Food Lover“, chopped tomatoes in a large pan with a dash of olive oil and garlic.

I loved how easy this sauce was to make and the taste was all tomato and garlic. I even remember thinking when I made it that the next time I would combine the sausage with the sauce. This time, I not only added the sausage but I added some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a dash of rosemary and some fresh basil to the mix.

This sauce is so easy and quick, that if you are using dried pasta, you should start your water to boil before you start the sauce otherwise the sauce will be done way before the pasta is cooked al dente. Best of all, making this whole dish, pasta and all, takes less then 30 minutes making it perfect for a busy night. (hum...I sound like that overly perky tv "food" show host don't I??!!) And just to make it even better, the sauce has such a wonderful taste, people will think you slaved all day over the stove.

But I won't tell if you don't tell...

Presto Sausage Pasta Sauce
Makes 2-3 servings of sauce

1lb fresh sweet Italian sausage
6 medium sized sauce tomatoes, chopped
1 - 2 cloves garlic, chopped (I used 2 cloves)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp rosemary
1/8 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
dash salt
fresh cracked black pepper to taste

In non-stick skillet, brown and chop up into medium chunks, sausage. Cook until almost done. Drain and set aside. In large skillet, on medium high heat, heat olive oil and toss in garlic for 30 seconds. Add chopped tomatoes and cook until they soften, turn down heat to medium and add back in the sausage. Continue letting tomatoes cook until a chunky sauce consistency, about 7 - 10 mintues. Add rosemary and salt and let tomatoes further reduce and thicken, about 5 minutes. Add in basil and cook for 3-5 minutes more. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir. Taste and add further season to taste with salt, basil, or rosemary. Finish with fresh cracked pepper.

Serve over cooked pasta or on top of crusty pieces of bread

Ironic Moment of this Meal: When I finished this sauce and sat down to watch a little Food Network, I was treated to Mario Batali and the Parmigiano-Reggiano Battle on Iron Chef America.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Candy Bar Disguised as a Tart: Daring Baker Style

First, I'm going to start by saying there will be no pictures for this post. So, if you require a bit of "food porn" with your sugar then "Look away!" because as Kramer once told Jerry, "I'm hideous".

Why no pictures you ask? is a long story...but as I'm late with this post as it is, I will try and keep it pretty short(um...yea right).

It seems fitting that I wrap up my baking escapades from Cambridge, MA with a story about a Daring Baker Challenge. As you probably already know, partly from the sugar rush in the food blogosphere at the end of last month, the August Challenge for the intrepid Daring Bakers was Eric Kayser's decadent Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart as presented by the August hostess, Veronica from Veronica's Test Kitchen and Patricia of the Technicolor Kitchen.

Knowing that I only had about two weekends to bake the challenge as I was packing up my kitchen for my move to Connecticut, I decided to make the tart in two steps. I would make the chocolate shortbread crust and freeze it on a Friday before I left for a business trip and then complete the caramel and milk chocolate mousse on the Wednesday I got back and take into work that afternoon for a meeting.

Everything went according to my carefully timed plan. The chocolate shortbread crust was easy to make and baked up quite lovely. I cut the recipe for the crust in half as the recipe would make enough for THREE(!!) crusts. The recipe also calls for the dough to rest in the fridge overnight as the dough is very soft. As I didn't have enough time for the crust to rest overnight, I made the crust as soon as I got up in the morning, put it in the coldest part of the fridge, and went into Boston for the morning to run errands. When I returned about four hours later, it was firm enough to work with. I rolled out the crust quite easily and placed the crust into my tart pan, trimming off the edges that I made into little "accents" for my tart's top. Into the oven it went and off to pack up a few things I went. The crust was a bit puffy but when it came out of the oven to cool, but it settled right down. The only modification, besides cutting the recipe in half, was I did cut the cinnamon called for in the recipe in half as other fellow DBers had reported that the cinnamon as called for in the recipe was overwhelming. After the crust cooled, I wrapped it tightly, popped it into the freezer and then flew off to Sun Valley, Idaho for a business trip.

On Wednesday early morning, I got up and made the caramel. Now, as you know from previous DBer challenges I have a hate-hate-love relationship with hot sugar. I hate to make it because I can never get it right the first time (I always crystalize it and have to scrape the mess from my pan). I always burn myself (my poor Aloe plant is almost denuded). I love the results when I finally get it right (about the third time I try it during a recipe, it works). So, as most everyone who tried the "dry" method of making the caramel had reported disastrous results, including Veronica, I opted to go straight for the "wet" method Veronica had worked out for an acceptable substitution. GUESS WHAT!!! I burned myself...AND seized the caramel (oh surprise, surprise). But, I persevered, and after reheating the seized mass of caramel on low heat and stirring, stirring, stirring (you should see my biceps!!) I had caramel. I plopped it on the crust, put it in the oven to bake, and packed some more boxes. While the caramel was cooling after it came out of the oven, I put the milk chocolate mousse together. I love making mousse. I love working with heavy cream and chocolate (any chocolate). I used the Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate baking bar as my milk chocolate. I have to admit, I'm not a huge milk chocolate fan, except for Cadbury Dairy Milk bars from the UK (not the North American ones as they are too sweet). But, as I didn't have time to run into Cardullos in Harvard Square to pick up a few, I used the Ghiradelli. It was a pretty good substitution (come on know I had to taste the chocolate), not too sweet and kinda creamy. It melted like a dream and before I knew it, Viola!! Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart!

About this time, I also realized that in my haste to make the darn thing, I had not taken one solitary picture even though my digital camera was sitting right there on the counter. Oh well, I thought. I'll just take a picture of the finished product and that will be good enough.

The tart traveled pretty well. It only had one little tiny mishap on the way to Connecticut and my office. I had to slam on my brakes in Hartford because some "bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep" idiot in a RV (large mobile home vehicle driven by old people who want to live on the road like vagabonds...sorry if I offended anyone but in the US that is who mostly drives these gas guzzling behemoths...or at least THIS particular one) decided at the last minute he DID want to go to NYC instead and tried to cross three lanes of traffic on I-84 about 700 yards from the NYC I-91 exit during the early afternoon rush hour. Well, my poor tart in it's cake carrier went sliding off the front seat and landed on the floor...right side up, thank goodness...but I knew that couldn't be good. (The crust was bit broken up when I cut it later, but otherwise, the tart was perfectly fine)

When I got to my office around 4pm, I walked into the conference room and unveiled the tart. Now, since I don't have pictures, I'm going to do my very best describe what happened next....

I undid the cover of the tart and was greeted with a large collective "OH MY!!" from my assembled colleagues. Then the "What is that" chorus started. After trying to describe what it was, I settled on this, "A Milky Way candy bar on steroids". More "oohing" and "awing" with one "I don't like Milky Ways" (idiot guy from West Coast office who doesn't like anything. I've knicknamed him "Mikey" after that annoying kid from the LIFE cereal commercials who according to urban legends died from eating Pop Rocks and Coke. He didn't but you got to love the story).

I cut the tart and passed around pieces to everyone, leaving a teeny tiny piece for me. I sat my piece on a nice side table in the conference room (burnished mahogany, nice contrast to the chocolate and caramel) to take a picture for the post and realized the tragic truth, I had forgotten my digital camera in Boston. DOH!!! Oh well...

Have you ever seen a documentary about piranas or hyenas and seen the part about them in a feeding frenzy? You know, mass chaos with each fighting over a choice morsel of prey?? Well if you have then you know what trapped office workers late in the afternoon right prior to a really long and boring conference call presented with a Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart look like.

I even think Mikey licked his plate...

Now, in case you haven't already, got check out all the other Daring Baker creations (Founders through Iota Class)! They are all spectacular and I guarantee a sugar high and a three pound weight gain!!

(If you want to try this at home, Veronica and Patrica have the recipe on their sites here and here)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Eating My Neighborhood: Overton's Seafood Shack

A few months ago I posted what was suppose to be the first post of a new series entitled "Eating Our Neighborhood", where I would attempt to eat at and tell you about all the wonderful restaurants and food shops in my Cambridge, MA neighborhood. But, right after that post things got crazy and turned upside down in my life so I never got a chance to tell you all about the food in the Cambridge neighborhood.

Now, I find myself in a new neighborhood and at the beginning of a new phase of my life. Like my Cambridge neighborhood, my new neighborhood is a walking community with most everything I need within a three or four block walk. There is a full service butcher two blocks from my house, a "Packie" (liquor store) one block away and about four Italian eateries so close I can smell the sauce if the wind blows right. Unlike my Cambridge neighborhood, my new neighborhood of East Norwalk, CT is right on the ocean via the Long Island Sound. Which means one thing...fresh seafood.

On Sunday, after two grueling days of moving, I decided to take a break from unpacking and walk down to what appeared to be an old fashioned New England style seafood shack right on the harbor, Overton's. According to their menu board, they've been serving families yummy seafood for three generations and judging by the line of people on the perfectly sunny and warm Labor Day weekend, they must be doing something right!

Overton's specializes in fried seafood and they have all the usual suspects one expects to find at these types of seafood places: clams, both strips and whole belly, shrimp, scallops, and a nod to the Italian influence in the area, calamari. You can get all of these as containers or full meals, which include fries or onion rings and slaw. Besides the seafood, you can get fish and chips, burgers and hot dogs (seems to be quite a few hotdog take out places in this part of Connecticut...wonder why that is?) They even have what looks like a mean BLT and a grilled cheese if that is what you have a hankering for and any place that actually calls out Yoo-Hoo on the menu can't be that bad!!

After standing in line for about 5 minutes, I got up to the window to place an order for a container of whole belly clams, a side of onion rings and a bottle of water. I paid the super friendly girl taking my order, got my number and then stood on the other side of the building where the pick-up window is located. As I stood there, I was wondering if I had made a good decision to order just a container of clams as I was super hungry from all the unpacking but then I saw the whole belly clam dinner. It was HUGE!! There were so many clams on the plate, that they were rolling off the plate onto the tray. Somewhere under that pile was the largest mound of onion rings I had ever seen. All the sudden I was worried about the size of the container of clams being too much to handle.

About 10 minutes after I placed my order, an equally pleasant young lady leaned out the window and yelled "Number 166" and my order was ready. I grabbed a big handful of napkins, took my tray and went up to sit on the deck overlooking the East Norwalk Yacht Club.

The clams were hot and right out of the fryer. It was obvious they were hand breaded and were super fresh. They crunched on the outside but were firm on the inside and so sweet tasting that you could taste the sea; exactly what a good whole belly clam is suppose to be. The onion rings were really good too. Crunchy and not a lot of batter but enough so you know you are having an onion ring. I don't know if they are hand made but if they aren't they are some of the best non-homemade I've ever had. And as for the portion size, it was very big! I couldn't finish my onion rings and probably shouldn't have finished my clams but they were so good I couldn't fathom throwing even a little tiny morsel of them away.

The only thing I wasn't super fond of was the tray my food came on, a Styrofoam tray that you throw away, even as they have a recycling bin for soda cans and water bottles. Now, I know this is a small establishment and the land-rush business they do doesn't allow them to wash trays. But, I wish they would switch to a more environmentally friendly biodegradable tray made from recycled cardboard. I know they exist because a few of my favourite haunts along the Massachusetts and Maine coast use them. Who knows, now that I plan on being a "regular", maybe I can persuade them to switch.

After all, there are clam strips, scallops, and fish and those hot dogs to try before they close for the season!

80 Seaview Ave
East Norwalk, CT

Open: Mid March to November
Hours: Daily 10am - 5pm