Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Baking Special Treats for No Reason

Wow, was this past Sunday a big cooking day for me. I mean, among other things. I worked on my WIP in the morning, then made this interesting filled shortbread, then took some of the dogs to the park, then made khachapuri breads. There was no particular reason to make a lot of wonderful, interesting treats this weekend; it just worked out that way.

Both these recipes were good and impressive and rather easy, so let me share them with you in case you have a particular reason to want to bake specialty breads (or no actual reason, but you just want to).

So, first —

Lemon-Curd Filled Shortbread

This recipe is from this blog post, which I found because I googled “recipes using lemon curd.” Every so often my mother’s Meyer lemon tree ripens a fruit despite suffering from a terrible sunlight deficiency during the winter, and so I make Meyer lemon curd and then look around for stuff to do with it. Aside from just layering the lemon curd with whipped cream in little glass dishes, which by the way is hard to beat, but the following recipe only uses ½ C of lemon curd, so there was plenty for both uses.

I found the lemon actually rather subtle in this recipe, so I may try it again with raspberry jam, an alternative suggested by the original post. It was quite easy and the shortbread practically melts in your mouth, so it’s definitely worth making again.

Here’s what you need —

8 oz butter, softened
4 oz sugar
¼ tsp salt
10 oz cake flour (I used all-purpose)
½ C lemon curd
1 egg, for egg wash (I didn’t do this)
1 Tbsp sugar to sprinkle over top (or this)

Cream the butter, sugar, and salt. Add the flour. You can of course use cake flour, which will make the shortbread more tender and crumbly. I have to say, it was PLENTY tender and crumbly even using all-purpose flour, so my official position on this issue is: Do not make a special trip to the store for cake flour.

Whatever kind of flour you use, divide the dough into two portions. You can chill or freeze the dough at this point, but I went straight on.

Roll one portion of the dough out to a 12” round . . . mine was more like 10”. The original recipe says to roll it out and then transfer it to parchment paper and I was like, why would you make life hard for yourself? So I rolled it out actually ON the parchment paper. My widest baking sheet is just about 11”, so that’s how wide I rolled out the circle of dough. Yes, this is a very tender, soft dough. Just be gentle and use a tiny bit of extra flour on the top surface so the rolling pin doesn’t rip it up too much. It wasn’t that hard to roll out.

The way you keep the parchment paper from sliding all over the countertop while you roll out the dough, by the way, is to overlap the paper a bit over the edge of the counter and lean your body against the paper to pin it in place. It’s quite simple, a lot simpler, probably, than trying to transfer a delicate round of dough to parchment after you roll it out.

Move that round out of the way and roll out the second portion of dough to match, on a second piece of parchment paper.

Spread the lemon curd over one round of dough, leaving about ½ inch border. Use the parchment paper to lift the second round and invert it over the first. I realize this step has some potential for catastrophe, but in fact the dough stuck to the paper just well enough to make it pretty easy to line up the circles as I inverted the top one. The paper then cooperatively peeled off, so I definitely recommend this method.

Now, trim the edges to make a reasonably smooth circle – I was not obsessive about this – and crimp the border all around with a fork. Prick the top all over. Here’s where you could brush the round with a beaten egg and sprinkle it with sugar, but I forgot. I just dusted the whole thing with powdered sugar after it was out of the over and that worked fine as a finishing touch.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly golden.

Incidentally, you can throw away the trimmed scraps of dough, but you can also make four or so thumbprint cookies and fill them with lemon curd. They got overbaked when I did this, so maybe put them on a separate sheet and bake for, I don’t know, 18 minutes maybe.

Cool before cutting into wedges and serving. Really tasty, especially if you don’t cool the shortbread quite all the way to room temp so that you get to eat a wedge while it’s still a little bit warm. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many pieces I ate in one day, but I will just mention I’m giving the rest to my mother, who loves shortbread and unlike me actually needs to gain weight.

So that was treat number one, and very pleasing it was!

Okay, later in the day I made these spinach khachapuri. After Christmas I always get myself a few cookbooks as for some reason everyone else seems to feel I have enough. Anyway, this year I picked up Samarkand, by Eden and Ford, and needed to use up some spinach, so I made these khachapuri boats. For the third time. They’re really good! I have never made them quite according to the recipe, but every variation I’m made has been great.

Spinach Khachapuri

1¼ C bread flour – I have been using a high-protein white whole wheat flour
1 tsp yeast
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar – the recipe says superfine, but honestly, it’s just ¼ tsp, so what difference can it possibly make?
1/3 C plain yogurt – I used full-fat Greek yogurt, which I generally have on hand.
2 Tbsp warm water – I used at least 6 by the time I was done, possibly because Greek yogurt doesn’t have as much water in it as regular.

2½ C chopped spinach leaves. I have used fresh (which I zapped briefly in the microwave to cook just a little) and frozen (which I squeezed out) and I will say that I used too much spinach when I used frozen because I wasn’t sure how to much would equal 2½ C chopped fresh. Maybe more like 1 C frozen. Use your own judgment.

1 C grated mozzarella
½ C feta, crumbled
¼ C ricotta. I happen to dislike ricotta, so I used a pretty generous amount of cream cheese, which I like much better.
2 scallions, chopped
1 Tbsp minced parsley. I didn’t have any, so I left it out.
I Tbsp minced cilantro. Ditto.
1 tsp minced dill. I used dried.
3 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Make the bread dough. I used my stand mixer. Let rise two hours, it says. I let it rise a little less than one hour in a warm oven.

Combine the filling ingredients through the herbs. You can add one egg to the filling, but somehow I just never seem to. I think I didn’t have enough eggs the first time I made this and it worked fine without. Probably adding the egg would make the filling lighter and puffier. I should actually add it next time and see.

Divide the dough in half. Or thirds. Or fourths. I favor making these smaller, though the original recipe just makes two bigger khachapuri. I find even three a bit on the big side and will probably make four next time.

Roll each portion into a longish oval. Spoon over a matching portion of the filling and spread it out over the dough. Pinch the ends shut over the filling and make a boat shape, so your finished breads will look like this:

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and put a pizza stone in the oven to get really hot. Slide the khachapuri onto the hot stone. Or use a plain baking sheet. Either way, bake for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven, push the filling aside in the middle of the boats, and break in an egg. Return to the oven for 5 minutes or until the egg is just set.

Now, I have had trouble getting the eggs to set. I don’t mind a liquidy yolk, but a liquidy white – ugh. So twice I have put the khachapuri under the broiler for a minute to finish the eggs. This time I just let them bake a little longer. Either way, the bread gets really brown, so what I actually suggest is, bake for just 6-7 minutes first, then break the eggs into the middle, then bake another 7 minutes or so, until the eggs are set to your taste.

Cool enough so you won’t burn your mouth and there you go. The original recipe says “Serve with a slice of cool butter on top” which you can certainly try if that appeals to you, but it seems completely unnecessary to me. Definitely an excellent brunch idea if you’re having company.

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Blog / Real Food

Real food: confit chicken

Or do I mean “confitted”? What is the adjective form of this word? The question seems rather unsettled if you just google the various forms.

Either way, this recipe was both good enough and interesting enough that I would like to share it with you all.

I don’t usually take a portion of anything I cook to my parents, because most often it is Indian; Thai; spicy; contains chickpeas, cilantro, or artichokes; or involves combination of these factors, none of which generally appeal to them. (Desserts are different, but alas, these days I don’t make that many desserts except for special occasions.)

But this was excellent, and much to everyone’s taste. Forthwith:

Chicken Confit with Andouille and White Beans.

The original recipe, from Bon Appetit, is here. I did not make this recipe quite according to the directions, but I stuck fairly closely to the original, for me. The recipe might seem like a little too much trouble, but it can be made in stages and the actual work involved is pretty limited, especially in the somewhat less involved version I made. So here we go:

1½ bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, which is, it turns out, four. I almost never buy bone-in chicken, but bought a big package because it was more economical that way. This was good enough I’ll probably use the rest of the chicken thighs to make it again.
Salt, pepper
1 bulb garlic, the outer skin rubbed off, halved (not clove of garlic, bulb).
2 shallots, halved, or if you can’t find them – generally I can but this time I couldn’t – one small onion, skinned and quartered.
4 sprigs thyme, or say half a tsp or so dried.
2 bay leaves
4 juniper berries, which I’m sure aren’t crucial but I happened to have some.
1 C olive oil, and you have probably heard that lots of so-called olive oil is adulterated with cheaper oils, so you may want to check online for unadulterated brands, which is what I do every time I buy olive oil because I never remember that sort of thing.

Then later you will need:
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ of a 14.5-oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed. I don’t know why you couldn’t use the whole can and next time I will, as the tomatoes were hardly overpowering in the final dish.
4 C cooked large white beans, from 1½ C dried, plus 1 C of the cooking liquid, but I will add that since I’m not a purist when it comes to beans, I actually used two 15.5-oz cans of cannellini beans. They were delicious. Three cans would probably not be too much.
2 andouille sausages, or since the ones I got came four to a package, I just used all four.
1 thick slice sourdough bread, in crumbs, tossed in oil, for a garnish (I skipped this step).

You can confit the chicken one day and then hold it for two or three days before you finish the dish, which is why it really is not that much trouble.

Season the chicken with the salt and pepper. Try not to forget that step as I forgot it and then found the chicken slightly underseasoned at the end. Place in a small Dutch oven. I didn’t know there was any such thing as a small Dutch oven. I certainly don’t have such an item. I used a saucier that was just barely large enough to hold all four chicken thighs in a single layer. Add the garlic, shallots or onion, thyme, bay leaves, and juniper berries. Pour the olive oil over everything and bring to a bare simmer on the stovetop. Then put the pan in the oven, covered, and bake at 225º for 2½ hours. That is 225º, not a typo. I turned the chicken thighs over once, but it didn’t say to. So far, as you can see, the active preparation time is really minimal. You are supposed to cool the chicken overnight in the oil. I poured everything into a biggish Tupperware container and stuck it in the fridge for three days, until I was ready to go on.

Now, when you’re ready to proceed, scoop about 1/3 C of the fat off the top of the container and put that in a pan. I am much too lazy to bother measuring it; I just spooned a generous amount into the pan. Heat this fat over medium heat and sauté the onion and garlic for ten minutes or so. Squeeze the confitted garlic cloves out of their skins into the pan. Add the tomatoes and cook five minutes. Add the beans – since the recipe called for a cup of the cooking liquid, I didn’t drain the cannellini before I added them. Add the broth from the confit (the broth, not the rest of the fat, which you can reserve for frying eggs or something). Bring everything to a simmer, pour into a 9 x 13” baking pan, and nestle the confitted chicken thighs into the beans. Arrange the andouille sausages around and between the chicken thighs, wherever they fit. Bake uncovered at 350º for two hours. Yes, two hours. I rotated the pan back-to-front halfway through, which you should probably do unless your oven bakes more evenly than mine. You can finish up by topping the whole thing with the crumbs and baking another twenty minutes if that suits you, but I left out that step. The active prep time for this step was maybe twenty minutes.

The skin on top of the chicken thighs crisped up beautifully. (Of course the skin on the bottoms of the thighs did not, but if you have a lot of dogs hanging around hoping for a share, that problem takes care of itself.) The sausages also crisped up, and the beans held their shape but were wonderfully soft and creamy, and basically the whole thing was *really good.* This is definitely a dish you could make for a special occasion. If you do try it, I hope you enjoy it as much as my family did.

I feel I should add that the baking dish did get quite a baked-on crust around the edges. I took it outside to the big sink where, in the summer, I bathe the dogs. I set the dish in that sink, filled it up with hot water, and left it overnight. It will no doubt occur to you all that it would be more practical to line the baking dish with aluminum foil and just throw the foil away. That will make the clean-up as easy as the preparation. Next time I’ll remember about the foil.

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Blog / Real Food

Pastrami-style Turkey Breast with Cornmeal Bao

Yeah, haven’t been very good about updating this site from home, even though I could because my connection will be okay till May. What can I say? I’m busy writing . . . in between bouts of puppy playfulness! They are staying awake for longer and longer, which is adorable but does cut into my time for stuff that does not involve puppies. Also the weather is so nice how can I resist taking dogs to the park? All of a sudden if I get 2000 words per day, it counts as really productive!

So, I’ll try to catch up with posts over the next couple of days.

First, I’m filing this under the new “Real Food” tag – this is another new-to-me recipe I made recently that was a big hit, with me and with my parents. I don’t always, or even often, take my parents any of the food I make because we have widely divergent tastes. But I figured they would like this, and I was right. (The dogs all upvoted this recipe, too.)

For a change, I made this almost just as it was written. The original recipe, from Bon Appetit, can be found here.

The turkey was very easy. The bread was no harder than any other yeast bread; you just need to plan ahead. The black pepper sauce was super simple.

In case you, like me, seldom deal with large pieces of meat and are not sure how long it might take to defrost a whole turkey breast in your fridge, I got this one on Sunday and it was thawed and ready to cook on Thursday.

Pastrami-style Turkey Breast

2 Tbsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 Tbsp fennel seeds – I am not a huge fennel fan, to say the least, but sometimes fennel is all right in a spice mixture. I used almost the full amount here and liked the combination very much.
2 Tbsp Kosher salt – you will want to use about half this amount if you are using regular salt
1 6-8 lb skin-on bone-in turkey breast
1 Tbsp oil – I forgot this and everything turned out fine

Grind the seeds in your handy spice grinder. Or, of course, use already-ground seeds. You ideally want rather a coarse grind, though, which is hard to find; and I’m not sure fennel seeds come in ground form. You could use a mortar and pestle if you have one (I do), but this is a huge amount of seeds to grind if your mortar is small (mine is tiny).

Anyway, grind the seeds. Add the salt. Pull the skin away from the turkey breast and rub the spice mixture on the meat under the skin. I never did this before, but it wasn’t hard. Let the turkey rest at room temp for one hour or refrigerated for 12 hours plus room temp for one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the turkey in the oven. Roast for 40 minutes or so. Reduce the oven temp to 250 degrees and roast for about an hour longer. Let rest 30 minutes before carving.

My meat thermometer turned out to have a dead battery, and I didn’t quite go for the maximum suggested times, which is what I suggest here because my turkey breast was just a tiny bit pink near the bone. So if you don’t have a meat thermometer, I suggest 40-45 minutes and then a full hour and then resting for the full 30 minutes. That will probably work unless your oven temps are very different from mine.

Cornmeal Bao

You probably know that “bao” are Chinese steamed breads. (I actually learned this word from Firefly. Remember where that came up? What a great episode.) I really like steamed breads, though my success with occasional forays into dumplings is, ah, mixed. These are pretty easy, though.

2 Tbsp sugar
¼ oz (2¼ tsp) yeast
2/3 C warm water
2 C flour
1 C Jiffy corn muffin mix. This will leave about a third of a package, which I used to make pancakes with. Then I got several more boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix, because the pancakes were pretty tasty.
1 Tbsp kosher salt, or a little less if that seems like a lot to you. It seemed like a lot to me.
1 tsp baking powder

Make the bread dough. Let rise 1½ hours or so. Divide into 16 balls and roll each ball into a 6” by 3” oval. Mine were difficult to roll out to those dimensions without getting pretty darn thin. The thinnest ones didn’t rise enough in later stages of this recipe, so I suggest not trying too hard to get the 6×3 ovals. But do roll the balls out into ovals, not circles.

Brush the top of each oval with vegetable oil. Fold the ovals in half lengthwise, making rough half-circles. This is the final shape. You are making them this way so the breads can be steamed, then opened up like sandwiches for the turkey.

Let the little rolls rise 60-90 minutes. Steam for 10-12 minutes, most likely half at a time unless your steamer has a lot more room in it than mine. My two-tiered bamboo steamer held eight bao at a time without crowding.

Black Pepper Sauce

¼ C sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Thai-style fresh chili, a bird’s eye or half a cayenne or probably half a serrano, whatever you have handy, minced
½ inch piece ginger, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce or soy paste or a more regular soy sauce plus a little more sugar
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp freshly ground, coarsely ground black pepper. You will have to measure it to believe how much a tsp is, probably. I ground what seemed like a lot and then ground some more.

Heat the sugar with the 3 Tbsp soy sauce until the sugar dissolves. Add the remaining ingredients.

Assemble the sandwiches: Slice the turkey. Open the sandwiches. Fill with turkey and drizzle with black pepper sauce. The original recipe suggests adding mayonnaise, pickles, shredded carrots, and cilantro. I tried all those additions except the cilantro, since I forgot to get that. All the extras were fine, but frankly unnecessary. The turkey and black pepper sauce worked great with the cornmeal bao, no other additions necessary.

If you try this, I hope you like it as much as we did.

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Mushroom pot pies

Okay, yes, I grant you, this is a warm February. That’s handy for housetraining little puppies, but not especially conducive to a desire to tuck yourself in on the couch in front of the fireplace with winter comfort food like a pot pie. But this recipe was really good . . . that is, I assume the original is very good and the version I made certainly was.

So whether or not your February is highly wintry, you might try this if you’re into mushrooms. If you’re not, this recipe might convert you.

The original recipe is from Bon Appetit and you can see it here.

Here is the version I made, which is similar but (quite a bit) easier, and used baby portabellas (which were available) instead of oyster mushrooms (which were not).

The original uses a pastry topping. I used a drop biscuit topping, which was lots easier and also meant it was easy to bake one individual pot pie at a time rather than make them all at once.

The original calls for 6-oz ramekins. I used 8-oz individual baking dishes.

Mushroom Pot Pies with Biscuit Topping

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1 lb button mushrooms, quartered
1/2 C sherry (I used rice wine, which is what I had handy)
4 C chicken broth
1/4 C dried porcini

3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
1 C red pearl onions, or white pearl onions if those are easier to find, or chopped onion if that suits you better
1 Tbsp butter
2 sprigs thyme, or you know, some. I really don’t know how much a sprig is. I used about half a tsp dried.
8 oz oyster mushrooms, or baby portabellas, or whatever, sliced
2 Tbsp butter

Okay, now, heat the oil and butter, sauté the onion ten minutes, add the tomato paste and cook one minute longer. Add the button mushrooms and cook 15 minutes. Add the sherry and cook five minutes. Add the broth and porcini and simmer one hour. Strain and discard solids. Or, you know what? Reserve the solids, which will make a perfectly fine mushroom side dish for another meal. I was amazed at how edible the mushrooms were after an hour of simmering. You will definitely want to try them before you throw them away.

Now, heat three Tbsp butter and add the flour. Whisk four minutes. Add the liquid from above and cook one minute or so, until thickened. Now you have mushroom gravy with a wonderful deep flavor. You can stop right there if you like and chill the gravy until you are ready to complete the pot pies.

Place the fennel and the pearl onions . . . you know, you can peel pearl onions easily by first trimming a bit off the root end, plunging them into boiling water for 30 seconds, dumping them out, cooling them, and squeezing them out of their skins. I never knew that before, but it is much the easiest way to handle pearl onions. Anyway, add the butter and 1 C cold water to the pan and simmer 8 minutes, covered, and 18 minutes, uncovered. I doubt the timing needs to be as precise as this implies. Set this aside.

Heat 2 Tbsp butter and sauté the portabellas and thyme for six to eight minutes. Add to the fennel mixture. Add the mushroom gravy. Spoon into ramekins.

Make biscuit topping. I use 1/3 C flour per 8-oz casserole dish. Maybe 1/2 tsp baking powder, a pinch of salt, a little oil, a little milk, voila. Get the filling really hot — the microwave works best if you made the filling ahead. Drop spoonfuls of the biscuit topping over the ramekins. Bake 15 minutes or so at 400 degrees, until the biscuits are browned on top and feel done when you tap one with a finger.

Cool a bit before serving and there you go. Mmmm. This was really good and I will make it again quick before spring.

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