KOUIGN-AMANN, FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE

When life shakes you down hard, cooking becomes iffy, at least for me. Being sick with the worst cold in 25 years didn’t make it any easier. From Brazil, apart from a very heavy heart, I brought a virus, one that clearly was a brand new acquaintance. I had to fight it from scratch from an immunological point of view. And my beloved was hit  too. We were in horrible shape for a week.  Anything you set yourself to do seems to demand a lot more energy. Simple tasks drain you. And a lot will go wrong. Like a tomatillo sauce, poured down the garbage disposal, much to my despair. Still puzzled by that one, as it was a recipe from a very reputable source. Only possible explanation, I grabbed a mutant jalapeno pepper with off-the-chart capsaicin levels. Trust me on that one. I love pepper, being the Daughter of my Dad. That thing could scare all three dragons from the Game of Thrones into hiding. Liquid lava.  But, after that fiasco, I decided to grab the bull by the horn and go for the kill. I would make something more involved than dumping things in a blender. I would make a concoction that has been sitting on my list of culinary goals for a long time. I would tackle Kouign-Amann.

OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE
(from Sugar Rush, a great cookbook!)

First you make a simple dough from flour, a little yeast, salt, and a little butter. That goes into the fridge to rest from a couple of hours to overnight.  You will also make a slab of butter with a precise dimension and cool it until firm.

Then, the dough is rolled out, the cold layer of butter placed on one side, and the dough folded in the usual puff pastry making technique. A few differences, though: only four folds are needed. Sugar gets sprinkled over the dough before each fold. No lengthy refrigeration between folds, because you do not want the sugar to melt into the dough. That’s about it. After four folds the dough is refrigerated for only 10 minutes, then rolled out and 4 inch squares are cut to form the individual pastries. They sit for 45 minutes before baking so that the yeast has a chance to work its magic.

They are best baked in rings, although muffin tins can be used. They are baked for longer than you would expect, so that the sugar gets really dark. And utterly delicious.

I did not ask permission to publish the recipe, but my friend Karen has made a beautiful batch in the past, and the recipe is available on her site. She also talks about the origin of this interesting pastry from Brittany.

recipe available here

Comments: This one goes to the OMG files. With honors, with a red carpet rolled out for its entrance. My gosh, this is good. This is so good it should probably be illegal. Think of a croissant, but with sugary caramelized bites in between the layers. A croissant that married a muffin and had a beautiful baby. It won’t crumble into buttery pieces in your mouth. It is actually a lot more sturdy, with the butter tamed by sugar. Oh, yeah. Butter tamed by sugar. Perverse, isn’t it? If you low-carb, if you keto, if you Paleo, this is not for you. But let me tell you one thing. Life is short. The pleasure you’ll have by biting into one of these babies is worth a little restraint for a few days. A few more push-ups, one more mile on the treadmill. There. I hope I made my case.

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ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, Yin and Yang

TWO YEARS AGO: Chocolate Toffee Banana Bread

THREE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, June 2014

FOUR YEARS AGO:  Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

FIVE YEARS AGO: Baked Coconut and “The Brazilian Kitchen”

SIX YEARS AGO: Honey-Glazed Chicken Legs

SEVEN YEARS AGO: French-Style Rolls

 

 

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TANGENTIAL QUICHE WITH ASPARAGUS AND FENNEL

I would like to thank everyone who contacted me about my Mom’s passing.
It is a natural cycle of life to say goodbye to a parent, but it is still very painful.
Your kind words warmed my heart.

I’ve taken way too many liberties with recipe titles. Hummus without chickpeas? Yes, guilty of that one. Tortillas with no corn? Read my sentence. Rice-free risotto? Just take me. Today I add one more to the list. A quiche. But no crust. In fact, I’ve made a version almost exactly one year ago using sweet potato slices to cover the pie dish. We loved it so much that it’s hard to believe it took me so long to re-visit. This time I paired asparagus and fennel, with a small amount of cheese for good measure. Trickiest part of this recipe is getting the sweet potato slices to roast without shrinking too much and collapsing from the sides of the dish. Still, even if that happens, no major harm will be done. It is all going to be delicious.

SWEET POTATO CRUST QUICHE WITH ASPARAGUS AND FENNEL
(inspired by The Wimpy Vegetarian)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced thin
olive oil spray for potatoes
kosher salt (about 1 teaspoon total)
freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup thinly sliced asparagus plus a few stalks left whole for decoration
1 large fennel bulb, diced
4 large eggs
2 egg whites
½ cup half-and-half
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 cup Gruyere cheese
nutmeg to taste

Heat oven to 400°F.

Coat a pie dish with the sliced potatoes, and spray a good amount of olive oil over the slices. Make sure to do a nice layer all around the edges coming up above the rim of the plate. Season lightly with salt. Place in the oven until the potatoes start to get some color, about 12 minutes. Reserve and lower the oven to 350 F.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the asparagus and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until just tender, about 8 minutes; set aside. Place the whole stalks in a microwave safe dish with a little water, microwave for 30 seconds. Reserve.

Whisk eggs, egg whites, half-and-half, milk, mustard powder,  half teaspoon salt and pepper in another large bowl. Spread the sautéed asparagus and fennel evenly on top of the sweet potato crust. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the vegetables. Pour the egg mixture over it all. Place the stalks of asparagus carefully on top. Grate fresh nutmeg across the top just before sliding into the oven.

Bake until quiche is set and crust is well browned, about 30 minutes, but check after 25 minutes in the oven. It should just jiggle lightly at the center.  Let cool to room temperature before cutting into wedges.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I love fennel but despise licorice. Go figure that one. My problem with fennel is that you buy this huge bulb and by the time you’re done prepping it, you are left with 1/4 cup at most of goodness. Oh, well. Maybe I don’t do a good job prepping it. But all instructions say to remove the tough outer layer. That “outer layer” is often so thick, a huge amount of fennel is gone once I remove it. Oh, well again. But I do love its flavor, both raw in salads, roasted, sautéed, it’s all great.  I am still learning my way around the sweet potato “crust.”  If you go to Susan’s site, you’ll  notice she opted for a hashbrown path to make the crust. That is definitely something to consider. At any rate, a quiche without the regular crust is so much lighter, and a lot quicker to prepare too. Obviously, you could omit the crust altogether, just coat the pie dish with a little butter or oil, add the veggies, pour the egg mixture and bake it. But it’s nice to have a bit of texture underneath.  Whatever you choose to do, this filling with asparagus and fennel, a touch of Gruyere (a favorite cheese of mine) is a winner.

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Fakebouleh

TWO YEARS AGO: Yellow Squash Soup

THREE YEARS AGO: Grilled Chicken with Tamarind and Coconut Glaze

FOUR YEARS AGO: Chicken-Apricot Skewers

FIVE YEARS AGO:  Asparagus Quiche

SIX YEARS AGO: Two-stage Pea and Prosciutto Risotto

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Mellow Bakers: Corn Bread

 

SAD TIMES

I really love this picture, taken many years ago. The last visit to my home country when Mom and Dad were still reasonably healthy and happy. Since that picture was taken, my Dad has left us in a shocking, unexpected departure. He probably never even realized he was leaving us. I was not able to arrive for the funeral, something that haunts me still. Now, on May 18th, one day after she and my Dad would celebrate 74 years of marriage, my Mom passed away. The worst nightmares for those who immigrate leaving behind their whole family, are moments like this. Am I going to arrive in time to say goodbye? But that’s such a small component of it. The whole guilty feeling of being away and unable to help your family, that is like a sleeping monster that wakes up and shows its sharp teeth in these incredibly sad times. However, I am trying to focus on the fact that I was able to see her while she was still conscious, and that she was so happy to see me… 

I am not religious. I am atheist and agnostic. Still I feel they are together now, not for some type of eternal after life, but because in my mind they are in the same spot. A bittersweet spot, in which only memories sooth the pain of their absence. 

I am grateful for everything they both did for me. And for the wonderful family they built together. 

Life goes on…

(comments are shutdown for this post)

 

BANANA BREAD WITH ESPRESSO GLAZE

There is no shortage of banana bread recipes in the universe. So, why would I share one more? Because it’s a great version, the icing takes it to unprecedented levels of deliciousness. The idea of pairing banana bread with coffee is superb, if you’ve never considered it, trust me, it has potential to become a classic. Like chocolate and coffee. I spotted this recipe back in January on the blog How Sweet It Is, hosted by Jessica. I made it not too long after her post was published, but as usual it is taking me a while to share with you. Two details make it special, a delicate layer of sugar sprinkled on top before baking, and of course, the glaze in all its caffeinated glory.

BANANA BREAD WITH ESPRESSO GLAZE
(from How Sweet It Is)

for the bread:
1 + 2/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted and slightly cooled
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
coarse sugar, for sprinkling (I used turbinad0)

for the espresso glaze:
1 + 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 ounces freshly brewed espresso
1 teaspoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a 9×5 inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a small bowl, whisk well the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and brown sugar until smooth. Add the milk and coconut oil, mixing until combined. Stir in the mashed bananas and vanilla extract. Slowly stir in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Pour batter in the greased loaf pan. Top with coarse sugar.

Bake for 75 to 85 minutes, or until the center is set. If the streusel begins to brown, tent the bread with aluminum foil. Remove the bread and let it cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Turn the bread out on a plate or cutting board and let it cool completely before glazing.

Whisk together the ingredients until a smooth, drippy glaze forms. If the mixture is too thin, you can thicken it by adding a little more powdered sugar. If it seems too thick, add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time, whisking to combine. Pour it over the banana bread and let it set for at least 30 minutes before slicing it.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The glaze… the glaze…  as Jessica wrote in her post, it’s all about the glaze. Or almost, because the banana bread itself is pretty delicious too, with the added sugary topping, which oddly enough does not make it overly sweet. But the glaze… am I repeating myself? The glaze, you must collect what puddles underneath the rack as you ice this beauty. Collect it, save it in a little bowl. No need to offer to guests, it won’t be fancy enough for that. Just keep it in the fridge, and when no one is looking, you go there with a tiny little spoon and scrape a little bit off. Then savor it, eyes closed. Seriously good stuff.

As usual, I took this batch to the department, and even a person who is not at all fond of coffee stopped to make enthusiastic compliments about the bread. Or cake. I am always confused, banana bread looks a lot more like cake in loaf form than bread. But, I won’t disturb the apple cart. Or banana cart. Or any cart, for that matter.

Make this bread, make this glaze, and go thank Jessica for it! 

ONE YEAR AGO: Slow-Cooker Carnitas & Paleo Planet Cookbook Review

TWO YEARS AGO: The Making of a Nobel Reception

THREE YEARS AGO: Fennel Soup with Almonds and Mint 

FOUR YEARS AGO: Green Curry Pork Tenderloin

FIVE YEARS AGO: Farfalle with Zucchini and Ricotta

SIX YEARS AGO: Slow-baked Salmon with Lemon and Thyme

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Hoisin Explosion Chicken

 

 

ZUCCHINI FRITTATA WITH ROASTED TOMATOES AND GOAT CHEESE

Sometimes inspiration for a meal comes from unexpected sources. My friend Denise sent me a message with a photo of her dinner and four simple words: you must make this. She got it in a publication from her grocery store in England, showcasing their seasonal fresh ingredients. It joined zucchini with roast tomatoes and goat cheese, and looked great.  I ask you, what’s not to love? To make things even more interesting,  the zucchini receives the spiralizer treatment, although you could obviously do a coarse shred or a fine slicing. Don’t let the lack of a spiral cutter stop you. I used my Tarte Tatin pan, which sits patiently in the pantry waiting for the opportunity to shine. It is simply perfect for this type of recipe, so if you own one, open your horizons beyond the classic French dessert.

ZUCCHINI, ROASTED TOMATOES AND GOAT CHEESE FRITTATA
(adapted from Lakeland, UK)

12 cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
15g butter
1 medium shallot, sliced
1 large zucchini, spiralized (use green or yellow, depending on availability)
5 eggs
2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp herbes de Provence
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
125g goat cheese, crumbled
kalamata olives, pitted and halved, to taste

Heat the oven to 400 F (200 C).  Place the cherry tomatoes on a small roasting tray and drizzle over the olive oil. Cook for 10 minutes and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a round, non-stick 8-inch pan that can go in the oven,  brushing it over the entire base and up the sides to prevent the frittata from sticking. Cook the sliced shallot over a medium heat until softened. Add the spiralized courgette and cook for 2-3 minutes, until slightly softened.

Whisk the eggs in a Pyrex cup, add the herbs the Provence and season with salt and pepper. Add the eggs to the pan with the crumbled cheese, and top with the roasted tomatoes and black kalamata olives.

Cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes, until the frittata is beginning to set, but the top is still a little runny. Finish off under a hot oven until the top of the frittata acquires a golden color. Leave in the pan for 1-2 minutes before turning out onto a plate and cutting into wedges.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: This goes for our regular rotation, for sure! I think I slightly overcooked the bottom of the frittata this time, but it did not compromise the flavor at all. From the original, I had three modifications. Used herbes de Provence instead of rosemary (a texture thing for me), added a little heavy cream to the egg mixture, and included kalamata olives as topping.  Because, as you might have heard years ago, I am a kalamata-cheerleader. We had a couple of very tiny slices as leftovers, and they were still quite amazing after a brief heating in our small electric oven, just to kill the cold from the fridge.

A very simple and flavorful dish, that you can modify to suit your taste with different veggies, herbs, and maybe adding some coconut milk instead of heavy cream. Yes, that could work quite well…

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ONE YEAR AGO: Playing with Pectinase

TWO YEARS AGO: Poached White Asparagus with Lemon and Pistachios

THREE YEARS AGO: Dan Lepard’s Saffron Bloomer

FOUR YEARS AGO: Fesenjan & The New Persian Kitchen

FIVE YEARS AGO: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Beets

SIX YEARS AGO: Pasta Puttanesca

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Miche Point-a-Calliere

 

 

AIR-FRIED CARROTS, TWO WAYS

No air-fryer? No worries. Both recipes can be prepared without it.

Lolita, the newest member of our gadget family, has been pretty busy these days. I had only one failure: air-frying broccoli, but even that was not a major catastrophic event. It was just a bit tricky to control the cooking of the crowns. Some bits of their external surface got overcooked and ended up with a harsh texture. Maybe a lower temperature would work better. At any rate, that recipe needs tweaking before I share with you. Moving to carrots, I offer two recipes that could not be simpler. First, air-fried carrots with a touch of honey. And then, a batch of shoestring fried carrots that were pretty much inhaled by the two of us. A bit of an argument happened when two lonely strands were left in the bowl. As often happens, the tropical charm spoke louder, and they both went into my belly. Oh, well. By the way, if you don’t have an air-fryer, follow the link to the recipe as shown in The Kitchen, that calls for deep-frying. It will be a bit more caloric, but still less so than the potato version. Plus, I bet kids will love them. One efficient way to deliver veggies to picky eaters.

AIR-FRIED CARROTS WITH HONEY
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

2 to 3 cups of carrots, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
tiny drizzle of soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Set air-fryer to 390 F.

Place the cut carrots in a bowl, add olive oil, honey and soy, toss gently to coat, trying to cover all surfaces with a bit of oil. Season carrots with salt and ground black pepper. Place in the basket of your air-fryer and cook for about 12 minutes, shaking the pan every once in a while.  Serve right away.

If you don’t have an air-fryer, roast in the oven at 420F until done.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I’ve made these carrots three times. Compared to roasting them in the oven, I would say Lolita is faster, and also gives a different texture, quite pleasing. Leftovers were still very nice with a brief encounter with microwaves. Probably even better warmed up in a regular oven, but when lunch time comes, we opt for the simplest, fastest route to go back to work.

And now for a nice variation on shoestring potato fries. These are much lighter and surprisingly tasty!

 

SHOESTRING AIR-FRIED CARROTS
(adapted from Food TV The Kitchen)

1 bag (10 ounces) of julienned carrots (sold for cole-slaw)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle
1 teaspoon orange zest

In a medium bowl, mix the carrots with the olive oil, coating them lightly. Try to coat all pieces of carrots. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the carrots in the air-fryer set at 390F. Cook for 13 to 16 minutes, mixing them around every few minutes.

Remove when they start to get nicely brown, watch them closely because pieces might get too dark very quickly. Transfer them to a serving bowl, add orange zest, spray a little apple cider vinegar, adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed. Serve right away.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I will warn you that the air-fryer (at least the model we have) will not hold more than one 10-ounce bag of shredded carrots. And they will shrink A LOT  during frying, as the water content of carrots is pretty high. At first you will see them shrinking, shrinking, getting kind of limp. Until all the water evaporates, they won’t brown.  So you will be left with a small amount of carrots, but perfect for two.  I would say that the main concern with the air-fryer is the amount of food it can handle. For a couple with no kids, it’s a very nice gadget. If you have kids around, you might have to cook food in batches. However, my niece in Brazil has three young kids and she still loves her fryer, so take my comment with a grain of salt.

The idea of using mini-spray bottles for vinegar is pure genius! It allows you to add just a little touch on the food. You can find those for very cheap in grocery stores, sold usually in a bag together with other types of bottles for traveling. I had no use for the spray one, it was hanging around my bathroom, neglected and lonely. Well, it’s now in my pantry, ready to play!

I’ve made these carrots twice already, first time I simply shook the basket every few minutes, and did not notice that the bottom layer was getting very dark and not moving around with my delicate shaking. Second time I used tongs to move the carrot pieces more efficiently. Worked like a charm.  Of course, if you don’t have an air-fryer, you can deep fry them and they will turn out delicious. I just hate dealing with the leftover oil, and find deep-fried food a bit heavy and hard to digest. Bottom line is, Lolita is working quite nicely for us!

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ONE YEAR AGO: Five Minutes in L.I.T (a tour of our laboratory!)

TWO YEARS AGO: Chicken Thighs with Artichokes and Capers

THREE YEARS AGO: Pea Pancakes with Herbed Yogurt

FOUR YEARS AGO: Mushroom Stroganoff

FIVE YEARS AGO: Tomato Sourdough

SIX YEARS AGO: Gamberetti con rucola e pomodori

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Flirting with Orzo

SESAME AND POPPY SEED SOURDOUGH

It’s been a while since I baked a loaf of sourdough bread, Dan, my poor starter was definitely feeling neglected. This time, I decided to make something heavily loaded with seeds, but not big ones like pumpkin or sunflower. More delicate, seeds that would disperse nicely in the crumb. My starting point was a recipe from Josey Baker’s book Bread, but I added a few twists and modified the method slightly. Very pleased with the way it turned out.

SESAME AND POPPY SEED SOURDOUGH
(adapted from Josey Baker’s Bread)

for seed mixture:
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds (80 g)
1/4 cup poppy seeds (40 g)
1/2 cup hot water (120 g)

for dough:
240 g sourdough starter at 100% hydration
240 g water
300 g bread flour
75 g spelt flour
12 g salt (2 tsp)
all seed soaker

The day before, feed your starter and make sure it is all bubbly and ready to go. Prepare more than you need, so you can save some for future bread baking.

Prepare the seed soaker by mixing sesame and poppy seeds in a small bowl, adding the hot water on top. Mix and let it sit for one hour.

Prepare the dough by mixing all ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix until it’s a shaggy mass, leave it covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes.

Knead or fold the dough (ten times or so).  Cover and let it ferment for 30 minutes.

Knead or fold the dough again. Cover and let it sit for 30 minutes. Perform two more cycles of kneading 30 minutes apart.  Knead again and let it sit for 1 hour.

Shape the dough. Place it inside a banneton or other appropriate container, seam side up. Let it ferment for 2 hours. Place it in the fridge overnight, or around 12 hours.

Remove from the fridge one hour before baking, as your oven heats to 450 F.  Invert the dough on parchment paper, slash the top and bake for 45 minutes with initial steam (use your favorite method for that). I bake inside a Dutch oven, covered, and uncover after 30 minutes to brown the crust.

Allow it to completely cool on a rack before slicing.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  I’ve been trying to work on more “artistic” slashing, inspired by greater bakers such as Elaine from foodbod. Evidently, I need to bake more often and practice. The thing is, slashing is so…. final!  Once you do it, that is it, there’s no going back to fix it a little, and the finality of it makes me nervous and a bit paralyzed. Maybe that’s the same problem I have with golf. Once you take that golf club back, it’s over, my friend. Either you get it or it is a disaster of dire consequences. Usually option two happens for me, particularly with the 5-iron. But I digress…  Independent of my slashing skills, the bread tasted exactly how I hoped. Sesame is such a nice flavor, and the seeds gave a pleasant extra chew to the bread.

Most important step in the recipe: make sure the dough is proofed enough. It needs the seal of approval of experienced eyes.

Yes, Mom. It looks perfect. And smells great too… Now, if only you would leave the premises for a few minutes….

I close the post with the mandatory crumb shot. This bread was particularly awesome with Brie cheese.

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Pecan-Crusted Chicken from Southern at Heart

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