30 December 2010

A perfect brunch: baked tomato and eggs

Savory tomato sauce, rich and velvety with notes of basil and oregano, is something I could eat by the bowlful.  And I love any kind of egg where I can dip strips of golden toast-bread into the warm, gooey yolk.  So ever since my friend Christine over at Chibitofu posted about tomato-baked eggs with toast, I have been hungering to combine these delicious flavors and textures in a single dish.  And with the many festive brunches going on this time of year, I've had ample opportunity to make and enjoy it!

While poaching eggs for a crowd can be a bit of a challenge, and gauging the actual doneness of soft-boiled eggs is a trick in itself (initial egg temperature, size of the pot, strength of the burner, etc. all change the cooking time), the beauty of this recipe for baked eggs is that you can both cook for a large party and easily monitor how quickly your eggs are setting throughout the whole cooking period.

This recipe really lends itself to make-ahead entertaining; in fact, I'd recommend you try this for your New Year's brunch!  The sauce can be prepared a number of days ahead of time, and you can even work it out so that all you need to do on the day-of is to crack the eggs and bake!  Just be sure the ingredients are at room temperature before baking--this will ensure that the yolk heats through during baking and that the nuggets of goat cheese get soft and melty.


This weekend I'm actually going to get to ring in the new year with Christine--I'm super excited to see my college roommate and cooking buddy extraordinaire again!  As I get ready to wrap up 2010 and head out on my little trip, I want to wish you and your loved ones a very happy and prosperous new year!  And einen guten Rutsch wünsche ich to all my German readers!

Here is my version of baked eggs in tomato sauce...enjoy!

Baked Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce with Goat Cheese and Toast 
Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 handful fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup goat cheese (crumbled)
8 eggs, at room temperature (important!)
8 slices toast bread, toasted to golden brown and cut into triangles

To make the sauce, heat olive oil in a small pot over medium-high heat, and saute the chopped onion, carrots, and garlic for a few minutes until slightly softened.  Add red pepper flakes, crushed tomatoes, oregano, and basil, and stir to combine.  Cover and bring just to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent bottom from burning.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then blend well with an immersion stick blender.  (Do Ahead: Sauce can be made up to a week ahead of time.  Reheat before continuing.)

Spoon 1/4 cup of warm sauce into each of 8 ramekins (use leftover sauce for another use), then dot each ramekin with about 2 teaspoons crumbled goat cheese.  (Do Ahead: ramekins can be prepared with sauce and cheese the day before, then covered and refrigerated overnight.  Heat in the pre-heating oven until ramekins and sauce are warm, not hot, and continue with recipe.)  Crack an egg into each ramekin, sprinkle with salt, and bake in a preheated oven at 425 F for 15-20 minutes, until whites have set but yolk is still soft.

Garnish with fresh basil chiffonade, if desired, and serve immediately with toast points for dipping into the yolk and sauce.

26 December 2010

Merry Christmas Wishes!

There are a few things that every self-respecting German eats around Christmastime, Lebkuchen and Stollen being two of them.  Though these baked goods are not freshly available in southern California bakeries, my family has been sustained over the years by shipments from the family bakery in northern Bavaria.  The Lebkuchen are always fresh and delicious (thanks to the extremely low flour content), but the Stollen unfortunately just never hold up that well.  So I have gotten into the practice of making our yearly Christmas Stollen here at home.

But wait...does everyone know what Stollen is?  It's hard to describe it perfectly, as it comes in many varieties, but it is something like a sweet bread crossed with a fruit cake crossed with a cake.  They can be leavened either with baking powder or with yeast, resulting in very different textures, but they always have an assortment of nuts and dried fruits incorporated somehow.  And wow, they are tasty!  Just the thing for a breakfast treat on Christmas morning.

Way back in 1979, when my mother (an Italian American) was newly engaged to my father (a native Bavarian), my mom's mom came across the December issue of CUISINE Magazine, which just so happened to be featuring a "Christmas in Bavaria" menu.  Grandma picked this up for my mom, who of course would be wanting to learn all about how to feed her Schatz, and one of the stellar recipes that has appeared at our Christmas spread on many occasions over the years is this Garmischer Nußstollen, or Garmisch Nut Stollen.

This version of Stollen is a luscious, yeasty sweetbread dotted with golden raisins and marbled with a toothsome ground walnut filling.  It's absolutely delicious and is perfectly complemented by a cup of good coffee.  We've treasured this recipe as a family, and I knew I had to share it with you.

To make the directions a little more straightforward to follow, I've included some of the original images scanned in from the magazine.  I wanted to request reproduction permission from the publishers, but they are no longer in business, and I was unable to find any current contact information.  (If you're affiliated with the magazine, do please let me know if CUISINE has concerns about these images being posted!)


But what really blew me away today was that as I was searching through the magazine for some contact information, I discovered, to my utter amazement, that this magazine used to be published right here in Santa Barbara!  Little did my parents know it, but they and two little girls of their own would be moving to this very town only 6 years later.  Talk about fate!

So here it is, with just a few minor modifications from the magazine's version.  Merry Christmas!

Garmisch Nut Stollen / Garmischer Nußstollen
From Cuisine: The Magazine of Fine Food and Creative Living, December 1979
Makes 2 loaves

Note: the dough and nut filling can be made the day before baking and should be stored refrigerated.  The dough will get a fantastic cool rise overnight, and the nut filling will be perfect.  Just let both come to room temperature before assembling the stollen.

Milk Mixture:
1 cup milk
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 tsp. salt

Yeast Mixture:
1 ½ packages active dry yeast (3 teaspoons)
2 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)

Main Mixture:
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2 Tbs. sugar
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup golden raisins

Nut Filling:
4 egg whites at room temperature
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups of ground walnuts
1 cup sugar
4 tsp. water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For Finishing:
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs. whole milk
2 tsp. sugar
White icing (2/3 cup powdered sugar + 1 Tbs. water)

Heat milk, butter, and salt in microwave or sauce pan until butter is melted.  Stir to mix, then set aside and let cool until lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast and sugar in the warm water and let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.  (If yeast does not foam, discard and start afresh with new yeast.)

In an electric stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the eggs, then gradually add sugar and beat until thick and lemon colored. Beat in the lukewarm milk mixture and 2 cups of all-purpose flour until smooth.  Beat in the yeast mixture.

Add the remaining ingredients (2 ½ cups flour, lemon peel, spices, and raisins) and mix together.  Switch to the dough hook after dough comes together and knead for 5 minutes.  Let rise covered in large greased bowl in the refrigerator until doubled (4-5 hours) or overnight.

Make Nut Filling:  Combine all ingredients in medium sized saucepan. Cook, stirring over low heat until warm and sugar dissolves.  Cool to room temperature.

Prepare Stollen:  Remove dough from refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, about 30-60 minutes.  Place a 24 x 12-inch piece aluminum foil on work surface and lightly flour foil.  Roll dough on foil into a 22 x 12-inch rectangle.  Spread nut filling over dough, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides.

Mix the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons whole milk in a small bowl.  Brush border with part of the egg mixture. Roll up dough beginning at long edge, using foil to help turn dough. Pinch seam and ends to seal.

Using long sharp knife, cut roll crosswise in half.

Transfer pieces to baking sheets lined with parchment paper.  Cut one piece lengthwise in half, then working quickly, twist halves together with sliced edges turned upward to form a loaf.  Pinch ends together.

 Repeat with remaining piece to create a second loaf.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Bake stollen 15 minutes; brush with part of the egg mixture.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake 10 minutes.  Brush with remaining egg mixture; sprinkle with 2 teaspoons sugar. Bake until golden and nut mixture is set, at least 10 minutes.  (If stollen browns too fast, cover loosely with aluminum foil.)  Cool on wire racks 30 minutes.

Drizzle with white icing, then slice and serve!

Notes on storage: Wrap tightly to prevent the stolen from drying out.  The stolen is best when eaten within a couple of days, though the second loaf may be frozen and enjoyed at a later time.

18 December 2010

Christmas baking: crispy ginger cookies!

I love these incredibly crispy ginger spice cookies...they are so fun to nibble on and are perfect with a mug of tea on a cold December afternoon.  I first made these back in 2006, when they were published in the December issue of Bon Appetit, and they were such a hit with family and friends that I planned on making them a recurring part of my Christmas baking.

Unfortunately for me, by the time Christmas rolled around the following year, I had completely forgotten the name of the recipe and where exactly I had seen it!  But this year, after some digging around, I finally found the right recipe and am thrilled to share it with you.  To get thin, crunchy cookies, you have to roll the dough out to a mere 1/8-inch, which can be tricky when working with the soft butter dough, but I've discovered that rolling it out between plastic wrap and then peeling the wrap off the cut cookies makes the process a breeze.

They are highly addictive...bet you can't eat just one!

Ginger Crisp Cookies
From Bon Appetit, December 2006
Makes 64 cookies

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses

Whisk the flour, spices, and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.  In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the molasses.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well.

Divide the dough into four portions and wrap in plastic wrap, flattening to 1/4-inch thick discs.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Let dough rest at room temperature a few minutes before rolling out to 1/8-inch thickness between 2 sheets of plastic wrap (this helps prevent the dough from breaking and sticking to the rolling pin).  Remove the top layer of plastic wrap and cut out cookies with shaped cutters.

Transfer cookies to parchment-lined baking sheets.  To easily transfer the cookies, lift plastic wrap off of the counter and invert one cookie at a time over your free hand, then peel the plastic wrap off the bottom of the cookie.

Bake cookies for 12 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 F.  Let cookies rest 2 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack.  Let cookies cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

12 December 2010

I heart juk

It happened.  As it inevitably does when the big deadline is over, when the school semester is over, when the adrenaline subsides.  Your body knows, it's okay to succumb to a cold now...well, my body knew it.  So I have been craving nothing but soup the past few days, and I knew it was time to pull out this recipe for juk (pronounced "jook"), a congee-like rice porridge that Koreans cook for loved ones when they are under the weather.

This is spoon-licking good, folks.  As the rice cooks, the starches are released and develop the most enticing velvety texture.  Shrimp bits stirred into the juk, as well as chopped green onion and flaky kim (seasoned pressed seaweed, similar to nori) sprinkled on top, give multiple layers of appetizing savoriness.

Easily digestible, warming, and nourishing, juk should definitely be on your short list of recipes for feeding friends and family when they are fighting an illness.  There is something wonderfully heartening about this nourishing porridge.  Hey look, this green onion is sharing the love!


But I'm telling you, once you taste this, you will soon start wanting this for breakfast.  Forget oatmeal--seriously!  To make juk, you will need to plan ahead a little, soaking the rice for at least two hours before cooking, but it's super easy to just set the rice to soak the night before and then you'll have it ready to go for a quick breakfast prep.


Korean Shrimp Porridge, Saewoojuk (새우죽)
Recipe from Maangchi, Serves 4

1 cup short-grained rice
1 Tbs. sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped raw shrimp
7 cups water
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 tsp. salt
3 green onions, chopped
1 sheet roasted kim, crumbled

Place rice in a large bowl and wash rice in several changes of water, then cover with about 4 cups water and let soak two hours to overnight.  Drain rice thoroughly before proceeding.

Heat sesame oil over medium-high heat in a medium-large pot, then add the garlic, carrot, and shrimp and saute for about 30 seconds, stirring about to cook evenly.  Add the soaked, drained rice to the pot and continue stirring and sauteing for a few minutes.  Add 7 cups water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover pot and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent bottom from burning.

Add fish sauce and salt, then taste and check seasoning and add more salt if desired.  Ladle juk into serving bowls and sprinkle with chopped green onions and crumbled kim.

To make this a more substantial meal, suggested accompaniments include kimchi and other other side dishes such as broiled fish, japchae, sigeumchi namul, and kongnamul muchim.

08 December 2010

Gingerbread with a twist

Is this bread, or is this cake?  The soft and fluffy texture and bits of chocolate say cake, but the subtle sweetness and small proportion of butter would suggest it's really bread...it just happens to be an incredibly delicious--not decadent--bread.  That's what I told myself, anyway, when I had a big chunk of this buttermilk-based chocolate-chip banana gingerbread for breakfast this morning!

I don't know about you, but for me, the season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the time to roll out all those warming spices, finding recipes that feature cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg.  So when I saw this interesting twist on gingerbread from How Sweet It Is, I was more than game to give it a try.  Bananas in gingerbread?  New idea!  Chocolate chips?  Yum!

And I'm so glad I did try this out.  Warm from the oven, the chocolate chips are all melty, and the cake is ever-so-slightly gooey (maybe from all those bananas?).  Perfect for morning coffee with friends, or as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream added on top!

Chocolate-Chip Banana Gingerbread
Adapted from How Sweet It Is

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup molasses
2 medium very-ripe bananas
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
 3 tablespoons raw turbinado sugar

Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and 1/3 cup sugar.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until smooth.  Add the molasses and bananas and beat on high until bananas are thoroughly mashed and incorporated into the creamed mixture.  (Tip:  Lightly oil your measuring cup before measuring out the molasses--the oil will keep the molasses from getting stuck in the cup!)

Add half of the dry ingredients, mixing just to barely moisten, then mix in the buttermilk.  Add the remaining dry ingredients, along with the chocolate chips, and gently mix to thoroughly combine without over-beating the batter.

Pour the cake into a lightly-oiled 9 x 13-inch baking pan, and sprinkle with the raw turbinado sugar.  Bake in a preheated oven at 375 F for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  (If you hit a melted chocolate chip with your toothpick, try again in another spot.)  Let cool for a few minutes before serving warm; or, let cool completely in pan and serve at room temperature.  (The warmer it is, the more crumbly it will be when you cut into it.)

04 December 2010

From my Italian family archives: Biscotti

Hello dear readers!  Wow, it has been so long since I've last posted--the time has flown as my day-job has been demanding a lot of my energy of late--but I am really excited to be back with another wonderful recipe.

As Christmas draws closer, my thoughts have inevitably turned to biscotti, one of my family's Christmas baking traditions.  Some of my early memories of my mother in the kitchen are of her pulling biscotti loaves from the oven, slicing them, and then carefully broiling the cookies on each side.  The anticipation would build during the two-part baking process, and the delicious toasty crumbs that broke off from the slices would only whet my appetite for more.  Though in recent years we've been using a stellar Tuscan cantucci recipe, I was missing the comforting almond-sesame combination in this family recipe from my great-aunt Diana Todaro.

So here it is, an early Christmas present from my family to yours.  It's delightfully straightforward to make, and the results are fantastic.  It's perfect served with a demitasse of espresso or a little glass of schnapps for an after-dinner treat, or with some tea for a cozy afternoon snack.

And I love the original directions so much that I'm posting them verbatim below! 

Aunt Diana's Biscotti
Makes about 40 cookies

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder 
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup chopped (ground) almonds
4 cups flour
sesame seeds

Beat eggs; reserve a little for brushing on cookies later. Add oil, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, and almonds. Mix. Add flour one cup at a time. Knead dough about 5 minutes. Divide into 4 balls. Roll each until 10” long “frankfurter.” Place on greased baking sheet. Flatten slightly. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 375°F for ½ hour until golden brown. Remove from oven. Slice and broil each side. Watch carefully!