Friday, July 23, 2010

Madeleines, a rough draft

There's a cafe in Fes, where our Moroccan half of the family lives, called La Villa. It's a state-of-the-art, trendy place in the Ville Nouvelle or new city, with wireless Internet, tile and mirrors everywhere, and air conditioning. It was there that I first had truly amazing madeleines. Morocco has a long tradition of great pastry making, some of which they inherited from the French, but I noticed that people referred to almost anything that was muffin shaped and cakelike as madeleines. But when I finally tried the real thing last summer in La Villa, I understood what made Proust so nostalgic. There are a few different varieties of madeleines, but the ones I'm talking about have the consistency of cornbread, the taste of the crust of a good lemon poundcake, and get their leavening from eggs alone. They are often described as cookies but to me are some intermediate form between cookies and cake. I recently decided to learn how to make them - and though the results haven't yet been beautiful, the taste is out of this world. With the help of Julia Child, I found the ideal recipe - now if I could just get my pan seasoned enough that they would take the scallop shape they are supposed to assume after baking, all would be perfect.

I first consulted two of my favorite food blogs, where one posted an attempt at madeleines that didn't turn out so well, while the other had a recipe that was claimed to be out-of-this-world. Bypassing the first, I attempted the second, which had 4 eggs in it and came out extremely eggy and gross. I decided then to look for a Julia Child recipe and discovered the perfect one. I had ordered a madeleine pan from since I couldn't find one locally, so perhaps the new metal pan just needs to be seasoned to keep them from sticking. Julia's solution is a butter-flour mixture to grease them with, which I tried, but to no avail. They still came out intact, but just not with that beautiful, golden-brown scalloped surface. Nevertheless, the pan and the recipe are great investments, since I will certainly be making them again.

Madeleines (from Julia Child)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 c. sugar
1 c. flour + 1 T for preparing pans
1 1/4 stick butter (5 ounces)
pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon, or slightly less (they were a little lemony- I will probably do less than this next time)
1/2 t. vanilla

Preheat oven to 375. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and let it simmer until it starts to turn caramel colored. Then reserve 1 1/2 Tblsp of this butter in a separate bowl, mixing with 1 Tblsp flour to grease the pan with. Set aside. Place the rest of the melted butter in a glass dish over a bowl of ice water to cool off, stirring from time to time so it doesn't congeal.

Beat the eggs lightly, then divide in half (should be about 1/4 cup each). Set aside 1/4 cup, put the other 1/4 cup in an electric mixer with sugar and flour. Blend until mixture is sandy. When butter is cool, mix with remaining eggs and add to flour mixture, along with lemon, zest, and vanilla. My batter was slightly looser than cookie dough, not as smooth as a cake.

Grease madeleine pans, place about a tablespoon of the mixture in each form, and bake for 13-15 minutes. Dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vegetable Lo Mein with Spinach and Other Neighbors (Edamame)

This is a good summer recipe, light but filling, something that could satisfy one's cravings for Asian food without having to resort to a strip mall Chinese restaurant and an overly greasy, deep fried General Tsao's chicken. My daughter loves soybeans, or edamame, which she pronounces as "other neighbors." (She also calls tofu "toe food"). I buy frozen bags of organic soybeans, cook them in boiling water for 5 minutes, and salt them lightly, and as anyone who's eaten at a Japanese restaurant in the last ten years would know, they make a great appetizer. But I assume they also are great food for a toddler because they're green and filled with protein. Nonetheless, they are the star of this dish, which is adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, and can be varied infinitely - I'd just keep the sauce proportions in check.

Vegetable Lo Mein with Spinach and Edamame

5-6 baby bella mushrooms, chopped (can use any kind here)
3 cups chopped spinach
14 ounces spaghetti noodles
4 Tblsp. soy sauce
1 Tblsp dark sesame oil
2 Tblsp canola oil
1 Tblsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1 cup carrots, julienned (could also use a pepper here instead)
a few green onion stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame, cooked
3 Tblsp hoisin sauce

Cook spaghetti until done. When done, drain and mix with 1 Tblsp soy sauce and sesame oil, tossing to coat. Then, in a wok or large skillet, heat canola oil. Saute ginger 5 seconds, add mushrooms, carrots, onions, and garlic, and stir-fry 3-5 minutes. Stir in spinach and edamame, fry another 30 seconds. Mix in noodles, 3 sauce, 3 Tblsp hoisin sauce, until thoroughly heated, about 2 minutes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dinner Rolls, perfect every time

These dinner rolls, loosely adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe, turn out rewardingly well every time I make them. Sure, you could go to Publix and pick up some of their delicious, in-house bakery-made French sourdough dinner rolls, but you could make these yourself, and they would be even better, fresh out of your own oven with a smear of butter and some honey. If you make them a little bigger than normal, they'd be great as hamburger rolls. This adaptation continues my love affair with whole wheat pastry flour, which really is amazing, since it can be used in almost all baking situations without weighing down your cookies/cakes/bread/etc, and yet it's healthy for you.


3 1/2 cups flour - combination of whole wheat pastry flour and white flour, in any proportions you like
1 Tblsp salt
1 Tblsp sugar
1 package instant yeast (about 2 tsp.)
3 Tblsp. cold butter
1 egg
1 cup milk

Put flour, salt, sugar, and yeast into food processor, pulse a few seconds. Add cold butter and egg, process 10 seconds. Keep machine running and pour the milk in. Run the machine for 30 seconds, or until dough starts to spin around in ball form. If it's too loose, add more flour, if too dry, a tablespoon or two more of milk. It should be a slightly sticky, easy-to-handle ball. Knead it for a minute. Place it in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, let rise for 1.5 hours.

Take the dough out, deflate and reshape into a ball, let rest in bowl for another 15 minutes. Roll out until it's 1/2 inch thick, then cut out big circles with the top of a glass or a round cookie cutter. Place on baking tray. Preheat oven to 375. Brush tops of rolls with egg beaten with a small amount of milk, bake 20 minutes, or until rolls are golden brown.