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Surprising Baking Tips from Dorie Greenspan

Dorie Greenspan doesn’t know why people tell her that baking is difficult. After all, she already created the recipe. “I did the work,” she laughs, “Just follow the recipe.” Greenspan has created 300 cookie recipes and they are in her new book “Dorie’s Cookies.”

The cookbook author and baking guru came to Sherry B’s Dessert Studio in Chappaqua, N.Y., recently to talk about her new book and share tips for making her favorite cookies.

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Sherry B’s Dessert Studio in Chappaqua, N.Y. was named one of the best small town bakeries.

The woman who once measured ten cups of flour in metric to come up with an average of 136 grams per cup, says precision is not so important.

“There’s a margin of error,” Greenspan says. “It’s not as precise as we all thought.”

Recently she discovered that she and her recipe testers had been using different methods of measurement for the same recipe. And all the cookies tasted great. It’s a thought that helps Greenspan “sleep better at night.”

She firmly believes in the metric system.

As she spoke, members of Sherry B’s studio passed around plates of adorable little cookies – jam thumbprint, sables, ginger snaps, and the famous World Peace cookies.

The cookie was created by Pierre Hermé, the Parisian patissiere. It is a rich cocoa and chocolate chip cookie with a sandy texture and just the right amount of salt. I’ve made them. They’re irresistible. I intended to give most of them away. (Greenspan heartily recommends “Bake and Release.”) The World Peace cookies proved so irresistible, I didn’t release any of them. But home was a peaceful place indeed.

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The imperfection of these World Peace Cookies marks them as mine. But they don’t have to be perfect-looking to taste great.

Greenspan, whose dark pixie cut makes her look pixie-ish, seemed surprised herself when speaking of “when I collaborated with Julia Child” on The Way to Cook. “She told me we are so lucky because we work in food, and there will always be something new to learn.”

What else did I learn from listening to Dorie? She doesn’t use silpats. And to get the exact size and yield of her recipes, use a small cookie scoop.

What’s your favorite Dorie Greenspan recipe?

Where to Have a Cocktail in SoNo

Room 112 in SoNo is a clubby place for a cocktail. With a black-and-red color scheme, a pool table, and lots of sofas, it has a dark and decadent feel. Open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 5 to closing, it’s also a private event space. Downstairs, there’s a smaller bar and a game room, featuring pool and darts.

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Can you find the crafty bartender in this picture? He’s really there.

We were invited to sample some cocktails on a quiet Wednesday evening. The cocktails other guests were drinking were layered and garnished with fresh fruit and herbs. My friend cast a needed light upon the cocktail menu (the room is dark). Overwhelmed by the lists of ingredients, we chose an old favorite,  caipirinha.  At Room 112, the Brazilian drink traditionally made of sugar-cane rum, limes and sugar, gets a mixologists list: cachaça, lemon bitters, muddled lemons, limes and sugar.

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The cocktail menu at Room 112 offers concoctions made with a dizzying list special spirits and fresh juices.

The Tom Old Fashioned is an aromatic blend of gin, vermouth, muddled tangerines, sugar and bitters. It’s garnished with a slice of orange and cherry.

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The Magic Mule is served in a coppery pineapple vessel.

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The Magic Mule shakes up lemon-grass-infused vodka, ginger liqueur, fresh lime, club soda, ginger, and mint.

Room 112 doesn’t have a kitchen, and is served by Harbor Harvest Catering. Harbor Harvest wasn’t on-site the night we were invited to sample cocktails.  So afterwards, we  walked down Washington Street and stopped into Match and had an excellent pizza at the bar.

“Would I go back?” is the essential question. I gave up staying out late long ago, but sure, I’d stop in to Room 112 for a happy hour game of darts. A bracing drink always improves my game.

Have you been to Room 112? What’s your impression?

(Photos courtesy of Room 112)

Who Makes the Best Chiles Rellenos?

The best chiles rellenos are a dream of melted cheese within a meaty, soft Poblano pepper cloaked in airy egg-white batter covered in fresh tomatillo sauce.

I maintain that it’s difficult to find really good chiles rellenos in most Mexican restaurants around here. Making them involves a number of steps, and short-cuts can ruin the dish. Over the years, I’ve been served chiles rellenos that bummed me out, with tough unpeeled peppers, a thick clump of cold cheese, heavy, eggy batter tasting of the frying oil, and canned sauces. Abominations!

To get the best chiles rellenos, I had to make them at home.  I’ve made them so many times, I no longer use a recipe. This is the process.

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Broil the peppers to remove the skins.

 

I broil the poblanos directly on a rack placed at highest level. Beneath them place a pan of water. The water adds steaming action, and catches any liquid that might be released from the pepper, and makes cleaning the pan easier.

When the peppers are blistered and wrinkled on all sides, put them in a bowl and place a plate over the top. Let them sit. The steam will make removing the skin easier. After the peppers cool, slip the skins off the peppers.  Make a slit in the side of the pepper and use a spoon to extract the seeds.  This part is a pain in the ass. But there’s no getting around it. Don’t use water to remove the seeds, and do not rinse the peeled peppers. It’ll take away flavor.

And don’t worry if  your peppers start to split in the process of removing the seeds. You’ll still be able to wrap even the most delicate and shredded pepper around the cheese, and once it’s coated in batter and fried, it will all hold together.

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To fill the peppers, I get rather Californian. I can’t help it. I spent a significant number of childhood years in Southern California. I used to put Monterey Jack in the peppers. My husband was mystified by my fondness for this bland white cheese, and my protestations that it melted well were met with a kind smile. Since then, I’ve switched to white Cheddar. I use the Cabot Creamery Brand.

I don’t use authentic Mexican cheese for the peppers. And truth be told, that’s why I like my homemade chiles rellenos best. The soft white cheese used in authentic Mexican restaurants often doesn’t reach the true melted ooze that I love.

Here’s a tip on stuffing the chiles. First cut the cheese in long thin strips. They are much easier to get into the peppers than messy shredded cheese.  Next, dust them or roll them in flour before putting them in the batter.

The batter is mostly egg-whites, whipped to stiff peaks, with one egg yolk added. A little flour can also be added. Use a slotted spoon to place a stuffed pepper in the bowl of fluffy batter, spoon some of the batter over the top and lift out and put into a sizzling hot pan.

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Brown the pepper packets on each side, remove to a paper towel or brown paper.

 

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Cover the fried stuffed chiles with homemade tomatillo sauce and bake.

My favorite sauce is green tomatillo sauce. I husk the tomatillos, and cook them whole in boiling water for about five minutes until they soften up. I use an immersion blender to puree the tomatillos, cilantro (with the stems) raw onion, garlic and hot green peppers.  You can cook this sauce or leave it raw, depending on how mellow or fresh you want the flavors.

Pour sauce into the bottom of a casserole and place peppers in the sauce. Spoon sauce over the peppers. Add a little water to the pan before covering it with tin foil and placing in a 350 degree oven.  Heat until the sauce is bubbling.

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There’s no denying that making chiles rellenos is a lot of work. So, where do I go to find good ones?

Los Poblanos in Norwalk.  The chiles have that slippery, melt-in-your mouth texture, with mellow cheese contrasting with the heat from the pepper and freshness of the sauce.  Chef-owner Jaun is from Puebla, considered the culinary capital of Mexico. He cooks the traditional food of his homeland. Here’s a piece I wrote about Los Poblanos for CTBites.

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Every fall Los Pobalanos serves chiles en nogata. These are very special chiles. They’re filled with a mixture of pork, fruits and spices. The creamy walnut sauce is topped with glistening pomegranate seeds.

In Bridgeport, El Paraiso also makes very good chiles rellenos. I didn’t cover the chiles rellenos in my review for the Hartford Courant, but I tried them recently, and enjoyed them.  Here’s a link to My Favorite Ethnic Restaurants in Bridgeport.

Thanksgiving Pies

Much to my childhood disappointment, I didn’t have grandmothers, and my mother didn’t bake. So I came to pie-making later in life, and had a frustrating time learning.

I started with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French cooking, but it wasn’t until I actually saw a person make pie dough in my kitchen that I started to be less afraid I’d screw it up.  For a decade, I followed Julia’s rigorous by-hand method of mixing the flour and butter.

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But making pie dough in a food processor is a snap and fool-proof and that’s how I do it today. I make all-butter crusts. My other tip: use the refrigerator. If the dough starts to get too soft at any point in the process, put it in the fridge for a bit. (That’s how to avoid some of the woogey edges you’ll see in my pictures!) Then take it out and continue forth.

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I’d love to achieve perfection. I haven’t. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. This pie crust was puffy, crisp and buttery.

Apple pie is one of the pies I make every Thanksgiving.

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Once again, I don’t like to bog the apples down in dark spices. I like the clean juicy flavor of the apple to come through.

I grew up hating pumpkin pie because the  ones of my childhood were dark, icky-textured things made with stuff that came from cans.

But a couple years ago, a pumpkin plant grew in our garden, all on its own, transferred by the compost. It grew to be a big, green, squat pumpkin, a child of one we got at our local farm, Sport Hill Farm in Easton, CT.  It was time to discover if I could make a pumpkin pie I’d love.

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Pumpkin has a lot of water in it. So after roasting segments in in the oven, I cooked the mashed flesh in a pan to dry it.

I used the recipe one of my favorite cookbooks, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, by Marion Cunningham as my guide.

I replaced the 1 and a half cups of heavy cream with coconut milk.  Instead of adding dark, dried spices, I grated fresh ginger, lemon grass and pounded a cardamom seed, and steeped them in warm coconut milk.

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I thought it was the best pumpkin pie I’d ever had in my life. A smooth light filling, bright flavors of ginger, lemongrass and cardamom and coconut. No pictures of the finished product because we wanted to eat, not stand around and wait to take pictures. Sometimes living and experiencing is more important than recording.

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These beautiful pies were made by my friend Susan, who is an artist. They were delicious.

Thanksgiving Hits

We used to go to friends’ for Thanksgiving, and it was a lot of fun, but we really missed cooking Thanksgiving dinner. So, the day after Thanksgiving, we’d spend the day making another Thanksgiving dinner.

 

One year, after a heavy morning of cooking, we paused for Cranbellinis. I made cranberry syrup by cooking cranberries, sugar and water and straining out the berries. A simpler method is to use cranberry juice. If you buy unsweetened, you’ll have more control over the sweetness level.  We used Cristolino cava, inexpensive, yet made in Spain using the methode Champenoise.

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Rutabagas and turnips are chopped and then roasted.

Roasting rutabagas and turnips brings out their sweetness. Here’s a tip we learned from watching Lidia Bastianich. Add some water to the roasting pan and cover with foil. This will start some steaming action when you put the pan in the oven. When the vegetables start to get tender, remove the foil and let them get some color.

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Hashed Brussels sprouts with caramelized onions.

I’m thoroughly tired of Brussels sprouts on every menu, and all the ways chefs try to make them sweet, and all the extra ingredients they add to distract from the sprouts. Spare me the candied nuts! ( I call for a moratorium on the expression, “These Brussels Sprouts are like crack.”)  I made these hashed Brussels by searing them in a hot pan with olive oil, some salt and pepper. When they were tender, I added caramelized onions.

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Prepping the pears.

I like to add fruit and color to the Thanksgiving table. In addition to cranberries, I make pears poached in red wine.

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Poaching pears.

My husband makes the stuffing. He uses Fairfield Bread Co’s bread, of course.

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Stuffing is given pats of butter before being put in the oven.

He get a nice brown crust by topping it with pats of butter and putting it back in the oven.

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Caramelized onions

My mother used to make creamed white onions for Thanksgiving. I hated them. I didn’t like that white sauce invading and infecting the rest of my plate. My mother bought little white bowls so I could have a separate serving. She believed in tasting things even if you didn’t like them. I never changed my mind about creamed onions. One year I made these caramelized onions to try to break the creamed onion curse. Last year I dropped the little onions from the menu altogether. Got to leave room for pie.

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And there were mashed potatoes, lots of gravy, sweet potato casserole, and, oh yes, turkey.

Thanksgiving Veggies

Thanksgiving is only a week away. Got my turkey order in at the very last minute. Now I’m thinking about vegetables. I’ve been making these little turnips for Thanksgiving, ever since I discovered that my local farm, Sport Hill Farm in Easton CT, grows them. They are sweet and crunchy. I slice them in half and brown them in a cast-iron skillet.

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They also pickle well. I like the quick pickle recipes in David Chang’s Momofuku cook book.

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Little white turnips make a quick sour-sweet pickles, good to serve before Thanksgiving dinner.

And they also are quite nice roasted with other root vegetables, like parsnips, rutabagas and orange and yellow carrots.

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White turnips, parsnips, rutabaga and yellow and orange carrots.

Time to start thinking about the pies…

Delicata Squash Casserole

Like its delightful name, the delicata is the most delicate of squash. So delicate you can eat the skin. No peeling needed. Here’s one of our favorite ways of cooking it, a warm and comforting fall dish. This is based on a dish my husband had when he was a kid at his friend John Paul’s house. He went home and told his mother that he’d just had the best dish ever — “zucchini and cheese.” So Michael’s mother called John Paul’s mother and got the recipe and started making it for the family. What a great Mom.

We’ve adapted “zucchini and cheese” to delicata squash, which is in season now.

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Cut the squash lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Slice squash and place in casserole.

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Add the liquid. You can use milk, almond milk, or stock, or our decadent favorite, coconut milk, to cover the squash. Toss a little flour over the top so the sauce will thicken as it bakes. Top with grated cheddar cheese. Bake at 350 till the squash is tender and the cheese is golden, and good smells are coming from the oven.

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Enjoy!

Pork from the Farm

Our friend farmer Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm asked how we cook pork hocks. Patti raises pigs and sells excellent pork.

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We got this pork hock from Sport Hill Farm. Pork hocks like to be cooked in moist heat. So first, I put the hock in a pot of cold water and brought it to a boil. Then I removed the hock, rinsed it, dumped out the water and rinsed out the pot. Then I put the hock back in the clean pot, added cold water, a bay leaf, a couple peppercorns, and some salt.  After it simmered for about three hours, and the meat was tender, I removed the hock, cut everything off the bones — meat, skin and the white blubbery-looing stuff — and chopped it up. This has to be done while the meat is still warm.  Note: Don’t throw out the cooking liquid. You’ll need some for the hocks and you can cook  a delicious green pea or bean soup in the broth.

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Everything but the bones is used, including the skin.

Then, I added a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, a sautéed leek (or onion), breadcrumbs and about a half cup of the gelantinous cooking liquid.

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Next, the mixture is turned into  logs, about two-and-half to three-inch in diameter. I asked my husband to do this part. He piled half of the meat mixture onto plastic wrap, pulled the plastic over it, and rolled it on the cutting board, while holding the ends of the plastic. This is the most difficult part of the process. But you’ll get the hang of it. A straight edge or ruler helps push the meat mixture into the log shape.

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The mixture is rolled into logs and then refrigerated overnight.

The logs will keep in the fridge for a couple days, or can be frozen. Remember, they’re already cooked. Before serving, they are sliced and pan fried to create a crisp crust and to warm them through.

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When you’re ready to make dinner, unwrap the plastic from the pork. Prepare a plate of flour or panko crumbs.

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I sliced the log into one-inch thick pieces. A serrated knife works well for slicing the logs. If any bits fall off, gently press them back into the cake.

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Brush each side with mustard and coat in flour or panko bread crumbs.

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Heat your cast-iron skillet, and add a tablespoon of olive oil or oil of your choice. Cook over medium-low heat until a nice golden brown crust forms (about five minutes). Turn and cook the other side. Remember not to crowd them (they’ll stick to one another), and don’t fuss with them.

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These cakes are crisp on the outside, with an appealing chewiness and meaty flavor. They are rich, so pair them with a salad dressed in an apple cider vinaigrette. If you want to make this dish even more awesome, pair the cakes with sauce gribiche.

Will kids eat this? Yes! We once served this to our nieces and nephew who were all under the age of ten, and they wanted more. I stood at the stove, frying up more and more of them.

My husband and I have been making this recipe for years, and we thought we’d got it from Michel Richard’s “Happy in the Kitchen,” one of my favorite cookbooks. But looking at the book recently, we aren’t sure. He does have a recipe for pigs feet, treated in the same way, and he goes an extra step by wrapping the meat mixture in spring roll wrappers before frying. He also has good tips on how to roll the mixture into a log.  If you use pigs feet or shanks, your pork cakes will be more gelantinous, and that’s a good thing. But using the big hock from the back leg that we got a Sport Hill Farm is a far easier enterprise than dealing with the smaller bones and tendons of the smaller cuts.

But ultimately, this is an easy dish, adaptable and forgiving. And very, very good.

If you’re in the Fairfield County region, you can get a pork hock at Sport Hill Farm.

My Favorite Ethnic Restaurants in Bridgeport, CT

It surprises people that even though I’m a restaurant reviewer, I really don’t go out that much. It’s rare for me to go to a restaurant more than twice, unless it’s work-related.

But there are places that I’ve been to many times, the regular spots I go to with my husband. These are my favorite ethnic restaurant in Bridgeport. I’ve written about most of these places, for the Hartford Courant, CTBites and others. Click on the links to read the full reviews.

Mexican

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Chicken enchiladas with homemade green sauce at El Paraiso in Bridgeport. Photo by Elizabeth Keyser.

 

El Paraiso for lunch.  Hearty plates of enchiladas, chile rellenos, or weekend Sunday pozole.

La Mexicana for lunch. Carnitas tacos and fresh melon drinks.

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Carnitas tacos topped with grilled jalepenos, scallions and cilantro at La Mexicana, Bridgeport, CT. Photo by Elizabeth Keyser

 Vietnamese

Pho Thom for Vietnamese pho and spring rolls. The link is to their Pho Thom’s FB page because my article in the Courant has disappeared. Where oh where did it go?

Thai

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Sweet, crunchy, fresh garden rolls with pork, mango, cucumber, lettuce, carrots, mint wrapped in rice paper at Ruuthai’s Kitchen in Bridgeport, CT. Photo by Elizabeth Keyser

It isn’t easy to find good Thai food.

The best place to find excellent Thai restaurants is Queens, N.Y.  So I was thrilled to discover RuuThai serves dishes you won’t find anywhere else in Connecticut. Mussels pancakes. Full-flavored curries. Desserts for the adventurous. Here’s a review I wrote for the Hartford Courant Ruuthai, and one I wrote for CTBites Ruuthai’s Kitchen

Brazilian

Be prepared to eat lots of grilled meat at this this Brazilian churrascaria, Pantanal Brazilian Barbecue and Buffet, and schedule a nap afterwards.

I’m happy to add a new great place for Brazilian Barbecue to my growing list, Rancho Pantanal

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Brazilian BBQ, Buffet & Bar in Bridgeport

What are your favorite ethnic restaurants in Bridgeport?

Best Apple Cake Ever

My mother-in-law Renate is an excellent baker. One of the stars in her repertoire is apple cake. Whenever Renate visits she asks, “Shall I make a cake?” We always say yes and “How about the apple cake!”

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It’s not  a cake in the way you’d think, with flour and a leavener. It’s more like French clafoutis, with a bottom crust.Renate uses an unusual method with the dough (made with butter and an egg, giving it a more cookie-like rather than flakey structure). After it’s chilled, she slices the dough and presses the pieces into the bottom and halfway up the sides of a spring form cake pan.

Then she adds a particularly German touch. She sprinkles unseasoned homemade breadcrumbs over the dough. The recipe comes from Chef Tell, one of her favorite chefs. He was a German chef who had a PBS program “In the Kitchen with Chef Tell” in the 70s and 80s.

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Renate scores apple halves, places them on the breadcrumbs, and pours a custard of eggs, sour cream, cream  and vanilla over the apples.

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After it bakes and cools, she brushes the top of the cake with strained apricot jam, to make it glisten.

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Around three in the afternoon she asks, “Shall we have cake and coffee?” Yes!

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The cake is so light, and not too sweet. The apple melds into the sour cream custard and the thin crust. We’re so happy when Renate makes Chef Tell’s Apple Cake.

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The recipe: Chef Tell’s German Apple Cake

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