Oct 26, 2009

oktoberfest beef brisket

I've made this beef brisket twice now in just a matter of weeks. Though you wouldn't know it, after the beautiful weather we've had here the past couple days, fall is coming and my inner clock is telling me to cook hearty, fragrant food that fills the belly. The first time I made this brisket I paired it with these soft-pretzels and apples with caramel sauce for an Oktoberfest feast. And more recently it was an easy dish that I made the night before a busy day of hanging out with family, knowing it would be a hit.

The original recipe recommended making this the day before and letting the flavors meld and come together for a night or two before serving. And it works! The earlier the better. Which brings me to the only slightly difficult part of the recipe - planning ahead, and by more than just a couple hours, which is my usual M.O.

But let me tell you it is well worth the effort and planning needed to cook the brisket on day one, and heat and serve it on day two. This allows the flavors to meld nicely, plus, when spread out over two days the house smells heavenly for just a bit longer.

Brisket Braised in Porter
adapted from Bon Appetit

(this takes approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes to make, but most of that time is hands off, plus time to re-heat on before serving)

1 tablespoon coarse kosker salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dry mustard seeds, ground)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 3-pound brisket, trimmed but with some fat still attached
2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat
4 cups low sodium chicken broth, divided
1 12-ounce bottle of porter or stout beer
6 whole pitted prunes
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
3 cups thinly sliced onions
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 pound medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 2 inch pieces

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Mix first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub herb mixture all over brisket. Heat bacon fat in a heavy extra-large wide ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add brisket to pot and cook until deep brown, 5-7 minutes per side. Transfer brisket to platter.

Add 2 cups of broth to pot and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Stir in prunes, porter, bay leaves, and brown sugar; bring to boil. Return brisket to pot, fat side down; scatter onion slices over to cover meat, then add garlic.

Cover pot; place in oven and braise brisket 1 hour. Remove pot from oven; uncover and turn brisket over so that the onion slices fall into the liquid in the pot. Return pot to oven and braise uncovered for 30 minutes. Add 1 cup broth. Cover and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes. Add carrots and continue to braise until the meat and carrots are very tender, adding more broth by the cupful as needed, about 45 minutes to 1 hour longer. Cool slightly then refrigerate uncovered until cold. Cover and keep chilled at least 1 day and up to 2 days before serving.

About 1 hour prior to serving spoon off any fat from the surface of the brisket or in the pot. Re-heat on the stove by first bringing the juices to a boil and then simmering the brisket for at least 45 minutes until heated through. Serve meat and vegetables with sauce from the pot.

Serves 6.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Oct 17, 2009

homemade soft pretzels

As part of an Oktoberfest dinner party we had a couple weeks ago, Matt and I made these fabulous soft pretzels. We had made them once before last spring, and just like before they were no fuss and easy to pull together. This time we got a couple kinds of mustard to dip them in, and I would totally recommend this Jack Daniels version, yum!

I always thought soft pretzels were one of those items you got at the fair, or sports games, not something you made. But the homemade version is so incredibly yummy, that I think it will be hard to go back to the sports game variety. These pretzels are soft and chewy, and I like how when I make them at home I can add as much or as little salt as I want.

Similar to other kinds of bread the primary ingredients are flour, water, yeast and salt. I still have yet to find a local all-purpose flour, so unfortunately can't say that these are very local. I do wonder however if there is fair-trade flour that I can get? Hmmm, something to look into. I pretty much followed the recipe spot on for these and both times have come out with fantastic results. Though they take about 1 hour and 30 - 45 minutes to make, the hour is really due to them needing to rise until about double in size.

homemade soft pretzels
from Alton Brown via the Food Network

makes 8 soft pretzels

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
2 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
pretzel salt (large flake salt - I used Maldon)

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4-5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50-55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 1 large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly brush with vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil.

In the meantime turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment lined pan.

Place the pretzels in the pan 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12-14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with your favorite mustard and/or pint of beer.

photography by: alison clayshulte

Oct 15, 2009

deep dish apple pie and sustainable saturday

Last weekend I was asked to bring dessert for my friends "Sustainable Saturday" dinner party. This was sustainable dinner number 10 for said friends, who started the parties about a year and half ago, after reading Micheal Pollan's books The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

The parties go like this, one of them cooks up amazing meals using only ingredients from within 150 miles of Oakland, the other hosts like a pro and organizes the donation pool. Everyone invited is asked not to bring a dish or wine, but to provide a donation for People's Grocery, a non-profit organization in Oakland who's mission is to build a local food system that improves the health and economy of the West Oakland community.

The dinner always turns out a good crowd, eager to try the latest sustainable faire, and give to help such an excellent bay area organization.

Needless to say, there is a lot to live up to in terms of bringing a dessert for this dinner party. Not only the amazing food, but when I checked the evite list late last week there were about 40 people RSVP'ing yes. Whoa! That meant dessert for 40 people. So after a little research I settled on the following: 2 deep dish apple pies and cut up apples with homemade caramel sauce.

The pies were definitely an act of love, taking several hours to pull together. The project began with first mixing dough for the crust and setting it to chill. While the crust chilled I peeled 10 pounds of a combination of tart and sweet apples. Then cored, chopped and cooked them down in a mix of spices, sugar and lemon, before laying them out to cool on baking sheets.

Then it was back to the dough. I rolled 2 of my 4 rounds of dough out between parchment paper and then placed one in each pie pan, and poured in the apple filling. Each pie was then topped with another layer of crust.

It was well worth the effort, and I'm so glad I settled on the recipe outlined below from Cooks Illustrated. It was both easy to follow and produced a scrumptious pie with a lovely flaky crust filled with soft sweet apples.

deep dish apple pie
only slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated

makes one 9-inch pie, serving 8-10

pie pastry

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cold, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and frozen for 5 minutes
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/3 cup ice water, or more as needed

apple filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 1/2 pounds tart apples, about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices*
2 1/2 pounds sweet apples, about 5 medium, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices*
1 egg white, lightly beaten

for the pastry:
In a medium size bowl sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the chilled butter and using a pastry knife cut it into the flour mix until it is the size of peas. Be careful not to over mix.

Using a fork, mix the sour cream and 1/3 cup ice water in a small bowl until combined. Add half of the sour cream mixture to the flour mixture and mix together. Repeat with the remaining sour cream mixture. Pinch together the dough with fingers; if dough is floury, dry, and does not hold together, add 1 to 2 tablespoons ice water and mix until the dough forms large clumps and no dry flour remains.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface. Divide dough into 2 balls and flatten each into 4-inch disks; wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate until firm but not hard, 1 to 2 hours, before rolling.

for the pie:
Mix 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, zest, and cinnamon in large bowl; add apples and toss to combine. Transfer apples to large saute pan and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, until apples are tender when poked with a fork but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes (apples and juices should gently simmer during cooking). Transfer apples and juices to rimmed baking sheet and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. While apples cool, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place empty rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove 1 disk of dough from the refrigerator and roll out between 2 large sheets of parchment paper to a 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick (If dough becomes soft and/or sticky, return to refrigerator until firm). Remove parchment paper from one side of dough and flip onto 9-inch pie plate; peel off second layer of parchment. Working around the outside of the dough, ease dough into the plate by gently lifting edge of dough with one hand while pressing into plate bottom with other hand. Leave dough that overhangs plate in place; refrigerate until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, roll second disk of dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap to 12 inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick. refrigerate, leaving dough between parchment sheets until firm, about 30 minutes.

Set large colander over now-empty bowl; transfer cooled apples to colander. Shake colander to drain off as much juice as possible (cooked apples should measure about 8 cups); discard juice. Transfer apples to dough-lined pie plate; sprinkle with lemon juice.

Remove parchment from one side of remaining dough and flip dough onto apples; peel off second piece of parchment. Pinch edges of top and bottom dough rounds firmly together. Trim and seal edges of dough, then cut four 2-inch slits in top of dough. Brush surface with beaten egg white and sprinkle evenly with remaining teaspoon sugar.

Set pie on preheated baking sheet; bake until crust is dark golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer pie to wire rack and cool at least 1 1/2 hours. Cut into wedges and serve.

*For the tart apples I used Granny Smiths; Empires or Cortland's would also work, and for the sweet apples I used Jonagolds; Golden Delicious or Braeburns would also work well.

** I was so exhausted after a long run in the morning and an afternoon of pie making that I didn't get a photo of just a slice. Bummer...but it was full of apples and uber tasty...I assure you!

(photography by: alison clayshulte)

Oct 4, 2009

jam shortbread tart

A few days ago I made a wonderfully simple jam tart. This tart was for those who want something tasty and lovely, that is also super easy to pull together. It is also for those who don't have time for a classic pie crust. The crust is more of a shortbread, with a slight almond flavor and just a little crumb.

However, the crust becomes simply a means for highlighting whatever lovely jam that is cooked upon its top. With so many beautiful jams in the market right now I'm sure that you'll find a nice one. I was lucky enough to use homemade raspberry jam.

This was a nice and light tart which I will definitely make again, possibly mid-winter when I'm longing for the fresh flavors of summer fruit. Or as a quick dessert when friends are coming over as its super quick and nice and light. I enjoyed this with coffee and tea as well as below a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

jam shortbread tart
minimally adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper

zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup jam (I used raspberry, cherry or another berry would also work nicely)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round silver-colored cake or tart pan.

In a food processor grind the lemon zest and almonds. Add the flour, sugar, salt, egg-yolk, and almond extract. Pulse until everything is mixed and coming together. Scrape the mix into a medium size bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the mix, until it is the sizes of peas (it is better for the pea sizes to be larger rather than smaller for a crumblier crust).

Turn the dough out onto the pre-butter pan. Using a spatula or your fingers, spread it out to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes, or until its edges are golden and the center is starting to color.

Remove the pan from the oven, and turn up the heat to 500 degrees F. Carefully spread the jam over the tart so that it is fully covered. Immediately return it to the oven (don't wait for the oven temperature to reach 500). Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the jam is bubbly.

Cool the tart on a rack, slice into squares or wedges and serve. The tart can be served either warm or at room temperature. This will last for several days wrapped up well.

(photography by: alison clayshulte)