Daring Bakers’ challenge: Pomegranate Crostata

November 27, 2010 § 18 Comments

I spent the day with my good friend K., who I’ve known for many years, maybe a good 8, although I’m not quite sure, time is flying and I tend not to litter my memories with facts and figures. It’s just one big Proust-like stream of consciousness that delights at odd, unplanned times. I’m afraid that if I catalogued happy memories, I’d access them to the point of rendering them mundane. So it is. My friend and I came together to catch up and engage in a bit of consumerism this Black Friday. To kick off the day I hosted a brief tea at my home and served mini crostatas, layered with cream cheese and pomegranate puree. I am very lucky to have received a visit from my pomegranate fairy C. (thanks C.!!) recently. So, I will be infusing everything with the fruit for a couple of weeks to come.

I was recently visited by the pomegranate fairy, C.

The crostatas were inspired by this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge, which incidentally is due, so to speak, today! The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

My crostata shells, which I blind-baked before filling w. cream cheese and pomegranate puree and a 2nd baking session

The tart recipes Simona provided were with eggs, so I had to make a few substitutions to my own recipe, because any of you who follow the Veggie Test Kitchen know that I am obsessed with making tarts. I altered my classic tart recipe by simply adding powdered sugar, lemon zest and vanilla extract. I am not a big fan of sweet pastry crusts, so I added only 1/4 cup of the sugar.

The star of this crostata (Italian for ‘tart’) was the pomegranate puree I used as the top layer. This was an experiment that consisted of blending pomegranate seeds. I bet on the idea that blending long enough would pulverize the seeds. That didn’t exactly happen. During my attempt to strain the mush I ended up with a small shot of pure pomegranate liquid that I surely couldn’t bake. So, I drank it. And it was so much better than the bottles of ‘pure’ Pomegranate juice that I usually buy. I saw the leftover mush and thought, great, good as jam, right? Wrong, somewhat anyway. The seeds weren’t so bad (they survived largely crushed), and the crostata was great! I will have to figure out a way to really pulverize the seeds for the future. Other than that, I’d say this was a hit. The classic Italian crostata is made with a layer of fruit preserves much like my attempt here. I like the idea, and am glad to have added it to my tart repertoire.

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Goat cheese and Pomegranate Bread Pudding

November 16, 2010 § 8 Comments

This idea came to me last night upon opening the door to the refrigerator (really) and seeing all the wonderful stuff newly stocked. I was fishing for something I generally keep in the door and noticed that the butter compartment was filled w. wonton wrappers and that I had a few pounds of butter scattered in random places throughout the interior!! So, two of the first things I spotted were a big hunk of goat cheese and a container of pomegranate seeds. Yum, what could I do with these I thought. Then I closed the door, and noticed the sour dough bread. Done.

And so here we are. Cooking in the mornings isn’t something I normally do these days, but since all the best light has been jam-packed into a few early hours, I’m learning to shift my experimental habits to earlier in the day. Although, my kitchen-ing habits have waned recently, as you can tell by the dearth of posts. I was recently inspired to get back to cooking (don’t I always say this!!) after reading up on Heidi Swanson, the author of 101cookbooks.com. In one of her interviews she says that new cooks should devote time to trying out new recipes regularly, presumably before the process of inspiration hits. I’m lucky to have bouts of inspiration, as infrequent as they are, after only a few short months mulling around a kitchen. But to get better, I’ve picked up some cookbooks and have plans to experiment with homemade chocolates (who knows maybe someday I’ll be good enough to buy molds to package treats for my friends!).

Goat cheese and Pomegranate Bread Pudding
(makes one individual serving using a 4.5″ individual pan, scale up accordingly)

-3 slices of sour dough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-1/6 cup of pomegranate seeds
-2 tsps maple syrup, the good stuff, never skimp on the maple syrup!!
-1/2 cup of milk/soy milk
-2 tsps goat cheese, crumbled
-1 tsp butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease your baking dish. Add the bread cubes.

In a bowl, or measuring cup (as pictured), mash your pomegranate seeds with the back of a spoon. This should result in just enough juice to turn the bread pudding ‘sauce’ pink/purple later on. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like a lot. Add the milk/soy-milk, maple syrup, goat cheese, and butter. Mix until the ingredients are incorporated and the goat cheese is largely mixed in. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes. Be sure to coat each piece of bread, otherwise you will end up with burnt bread! I like to then press the bread cubes in my hand to make sure each piece is absorbing the mixture like a sponge. Then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is lightly brown. 

A vegetarian friend is hosting Thanksgiving at her home this year. My friend B. and I are planning to bring a slew of desserts using my new tart pans!!! Or maybe my spinach mac ‘n cheese??!! Maybe both, who knows. I am working on three different tart fillings. My new baking obsession has me so excited about Thanksgiving this year. I’m disappointed it’s still ten days away, but I plan to test one of the tarts on my French group this week, so I should be posting a sneak peek. I am curious, what are your plans for dessert on Thanksgiving?

Coconut Macaroons

November 9, 2010 § 8 Comments

Coconut macaroons, finished product

I tend to like my desserts less sweet, and almost bordering on savoury (hence my obsession with tarts). However, for the sake of expanding my range of baking knowledge, I made these macaroons for the first time a few months ago. While I was practically indifferent to them (and as a result ended up giving most away), I received rave reviews. Go figure. So, for a recent celebration of exchanged desserts I was asked to make the macaroons, and so I did (even though I would have preferred to make a tart!!).

For those of you scared of baking, know that these are incredibly easy to make and almost hard to ruin. I’m more of a hybrid baker-cook, so following directions to a T isn’t really my thing. I like to have a roadmap but improvise along the way. As a result, I end up excelling, I guess, at baking items that don’t require absolute precision. This is one of those items. Classic macaroons are a different story, but the coconut variety just require 4 ingredients (5 if you count salt), a fork, bowl, oven and baking sheet. Very simple.

Coconut Macaroons
(makes two full size baking sheets)

-1/4 cup of flour
-2.5 cups of shredded coconut
-1 can of sweetened condensed milk
-1/8 tsp vanilla extract
-1/8 tsp salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients in a large bowl, combining the dry ingredients first. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the bottoms show golden brown (it will be very apparent).

Note: be very careful if you plan to use a dark or black baking sheet. I wouldn’t use a black baking sheet at all. The bottoms almost certainly will burn. Another issue of importance is using a surface that won’t cause the macaroons to stick. The last time I made these I used wax paper as a buffer between the baking sheet and macaroons. But this didn’t solve the problem entirely, as I was still left with a few messes across my batches. This time I was lucky to have my new silicon baking pads, which are amazing. They require no cooking spray, wax paper, etc. and the macaroons slipped off easily.

what the macaroons should look like before going into the oven

Mini pizza tarts

November 5, 2010 § 17 Comments

Half of my CSN order came in this week, so I tested out some of my new tools. Since I’ve been making too many sweet, buttery tarts these days, I decided to make something savoury and somewhat healthy, or less fatty I should say… So, this is a mini pizza tart, with the inspiration being a Chicago deep-dish style pizza.

multigrain biscuit dough base

Instead of the butter-heavy tart dough, I used a multigrain pancake mix to whip up a biscuit dough as the base.

topped w. a layer of homemade bruschetta

I then added a layer of homemade bruschetta and topped it all off w. shredded mozzarella and finely chopped mushrooms.

final product

I know I’ve been a bit lax with the posting. I’ve been making tons of stuff, but have just fallen out of the habit of photographing and chatting up the ideas. I just have my head in other things at the moment, and am hoping to be back at it soon.

Apple French Toast Cups (Vegan)

September 25, 2010 § 6 Comments

Apple french toast cups

Just in time for Saturday morning breakfast!!… I’ve been seeing a lot of bread pudding postings these days. They look so gooey and wonderful, and since I’ve never tried bread pudding, I thought I’d take a shot at it. I came up a bit short of pudding, and instead was left with a variation on french toast, which I love anyway, so my taste sensations were still very happy with the result. It was kind of a french toast cup, a less fattening version of bread pudding I suppose, and I used a high grade maple syrup instead of sugar, because I’m all about lowering the sugar intake wherever you can …and, with apples layered in, because it’s always a good idea to stick a fruit in a dessert so that you can get your 5-a-day!! I already have some ideas about how to redo this, making it more custard-y.

Apple French Toast Cups
(double this recipe to make 6 individual cups)

5 slices of bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I like to mix whole wheat and sourdough)
1 apple (cut into small cubes)
1 cup of soy milk
1 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp of high grade maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 cup of chopped walnuts for topping
Earth balance (enough to coat the cups, and also to sautee the apples)

In a frying pan, sautee the cubed apples in melted butter. Add the brown sugar. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, cinnamon, maple syrup and vanilla extract.

Butter the individual cups. Layer half of the cubed bread on the bottom of the cups. Add a layer of the sauteed apple (as pictured). Finish with a final layer of bread cubes. Pour the liquid mixture into the cups and top with the crushed walnuts. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

The reasons that this doesn’t quite turn into bread pudding fall to two major categories:
1) Lack of custard-y filling. My idea for redo-ing this is to add maybe 4 tbsps of instant vanilla pudding in place of the eggs.
2) The baking method. Here I didn’t bake my cups in a water bath. That’s the shortcut that makes this easier to execute.

This is a less fattier version of true bread pudding, but that is a result of the vegan ingredients. I believe that if the instant pudding works as I expect it will, the difference where fat content is concerned will be minimal.

Chilo: Savory breakfast pancake (Vegan)

September 12, 2010 § 3 Comments

Chilo & hash

Chilo is a popular breakfast item in India. It’s a savory pancake made with graham flour, the whole wheat variety used to make graham crackers. It’s a good substitute for the omelette breakfast element. My sweet tooth prefers a french toast or fruit pancake anyday, but supplemented w. a side of fruit and veggie infused hash, it makes for a healthy breakfast.

To make it, you simply mix the ‘pancake’ mixture (graham flour, touch of salt, baking powder) w. water and your veggies, and proceed to cook as you would a pancake. Bear in mind that the graham flour is much thicker than pancake batter, so if your chilo is laid on a frying pan too thick the center may be raw despite exhibiting the appearance of having been thoroughly cooked (browned, crunchy sides, etc.).  

Interesting side note, graham flour was named after Sylvester Graham who was one of the earliest U.S. proponents of the vegetarian diet, which he promoted back in the 1830’s. He went on to establish the American Vegetarian Society in 1850. Graham flour is  a combination of separately ground white flour and wheat bran and germ.

French toast + Homemade hash (Vegan)

August 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

This is a very easy Saturday breakfast to throw together (I employ a major shortcut on the hash). French toast was one of my favorite items, breakfast or otherwise, back when I ate eggs. Now, you can find a great vegan version at Herbivore in SF. Trying that dish sparked my interest in finding a recipe so that I could have it at home all the time! After doing a bit of research I came up with the following. The homemade hash along w. a side of fruit rounds out the meal to make it a nice sit-down weekend breakfast to enjoy w. the paper and a slow cup of tea. This breakfast recipe serves two people.

Vegan french toast:
-4 slices of sourdough bread
-1.5 cups of vanilla soy milk
-2 tbsp all purpose flour
-1 tsp sugar
-pinch of cinnamon

Mix the soy milk, sugar, cinnamon and flour in a bowl wide enough for soaking the bread. Lay the bread flat in the liquid mixture. Soak both sides. Cook in an oiled non-stick frying pan on medium heat until both sides are golden brown.

Homemade hash:
-2 cups frozen round hashbrowns thawed
-1.5 tbsps finely chopped white onion
-1/2 tsp minced green chile
-1 clove minced garlic
-1 roma tomato chopped into small cubes
-1 tsp finely chopped cilantro
-salt and pepper to taste

In an oiled frying pan cook the garlic, green chile and onion on medium heat until lightly brown. Add the thawed hashbrown rounds. Break up the hashbrowns. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the chopped tomato. Stir for two-three minutes. Add cilantro then serve.

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