Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rugelach and Other Holiday Delights

Hanukkah is over already, but for a Gentile like me, Rugelach never goes out of style during the holiday season. I have been making Ina Garten’s version of this rich cookie for the last four years. Cream cheese gives the dough a nice tang, and the insides are crammed full of apricot preserves, nuts and cinnamon-sugar. I even toss in a handful of mini chocolate chips for good measure. When the dough is mixed together with a purposeful (yet light) hand, these cookies will puff up in the oven, creating flaky layers of goodness.

I made eight dozen last week, and delivered them to the awesome neighbors on our block who have made us feel so welcome in our new hometown. I also made some for my utterly adorable Greek landlady, Sophia. Not to be outdone, however, as I handed her a little cellophane bag filled with Rugelach, she presented us with a GIANT platter of her homemade Greek pastries: honey-soaked Melomakarona, Kourabiedes, and of course, Baklava.

The baklava was positively sumptuous, perfumed with orange flower water. Swoon. “Just a little something,” she said, grinning from ear to ear as she accepted my gratuitous thank-you’s. (Have I mentioned that I adore this woman? Not just because of the frequent offerings of authentic comfort food, but also because she insists on calling me by my full (Greek) name, Alexandra. And when she does this, she rolls the “dr,” making me sound decidedly exotic.)

While I have yet to camp out in Sophia’s kitchen to bask in her culinary aura, I am posting the still delicious recipe for the Barefoot Contessa’s Rugelach. It would be a perfect cookie to lay out for Santa Claus, a nice departure from overly iced sugar cookies that tend to prevail the night.

To the hungry masses out there in the blogosphere, I wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday season. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Rugelach (from Barefoot Contessa Parties!)
Makes 4 Dozen

(Garten notes that these cookies, once assembled, can be frozen and then baked in small batches as you want them. This has worked for me quite successfully in the past.)

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
½ pound unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup granulated sugar plus 9 tablespoons
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ cup raisins (I prefer to substitute the same amount of dried tart cherries, chopped)
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
½ cup apricot preserves, pureed in a food processor
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

1. Cream the cheese and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Add ¼ cup granulated sugar, the salt and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix until just combined.
2. Dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface and roll into a ball. Cut the ball into quarters, wrap each piece in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
3. To make the filling, combine 6 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, the brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, the raisins and the walnuts in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. On a well-floured surface, roll each ball of dough into a 9-inch circle. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons of preserves and sprinkle with ½ cup filling. Press the filling lightly into the dough. Cut the circle into 12 equal wedges—cutting the whole circle into quarters, then each quarter into thirds. Starting with the wide edge, roll up each wedge. Place the cookies, points tucked under, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill for 30 minutes.
5. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
6. Brush each cookie with the egg wash. Combine 3 tablespoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon and sprinkle on the cookies. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.

[NOTE: Do not even think about making these cookies without parchment paper, unless you want a molten sugar mess and many broken cookies. Also, remove the cookies from the parchment to a wire rack to cool within a few minutes of pulling them out of the oven. If you let these cookies cool on the parchment, you run a very high risk of the cookies sticking, which will mean shreds of paper on the bottoms of the cookies. Yucky.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

East Meets Midwest- Bi Bim Bob (Bi Bim Bap)

I love our new digs in Denver, Colorado. Sure, it’s barely December and we’ve had two major snow storms—but every time I drive around town running errands, I’m guaranteed amazing views of the Rockies. But this blog isn’t about the weather or the view.

Let’s face it—I was spoiled in Ann Arbor. I wrote for a food magazine that regularly allowed me to eat well above my station, rubbing elbows with talented chefs and local farmers and culinary artisans. What’s more, my constant cravings for Korean food could be satisfied by driving in any direction.

Not so here in the Mile High City. Here, I am just another underemployed stiff with an eating habit I cannot afford. And Korean restaurants are nowhere near my neighborhood. Though I am carving out a new place in my heart for Vietnamese food, particularly phở, I still need my fix of spicy Korean stews bubbling away in iron pots, cute little bowls of Korean side dishes, and of course, Bi Bim Bap. What’s a girl to do?

She decides to start making her own Korean food at home, that’s what. I am starting with Bi Bim Bap, a dish that basically means “mixed rice.” It’s such a comforting dish, and can be modified to accommodate any picky eater who cringes over the intense heat of many Korean dishes. The real deal is dolsot bibimbap, which is served in a stone pot. The pot is superheated and coated with a bit of oil at the bottom, crisping up the bottom layer of rice…oooh, I shiver with delight. I could survive without the stone pot, but needed to search out some of the more authentic ingredients. On top of that, I combed the web for a recipe closest to what I enjoyed regularly at BeWon, a little Korean restaurant in my old ‘hood. I found my recipe (and a new culinary goddess to worship) on the blog Maangchi. With clear, pleasant instructional videos, this Korean living in New York shares her ability and traditional recipes with all of us wannabes.

I followed her recipe to the letter, with the exception of adding a little Country Bob’s All Purpose sauce to the seasoned meat. The sauce, which I came to love while serving time in Southern Illinois, lent a subtle flavor of Korean Barbecue to the dish, which scored very well with my hubby.

Aside from actually eating the dish, most of the fun came in finding all the ingredients at H-Mart, which is basically the Super Wal-Mart of Asian stores. I’ll say no more because the magic of H-Mart may very well be its own post one of these days. The trickiest ingredient to find was kosari, or dried fern bracken. Sound kind of nasty? Well, it was. While it was fun to experiment with the kosari as directed by Maangchi, the process of reconstituting the bracken in boiling water and soaking it overnight COMPLETELY STUNK UP MY KITCHEN. And not in a good way, either. For roughly twelve hours, my house smelled like a moldy gym sock.

(Kosari dried (left), and after boiling and overnight soaking (right))

But when all the ingredients came together, my kitchen smelled amazing, and the dish was a complete success. It tasted just as complex and well flavored as the B3 that I enjoy out, and even though it was a tad labor intensive I will definitely make it again.