May 28th, 2009

cannolis!

cannolis

before i moved down to dc, i spent 4 years at school in baltimore. people say a lot of disparaging things about baltimore (most of which are based entirely on episodes of the wire), and granted, it did take a while for me to warm up to the city, but looking back it was a really incredible place to live. one of the things i miss most about baltimore is the food.

cannolis

there’s akbar, with its excellent all-you-can-eat lunch buffet that exposed me to all sorts of new indian dishes, and sterlings, a literal hole in the wall seafood joint near my old house that still stirs up hunger pangs when i think about their crab cake sandwiches. by the way, i lived just around the corner from charm city cakes, duff goldman’s bakery on the food network’s ace of cakes (we never got the nerve to actually go in).

cannolis

one of my fondest food memories is of vaccaro’s, an italian pastry shop located in the inner harbor’s little italy neighborhood. a two-story sit-down bakery and cafe, it’s a great place to end a night if you’re in the mood for authentic gelati or tiramisu. if you want the most for your money though, go on a monday night, where $12.95 will get you ALL YOU CAN EAT AND DRINK (alcohol excluded)

cannolis

the game wasn’t merely to see if you could eat $12.95 worth of desserts, coffees, smoothies and gelati (that could be achieved in about 15 minutes). the real fun came from seeing just how far we could go in the 3 hours they give you to order. my personal best was somewhere between $30 and $40, but i watched others approach $60 in eclairs, amaretti cookies, cheesecake, and yes, cannolis.

cannolis

luckily vaccaro’s has a branch here in dc, although it’s just a stand in the union station food court. still, i can satisfy my cravings if need be.

cannolis

cannolis

but the only thing better than buying a fresh cannoli is making one of your own. and get this – it’s really not as hard as you think! most recipes i found for the cannoli filling included some kind of flavoring with the ricotta. after making a batch of orange-tinged filling, i made another batch with nothing but ricotta and a touch of confectioner’s sugar. i definitely preferred the more stripped down filling, but then again, i could probably just eat a tub of ricotta for dinner and be happy.

cannolis

the hardest part of the whole process is getting the dough really thin, and this is where a pasta roller could come in handy. but i didn’t let that small snag keep me from enjoying more than one of these cannolis.

cannolis

one last thing: i’m going to be running in a 5k on june 6 to benefit the susan g. komen breast cancer foundation. i would be eternally humbled if you could be generous enough to sponsor me, even if it’s just a few pennies. every dollar really does count, so you can click here and hit the “donate to pete” button  to donate if you are so inclined. thank you!

cannolis

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May 25th, 2009

pain de campagne

pain de campagne

not only has it been a while since i last posted (sorry), it’s been a long while since i’ve made bread from scratch (double sorry). i had convinced myself that i would try to make fresh bread each week so i could stop buying it from the grocery store, but it’s proven harder to keep up than i thought.

pain de campagne

luckily, baking bread is like riding a bike in that the old mixing, kneading and shaping methods become instantly familiar again once you dive in. it felt good to be throwing flour all over the counter again and making a giant mess.

pain de campagne

i was lucky to get a few brotforms for my birthday and this seemed like a great opportunity to test one out. a brotform is essentially a bowl with ridges that helps shape and create designs on the dough during the final proofing. since these pieces of dough were pretty small, the effect was less dramatic than i had hoped, but it looked cool nonetheless. next time i need to remember to dust the inside of the brotform with whole wheat flour instead of unbleached white, because the whole wheat is much easier to get out. afterward. susan at wild yeast blog has a must-read tutorial on brotforms that i consulted more than once.

pain de campagne

oooh, see how pretty?

pain de campagne

here i tried another technique where you snip the top of the dough with kitchen shears to make the whole thing look like a hedgehog. i had never done it before, but i think it’s usually reserved for smaller dinner rolls instead of entire loaves. oh well!

pain de campagne

after a long day of apartment hunting (more on that later), it felt great to open the oven to find these beauties ready to be sliced and slathered with butter or sweet pea puree – delicious! pain de campagne is an all-purpose french bread (literally countryside bread) that has no one single recipe – it allows for a lot of experimentation using different fours and rising methods,  so it’s a good way to play around and learn.

pain de campagne

the hedgehog bread came out looking and tasting great, but those spikes were surprisingly sharp. like cut your finger/mouth open sharp. i may have to refine my technique next time.

pain de campagne

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May 8th, 2009

rhubarb tart with orange glaze

rhubarb tart

can we all agree that winter dragged on for far too long this year? in dc, we’ve been eagerly awaiting spring, but instead we skipped straight to summer – literally a 40 degree temperature change over one week. at this point, it’s easier to just accept the weather.

rhubarb tart

the only problem is, skipping over spring means less time to find delicious rhubarb. to be honest, i’d only used rhubarb one time before this, in a traditional strawberry rhubarb pie, but earlier this week i had the pleasure of guest-judging a foodie fight where the ingredients were rhubarb and coriander, so my eyes have been opened to some more creative preparation.

rhubarb tart

but i love sweets, so i had to try this tart with an orange glaze that ended up being so good, after a huge dinner and swearing we would only split a piece, it disappeared in a matter of minutes. it’s sweet without being cloying, and tempered perfectly by the puff pastry. the only drawback is that the glaze is incredibly sticky, so be careful you don’t, say, drop a piece sticky side down on yourself. i suggest enjoying this tart on your front stoop (if you’ve got one), watching the last minutes of sunlight dip below the horizon on a warm spring/summer evening. romantic, eh?

rhubarb tart

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