Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reduced Fat (but not for the reason you think) Pear Anise Biscotti

Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? If you recall, our heroine tastes Father Bear’s porridge and finds it too hot; Mother Bear’s porridge is too cold, but Baby Bear’s porridge is just right. Similarly, Father Bear’s bed is too hard; Mother Bear’s bed is too soft, but Baby Bear’s bed is so comfortable that… well, you get the point. If you peruse the vast reaches of the Internet for biscotti recipes, they seem to fall into two distinct classes: Father Bear and Mother Bear Biscotti. Father Bear biscotti do not use butter, resulting in a hard, dry product. Definitely crunchy (and arguably a more genuine option), but sometimes leaving you with the impression that your teeth have broken off with each bite. On the other hand, Mother Bear Biscotti use about 4oz of butter for every 2 cups of flour; these tend to be softer, almost cake-like and not unpleasant by any means – but somehow lacking that satisfying dense texture and crunch.
With this in mind I set out to make Baby Bear Biscotti – crunchy, but not rock hard. I wish I could say that there is some subtle, clever trick to these, but it turns out to be pretty obvious: if you use just 2oz butter to every 2 cups of flour, they turn out fine. So here is the recipe for reduced (but not zero) fat biscotti. You can, of course, adapt this to use your favorite flavorings; I took inspiration from a very tasty pear tart with anise that we made a few months back.
2c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 oz butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
1 cup dried pear, diced (about 6-8 pear halves)
1 tsp anise, ground in a mortar and pestle or spice mill
Preheat the oven to 350 ºF. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and ground anise in a bowl. Soften the butter and cut into small pieces. Using a stand or hand mixer, combine the butter and two sugars and cream together until smooth. Beat the eggs, mix them with the vanilla essence and gradually add to the butter/sugar, stirring continuously to incorporate the egg. Keep mixing on slow speed and add the flour mixture, about 1/4 cup at a time, until well incorporated. Mix in the pear (using a spatula or by hand; the dough will be quite stiff), then turn out the ball of dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two, then shape each half into a long bar, each about 12-14” long and 2” wide.
Place the bars on a large (nonstick or buttered) cookie sheet at least 3” apart and bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly brown. Remove from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 325 ºF. After a few minutes, move the bars to a board and cut diagonally into ~1/2” slices. Return the sliced biscotti to the cookie sheet (cut side down) and bake for 8 minutes, then turn them over and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Not So Hotto Risotto

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.
When we initially saw this challenge we were a bit nervous, since one of us just doesn’t like risotto. (The other half of Monkeyshines in the Kitchen has no such aversion, so there was at least some reason to take on the challenge). Nevertheless, we embarked on the challenge with enthusiasm; unfortunately, it just didn’t really come together for us.
We found some really nice mushrooms at our local Farmers’ market, which inspired us to make a mushroom risotto. We usually buy some sort of mushroom from these folks (Far West Fungi) every week, and the risotto offered us the opportunity to try some varieties that we don’t normally use.
We ended up with -
tree oysters: mushrooms_0012

pioppini: mushrooms_0008

black trumpets:mushrooms_0015

- and finally some regular brown and white field mushrooms to make the stock. We started on the stock by roasting some onion, carrot and celery in the oven, until they were soft and just starting to get charred. We also sautéed the field mushrooms, then simmered all of the vegetables over a low heat for a couple of hours to give a light brown broth.
It was mushroomy and good; we purposely under-seasoned the broth so as not to make the final risotto too salty: however, in the final analysis I think that inadequate seasoning may have been one of the main problems with our creation.
We used Arborio rice and followed the challenge recipe – first coating the rice and onions in oil, then gradually adding the stock, making sure it was fully absorbed after each ladleful. The tree oysters, pioppini and some of the black trumpets were sautéed first, then added to the rice near the end of the cooking time.
Top left: Mushroom medley; top right: mushroom broth
Bottom left: rice and onions; bottom right: sautéed mushrooms

The final product certainly looked the part, with separate yet saucy grains of rice. We served it with some additional sautéed black trumpets on top and a few shavings of parmesan cheese. The taste? Unfortunately, even the risotto-loving Monkey found it to be a bit bland, and the texture wasn’t quite right – the rice seemed to be cooked all the way through, but didn’t have that soft creaminess that characterizes really good risotto.
Oh well – onwards and upwards. To Eleanor and Jess – honestly, this was a really good idea for a challenge, sorry we didn’t really do it justice.