Monday, January 26, 2009

Sundays in the Kitchen

My husband F says I can't relax. But I think he and I just relax differently. While he is able to sit in one place for hours and read or watch football, I like to wander the city, poking in shops and stopping in coffeehouses. While he is able to sleep in on Sundays, I like to get up early so my weekend lasts longer. While he is happy spending a whole day inside with the kitties, I go stir-crazy and start cleaning or cooking or organizing my books.

Today is Sunday and I've been relaxing in the kitchen since 9am. So far, I have relaxed by making Buttermilk Oatmeal Pancakes, Prosciutto and
Gruyère Pinwheels, and Curried Squash-and-Pear Bisque. Still ahead: Apple Puff Pastry Tart and a loaf of Cranberry Quickbread with Raisins and Hazelnuts.

What could be more relaxing than a Sunday in the kitchen? I've spent the whole day in my pajamas, as you can see in the photo above. I added the apron just for effect; my flannel pants are already dusted with flour and
Gruyère. Despite the title of this blog, what you see there is my preferred kitchen attire, wool socks and all.

I've dedicated this Sunday to cooking for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's Soup and Bread Day. Every Sunday for the last few months, I have made a big pot of soup and a loaf of bread that I bring to work for lunch all week. The soup is really just an excuse to have a big hunk of bread, so the two recipes don't necessarily have to go together. So far, I have made banana bread, carrot cornbread, almond cornbread, cranberry-hazelnut bread, harvest bread, apple-rosemary bread, whole-wheat raisin bread and sage dinner rolls. Today is
bisque and quickbread day.

Tonight is also my monthly supper club dinner, and we are making a puff pastry feast. The main course is Beef Wellington and I am bringing one of the sides:
Prosciutto and Gruyère Pinwheels, a recipe from Gourmet:

Prosciutto and Gruyère Pinwheels
Yield: Makes about 40 Pinwheels
3/4 cup finely grated
Gruyère (about 3 ounces)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 puff pastry sheet (from one 17 3/4-ounce package frozen puff pastry sheets) thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto

I decided to halve the recipe, since I doubt that eight girls, no matter how much they love food, will be able to eat 40 pinwheels on top of two other sides, the Wellington, and two puff desserts. And I don't want leftovers floating around the house, since I would eat them all.

My relaxing Sunday in the kitchen began, as usual, when F and I woke up around 9:00. I got breakfast started while he went down the street for coffee. This morning, I made Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes from
Cooking Light for F and plain oatmeal for myself (I will be feasting on puff pastry this evening, after all). After breakfast, I started on the Pinwheels.

The puff pastry needed to thaw for 40 minutes, so I laid it to rest on the counter while I prepared the rest of the ingredients:
Grated the cheese and chopped the sage:
After 40 minutes had passed, I placed the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface with the long edge facing me.Then brushed lightly beaten egg across the top inch of the sheet and added a thin layer of prosciutto, leaving the eggy inch free.
And sprinkled the cheese and sage over the prosciutto.Then, starting with the non-eggy side, rolled the pastry sheet into a log, wrapped it in parchment paper, and placed it
(seam-side down) in the fridge to chill for three hours.1:00pm
Since I only made half of the Pinwheels recipe, and the pastry dough package warns against refreezing the dough once it has been thawed, I decided to make a dessert for F (I often make him desserts, so I can enjoy them vicariously). A quick search on led to a recipe for an apple tart from Bon Appetit. I halved the recipe, so my tart was more of a breakfast pastry than a full dessert tart.

First, I brushed an inch of each side with lightly beaten egg and folded the sides to make a raised edge. Then, I made 1/2-inch-long cuts
spaced a 1/2-inch apart all around pastry edge and scored the center with short strokes.
Technically, the recipe says to spread apricot preserves over the center of the pastry. As this was a last-minute recipe and I didn't have apricot preserves, I threw caution to the wind and used orange marmalade, chunks and all. Next, I arranged the apple slices over the marmalade. Since I didn't have a Golden Delicious apple, I used the Braeburn apple I had on hand, feeling very Top Chef-like in my resourcefulness. The recipe calls for the apples to be arranged "in 3 rows, overlapping apples and fitting tightly together." There didn't seem to be enough space in this little pastry for three rows of apples, even if they were overlapping, so I just made up my own pattern, below. Lastly, I brushed each edge with egg, and sprinkled cinnamon and sugar over the entire thing. Then into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.
While the tart was in the oven, I puréed the Curried Squash-and-Pear Bisque from Cooking Light that had been simmering on the stove for the last hour. F was a good sport and waited patiently for his lunch while I artfully arranged the soup and French bread and took a half-dozen photos, shifting everything this way and that until I achieved the desired effect.
I love this soup. It's thick and creamy and sweet, and very filling. It's the best recipe I have found so far in my ongoing experimentation with cubicle lunch soups (see the previous post about the vastly disappointing parsnip soup, also from Cooking Light). And it's a pretty color, which definitely counts for something. A few weeks ago I tried a Pacific-brand mushroom soup that tasted fine, but was a milky gray that gave my co-workers pause when they entered my cubicle. It's never a good sign when people gasp in horror at your lunch.

By the time F and I finished lunch, the apple tart was baked to a golden brown. The crust was flaky and the center was bubbling and steaming.

Poor F. His face fell when I gently took his dessert from his hands before he could take a bite and ruin the aesthetic. Again, he waited patiently while I arranged the tart on a variety of plates on two different tablecloths and took a dozen photographs. It was worth the wait. F proclaimed this tart better than the shrink-wrapped apple strudel from 7-Eleven. High praise, indeed! I took a little bite in the interest of journalism, and it was pretty delicious. The marmalade ended up being a great substitution for the apricot; the citrus added a nice twist to the tart apple.2:00pm
My Pinwheel log was still chilling, and now that I had the bisque for my lunches, it was time for the bread. My current favorite is
Cooking Light Cranberry Quickbread with Raisins and Hazelnuts. It's moist and dense, and the hazelnuts add a distinctive richness. Below: the flour mix, the wet mix, the golden raisins, chopped cranberries, and hazelnuts, all ready to go.
And as if by magic, the loaf fresh from the oven:3:30pm
At last, it's time to bake the Pinwheels. I cut the log into 1/2-inch slices and set them 1 inch apart on a baking sheet.
After 15 minutes in the oven, here is how they came out:
They didn't really puff, but I'd like to think that's a minor detail. The sage really makes this recipe. It threatens to overwhelm the
Gruyère, but only just, so the effect is a sweep of earthy sage followed by the subtler flavors of salty prosciutto and sweet, nutty Gruyère. The pastry soaks up most of the cheese, so the outside is crispy and flaky while the inside inside is soft and a little chewy. Next time, I might take these out of the oven just a minute or two sooner, but all in all, this delicious two-bite hors d'oeuvre was a successful first venture into the realm of puff.

The Pinwheels were well received this evening. They were devoured within ten minutes, followed by a second hors d'ouevre of Spinach and Parmesan Puff Pastry Cups, the main course of Beef Wellington with a side of Asparagus Puff Pastry Torte, and two desserts: Puff Pastry Cookies so dense with butter they were more like shortbread (with accompanying homemade whipped cream), and Banana-Rum Napoleon with homemade whipped cream and caramel sauce. And now I'm off to lie in bed with my belly in the air.

That is what I call a relaxing Sunday!

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