Bologna to Bolognese: Adventures With Food

Food is necessary. Food is fun. Food is an adventure!

My name is Shannon and this is my adventure, my love affair with food.

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Potentate of Pastries: The King Cake

Years ago my husband went on a business trip to New Orleans and ever since he has been dying to go back. He brought back loads of beads and stories of great music, atmosphere and of course the wonderful foods. One of which was the iconic King cake. With Fat Tuesday right around the corner New Orleans bakeries continue to furiously turn out these rich yeasty goodies and when an office party presented me with the opportunity to try to make one myself I took up the challenge!

Having never eaten King Cake before I had to lean heavily on the experiences of my coworkers who had, and luckily they also found a great recipe from Chef Emeril Lagasse for me to follow.

As always I made a few adjustments to the original which you can find here:

Mostly though I stayed true to the recipe and it turned out to be quite a success. I hope you are as willing to try this desert so rich in tradition and ingredients.

King Cake

(15-22 servings)

2 envelopes active dry yeast(4 1/2 tsp)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup warm milk (about 110°F)
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
4 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature 
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1 tbsp honey
crushed pecans to taste (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp milk


3 cups confectioner's sugar
1 plastic king cake baby or a pecan half
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Purple-, green-, and gold-tinted sugar sprinkles


In a microwave safe bowl roughly cut the butter and melt in the microwave in 30 second increments until the butter is melted when it is about halfway done add the milk and continue until the butter is melted and the milk is warm but not hot. Add the yeast and some of the sugar and allow to proof. (This takes about 5-10 minutes). I mix all my yeast breads by hand, but you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook if you like.  In a large mixing bowl combine the rest of the dry ingredients and the lemon zest. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks. Add the yeast mixture and mix until all ingredients are well combined and the soft dough starts to pull away from the side of the bowl. I reserved the last 1/2 cup of flour to incorporate as I kneaded the dough just enough to make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients. Place the dough in a covered, well oiled bowl in a warm place away from drafts, and allow to rise until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of the confectioner's sugar, honey, pecans, and vanilla. (I also added a pinch of ground cloves because I find it adds a compelling flavor to sweet baked goods). Blend by hand or with an electric mixer on low speed. Set aside.
Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

Halve the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using your fingers, pat one half out into a rectangle. Spread the filling lengthwise over the bottom half of the dough, then flip the top half of the dough over the filling. Seal the edges, pinching the dough together. Roll the second half into a long rope and gently braid the two together shaping it into a circle and placing it on the prepared baking sheet seam side down. (Be very careful when handling the filled half of the dough as the dough is not as elastic as many yeast breads and tears easily). Pinch the ends together so there isn't a seam. Insert the king cake baby or pecan half into the ring from the bottom so that it is completely hidden by the dough.

Cover the ring with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Brush the top of the risen cake with the milk. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
Make the icing. Combine the lemon juice, and the remaining 2 cups confectioner's sugar in medium-size mixing bowl. Stir to blend well. With a rubber spatula, spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake. Sprinkle with the sugar crystals, alternating colors around the cake.

The cake was a hit at our office party and I have requests for more in the future so I would say this was an experiment well worth the effort! A few things to consider though. Try to make sure your ring is large enough that the center will not fill in as it rises the second time. Mine was too tight and the very center of the cake was not as done as I would have liked and I felt the outer portion had begun to get a bit dry. This is something you could easily make a day ahead because I think it got better on the second day. Most of all just have fun, and remember to tell whoever gets the "baby" that the next cake is on them!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Perfect Pot Roast

For many, including myself, the wonderful film "Julie & Julia" was inspirational.  It introduced me to a medium for sharing my cooking adventures, this very blog. For others it inspired a desire to attempt foods they and many others considered intimidating. (I mean really after watching Julie tackle the duck deboning you almost have to feel you can conquer the world!) The film reminded many of the fun of seeing Julia Child in action on her groundbreaking cooking show and introduced a whole new generation to her culinary trailblazing and passion for great food.

As my blog has continued to develop this past year I have taken on many interesting dishes but there is one simple dish that I still felt needed work. That most traditional of entrees, the pot roast. 

My pot roast has always been nice but I had never reached that perfect fall apart, juicy and moist perfection. Until now.

This year for Christmas my husband bought me a number of cookbooks including " Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. Page after page is filled with delectable main dishes that make you salivate as you read them and when I flipped to the section on Piece de Boeuf Braisee (Braised Beef Pot Roast to those of us with weak French skills) I knew I had to try it.  I had seen an almost identical recipe in her book "The Way to Cook" and since it incorporated tomatoes and left out some of the pieces I felt would be difficult to come by (split calves feet, and cracked veal knuckles) I used it, but either will do nicely.

Pot Roast of Beef

(serves 10 to 12)

5-pound fully-trimmed bottom round of beef
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh olive oil 
2 to 3 cups young red wine such as zinfandel or Chianti
1 cup each chopped carrots and onions
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 to 3 cups beef stock, plus more if needed
1 1/2 cups drained canned Italian plum tomatoes
(or if available, chopped ripe red unpeeled tomatoes)  A bouquet garni: 6 parsley sprigs; 6 peppercorns; 3 whole cloves; 4 allspice berries; 1 teaspoon thyme; 2 or 3 large cloves of garlic, smashed; 1 large bay leaf – tied together in washed cheesecloth
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch blended with 2 tablespoons red wine


Review the book for Julia's exact recipe I have altered it here to reflect the steps I took while preparing this dish.
Dry the meat in paper towels. If it has not been tied, secure loops of string (butchers twine) around the circumference at 1 1/2-inch intervals. Rub the roast with oil and brown on all sides in a large frying pan on medium high heat. Remove the meat from the pan.  Sauté the chopped vegetables in a frying pan to brown lightly, and place them in a large crock pot.  Arrange the meat on top of the vegetables and add the tomatoes and the herb bouquet. Add some wine to the frying pan to deglaze and pour the contents over the beef. Add the rest of the wine and enough broth so the liquid comes a third of the way up the meat.Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8.

The beef is done when a sharp-pronged fork will go through it fairly easily – cut off and eat a piece to check: it will be some-what chewy but reasonably tender. Remove the meat to a board or tray and the vegetables to a serving dish. Strain the braising liquid into a sauce-pan, pressing juices out of the vegetables.

Thoroughly degrease the braising juices and bring to a simmer, skimming off any additional fat that rises. Taste very carefully for strength and seasoning; if the liquid is weak in flavor, boil down rapidly to concentrate it. You should have 2 to 2 1/2 cups of deliciously winey meat juices. Correct the seasoning, remove from heat, and whisk in the cornstarch mixture (cornstarch and wine). When blended, return to the heat and simmer 2 minutes. The sauce should just coat a spoon lightly, meaning it will coat the meat lightly – if too thin, thicken with another spoonful or so of cornstarch and wine. Pour the sauce over and around the beef.

To serve, remove the meat to a carving board or hot platter, and discard the trussing strings. Either carve it in the kitchen or bring it to the table for carving. In this case spoon a little sauce over the meat to glaze it, decorate the platter with parsley sprigs, watercress, or vegetables, and pass the sauce separately.
I really recommend getting your hands on a copy of the book to read it for yourself. There is something about the way Julia writes that just can not be passed along by others you have to experience for yourself the fluid musical quality of her writing. It truly makes the recipe come to life.

Speaking of coming to life, this recipe is sure to bring your Sunday dinner table to life with many requests for seconds and maybe even thirds!

The original recipe can be found in "The Way to Cook" Julia Child, 1994, Alfred A. Knopf.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Voluptuous Red Velvet Molten Chocolate Cake

Voluptuous is defined as being full of indulgence in luxury, pleasure, and sensuous enjoyment and this cake is exactly that. This divine desert will keep your taste buds sinfully happy and it's perfect for a romantic dinner for two or for dazzling friends at a dinner party. Though it looks complex this desert was actually very simple to make. 

I am an admitted Food Network junkie and one of my favorite contributors is Chef Anne Burrell. Her wit and wisdom endear her to me and her recipes are outstanding. So, last year when she had her team on "Worst Cooks in America" make Molten Chocolate Cakes I thought, "Hey it can't be THAT hard". You can see how confident I was though since it took me a year to buck up and try them myself. Luckily Food Network offered a number of recipes for these including my favorite from Chef Anne. 

I didn't follow her recipe exactly because I wanted these cakes to be Red Velvet for Valentines Day, but I used her recipe as a base and the changes were minimal.

Red Velvet Molten Chocolate Cake


1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter
Granulated sugar, for the ramekins
1/2 (6-ounce) bag white chocolate chips
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, plus a little more for dusting
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup cake flour (Chef Annes' recipe calls for all-purpose flour )

Special equipment: 6 ramekins or aluminum souffle cups 


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Melt 1/4 a stick of butter in a small saucepan over low heat or in the microwave at 30 second intervals. Paint the inside of 6 ramekins with butter and then coat them with granulated sugar. Set these aside for filling later.

Put the remaining stick of butter in a large mixing bowl with the chocolate chips. Set the bowl on a saucepan filled with about 1-inch of boiling water being sure the bowl does not touch the water. Gently stir the butter and the chocolate together until melted and the mixture is smooth. Turn off the heat and set aside to cool.  (It is important you do not add this hot mixture directly to the eggs to avoid cooking them.)

Combine the eggs, yolks, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. (This can also be done with a hand beater.) Beat the egg mixture until it doubles in size, and gets very thick and very pale. Add the food coloring. This will take quite a bit so be patient. (If you are uncomfortable with red food dye you can find natural alternatives, like beet juice or powder, in most health food stores. However, I have no experience in how these might affect the end result.)

Gently whisk the melted chocolate and butter into the egg mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently stir in the flour. Your batter should still be light and airy. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins. Arrange the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 14 to 15 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and let rest for 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the cakes from the ramekins, and arrange them on individual serving plates. Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with a sliced strawberry. ( You may want to CAREFULLY run a butter knife around the edges of each cake to help it release from the ramekin.)

Serve these up with pride. The delightful flavor and luxurious texture will have your sweetheart, or guests, raving!

Delightful Dim Sum


 As we travel my husband and I enjoy taking part in local customs and especially the sampling of local cuisine. So it was a treat when we had the opportunity to visit London's Chinatown for the Chinese new Year. The streets were packed with people from all over crowding into the district to visit their favorite shops, enjoy the wares offered by street vendors and delight in the firecrackers and wandering Lion Dancers. After a bit of wandering we were lured into one Chinese restaurant by the tantalizing smells wafting from it's kitchens. Inside we enjoyed a delightful Chinese tradition, Dim Sum.

Dim Sum is a Cantonese term for a type dish that involves small individual portions of food similar to appetizers. In fact we often see some of these delightful goodies on menus as appetizers. However, the custom of going to "Dim Sum" or to "drink tea" is not a precursor to a larger meal but an event unto itself.  So for our Lunar New Year's feast I chose a tasty but simple selection of dim sum type treats. I have listed the ingredients I used for each of these samplings (not all my ingredients match the base recipe exactly) but I can not take credit for the "how to" portion and I suggest you follow my links to the sources I used when making each.

Asian Spring Roll

Rice Paper Wrappers
Rice Noodles
Shredded Carrots
Shrimp (or your preferred cooked meat)

To learn more on how to assemble this dish visit Itkman's channel on YouTube:

When I make my spring Rolls I also add some sauce before rolling them. It can be a peanut sauce, chili sauce, or just some Hoisin. I also find it's nice to make it a contrasting flavor to whatever dipping sauce you use.

So now that we've got the easiest out of the way... Bring on the dumplings!

Steamed Dumplings


1/2 Lb. ground pork
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded napa cabbage
1 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 egg

Dumpling wrappers (15-20)

To learn more on how to assemble this dish visit Itkman's channel on YouTube:

Siu Mai

1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 cup cooked shrimp, diced
1 cup carrots
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
pepper (to taste)
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
3 tsp cornstarch (used in 3 separate instances)
1 tsp salt

green peas (for garnish)
dumpling wrappers (15-20)

To learn more on how to assemble this dish with Cecilia Au-Yang from the Chopsticks Cooking Centre in Hong Kong, visit the cookingtipstv channel on YouTube:

Steamed Meatballs

I had some leftover meat mixture after making the two pork dishes so I added some diced ginger, extra carrots, diced cabbage and green peas, formed them into balls and steamed them separately. Delicious!

For a sweet finale try this amazingly simple treat.

Sesame Balls


3/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/8 c rice flour
1/2 cup warm water (approximate, you may need more or less depending on humidity)
1/4 cup sugar (or to taste)
sweetened red bean paste (or the filling of your choice, these can also be savory)
1 cup sesame seeds
oil for frying

To learn more on how to assemble this dish visit yeqiang's channel on YouTube:

I also found this tutorial from dimsumrecipes to be very helpful for technique:
 I hope your experiments in making Dim Sum are as sweet as mine, but just remember to enjoy the adventure and of course the delicious results!