Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pear Bread

Faced with a surfeit of pears from Boston Organics, I decided to make Smitten Kitchen's Pear Bread. I'd never eaten pear bread before, but after trying it, I'd describe it as banana bread, only without the bananas. I don't taste the pears at all, but the fruit does add a lot of moistness to the cake along with just the tiniest bit of the gritty pear texture. I actually substituted 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour with 1/2 cup of white whole wheat flour since I'm trying to use up the sack I bought by accident.

Pear Bread
Pear Bread (from Smitten Kitchen)
makes 2 loaves or one tube cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups sugar
2 to 4 pears firm, ripe pears, depending on size (you’ll need 2 grated cups total, but don’t grate them until you are about to use them so that they don’t brown)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat your oven to 350°F and lightly grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.
Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, and stir with a fork to mix everything well. If you’re using nuts, scoop out about 1/4 cup of the flour mixture and combine it in a small bowl with the chopped walnuts, stirring and tossing to coat the nuts with the flour.
Peel and core pears, then grate them. You’ll want two grated cups total; set them briefly aside. In a medium bowl, combine the butter or oil, eggs, sugar, grated pear, nuts (if using), and vanilla, and stir to mix everything well. Scrape the pear mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until the flour disappears and the batter is evenly moistened.
Quickly scrape the batter into the prepared pans and bake at 350°F for 60 to 70 minutes, or until the bread is handsomely browned and firm on top and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Pear Bread

I ended up not adding the sprinkle of confectioner's sugar or glaze that Deb suggests because it was sweet enough as is. It's also pretty crumbly, so I didn't want to have to deal with another potential factor for messiness. I think if I were to make this again, I might add some chocolate chips to it (giving them the same flour coating treatment as the nuts so that they don't sink). Deb says in her post that the bread got better day after day. I'm not sure if I'd agree, although it certainly doesn't get worse. I'd say that it remains a good, homey slice of comfort. And if I wanted to be super decadent, I'd toast this and spread some honey butter on top.

Pear Bread

Edited to Add (on 1/26/10): I take back what I said about this bread not getting better. I just had some for breakfast 3 days after I baked it, and I don't know what happened between yesterday and today, but it is definitely better today. It seems like the baking soda and salt are standing out a bit more leaving this tang on my tongue that demands more pear bread. I can't stop eating it!

One year ago:  Luo Buo Gao (Chinese Turnip Cake)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter

I had two sweet potatoes left from my Boston Organics delivery, so I decided to try to make sweet potato gnocchi. The only other time I had ever made gnocchi was when I made the ricotta gnocchi for the Daring Cooks challenge back in May. That was definitely a pretty complicated recipe, but the sweet potato gnocchi recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything was a lot simpler.

That recipe didn't mention what sauce to pair with the gnocchi, though, so I turned to Google for some inspiration. The first hit for a search for "sweet potato gnocchi" was Giada's "Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter". Can you say yum?

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Sage Brown Butter

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter (based on Mark Bittman's recipe in How to Cook Everything and Giada De Laurentiis' recipe here)
makes 3-4 servings

1 lb. sweet potatoes (about 2)
Salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter
15 fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 dash nutmeg

Start boiling a pot of water.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into small 1" chunks. Place in a microwaveable bowl with a little water and cover. Microwave for five minutes or until the sweet potatoes are done. Drain, season with salt and pepper, and mash with a fork.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi Dough

Add about a half cup of the flour and stir. Continue adding the flour in small increments until you get a dough that you can handle. You want to add as little flour as possible to keep the gnocchi from being too dense. Pinch off a small piece and drop into boiling water to make sure it will keep its shape.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi Dough

Place the dough onto a floured counter top (or cutting board). Divide in half and roll each piece into a 1/2 inch wide snake. Cut the dough into 1 inch long pieces and roll over the tines of a fork. Place shaped pieces onto a floured plate without them touching one another.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Cook the gnocchi in the boiling water in batches. You don't want there to be more gnocchi in the pot than can cover the surface of the water. The gnocchi is done about a minute after it starts floating.

While the gnocchi is cooking, melt the butter in a separate small saucepan. Once it is melted, add the sage leaves and continue to cook until the milk solids in the butter have browned. Remove from heat and add the maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to taste.

Maple Brown Butter with Sage

Toss the cooked gnocchi with the browned butter sauce and serve hot.

Leftovers can be refrigerated and pan-fried the next day for a slightly different texture.

Pan-fried Sweet Potato Gnocchi

I found dough could be quite sticky and gluey before I finally added enough flour for it to be workable. In hindsight, I probably should have drained the potatoes better before adding the dough. While this gnocchi was considerably heavier than the ricotta gnocchi I had made before, it was still a lot lighter than say, the big, thick Shanghainese and Korean rice cakes. The gnocchi itself didn't have much flavor, but the brown butter sauce more than made up for that. I really liked how the sage and maple syrup brought out the flavor of the sweet potatoes. What kind of surprised me was that I actually wanted to add a little more black pepper to this dish even though I normally don't really like black pepper.

I had some leftovers, which I pan-fried in the butter sauce (no additional oil needs to be added), although I removed most of the sage first and added it back in when the gnocchi was almost done so that it didn't burn. While I did like the light crispiness the pan-frying added to the gnocchi, I think it was better overall when it was fresh.

One year ago:  Scallion Pancakes

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kalua Pork

Nope, that's not a typo. This isn't pork made with Kahlua. This is kalua pork, the Hawaiian roasted pork served at luaus. Traditionally, a whole salted pig is put into a pit filled with hot rocks and banana leaves and covered so that it can cook all day. I got to go to Hawaii years and years ago for a family reunion (relatives from Taiwan and the US met halfway) and still remember loving this dish. The pork was moist, fall-off-the-bone tender, and had a depth of flavor that I thought could only be delivered via cooking in a pit for hours and hours.

Luckily for those of us who don't have easy access to whole pigs, pits, hot rocks, and banana leaves, you can make kalua pork in a slow cooker with only 2 ingredients: pork butt and smoked salt! The first you can get from almost any grocery store; just make sure it'll fit into your slow cooker. Apparently, pork butt is actually the same thing as pork shoulder, so either would work.

Smoked Hawaiian Sea Salt

I found smoked Hawaiian sea salt at Narrin's Spice and Salt in Cleveland's West Side Market. I had actually bought this a couple of years ago but never figured out what to use it in until now. This particular product has a blend of Hawaiian black and pink salt along with regular white sea salt. If you can't find smoked sea salt, you can also use liquid smoke with regular sea salt.

Kalua Pork
makes about 6 servings

2.5 lbs. pork butt (or shoulder)
2 tablespoons smoked Hawaiian sea salt

Pork Shoulder

Using a steak knife, poke the pork all over and then rub the salt all over.

Kalu Pork

Place the pork in a slow cooker and cook on low for 20 hours, turning once halfway through. Pork is done when it can be easily shredded with a fork.

Kalu Pork

That's it! With only two ingredients and two lines of instructions, you'll be surprised how flavorful the finished product is. During the slow cooking process, all the fat starts to render out of the meat so that at the end, it's cooking in its own juices, a sort of pork confit if you will. While I wouldn't consider the top half of the meat (that isn't sitting in the juices) to be dry, it is drier and less salty than the bottom half. I tried to turn the meat again when it was done to try to even it out, but the pork was so tender, I wasn't sure I could get it flipped without totally mangling it. If I had had more time, I would've shredded all the meat and served it with the reserved juices on the side for people to add if they wanted. Instead, I just brought the whole thing to a potluck and served it with some shredded cabbage sauteed with garlic and rice, letting people shred off as much as they wanted.

Kalu Pork

One year ago:  Mayonnaise Shrimp with Candied Walnuts, Char Siu Bao

Friday, January 15, 2010

Banana Bread Yeasted Waffles

When I was originally looking for yeasted waffle recipes, I stumbled across this one for Banana Bread Waffles. I know, right? What an awesomely yummy idea! The more I thought about it, the more I was tempted to skip the waffle face off and just make these. But ordinances must be followed, so I saved this one for last. The only thing I changed was that I added some walnut pieces to the batter right before cooking since I had some lying around, and since I didn't have ground ginger or ground cloves, I added a pinch of allspice. Oh, and I halved the original recipe since I only had 2 bananas.


Banana Bread Yeasted Waffles (from seven spoons)
makes 2-3 servings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 teaspoons yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of allspice
1 egg, beaten lightly
1/2 cup mashed ripe banana, about 1 1/2 bananas
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt
1/4 cup walnut pieces (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, milk and vanilla. Set aside, the mixture should be warm but not hot.

In a large mixing bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, brown sugar, yeast, salt and spices. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, whisking until smooth. Stir in the beaten eggs. Cover the bowl loosely and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, but up to 24.

About 30 minutes before you want to make waffles, take the batter out of the refrigerator to come up to room temperature slightly. It should be doubled in size and the surface will be covered in bubbles.

When ready to begin, stir the sour cream into the mashed bananas and then mix the fruit and walnuts (if using) into the batter. It will deflate, but use a light, quick hand to thoroughly combine.

Heat your waffle iron and bake the waffles as per the manufacturer's instruction.

Serve with maple syrup and additional slices of fresh bananas and walnuts, if desired.

Leftovers can be frozen and then reheated in a toaster or in an oven; keep the heat low and an eye on them though, they brown quickly.


I found that I needed more than 30 minutes at room temperature for the batter to double, so I stuck it in a slightly warm oven for 15 minutes. In the end, I found these waffles to be more soft than crispy and the flavor wasn't very memorable. In fact, right now I'm thinking that griddling a slice of real banana bread on a waffle iron might be even better....

One year ago:  Nian Gao (Mochi Cake), Red Bean Ice Cream

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gaufres de Liege (Belgian Waffles)

I know I had said I'd try to post something more colorful, but I fear that won't be happening anytime soon. Because I have become obsessed with making waffles. Even after deciding I liked The Waffle of Insane Greatness better than Mark Bittman's Overnight Waffles, which many people said were the best waffles ever, I decided to give yeasted waffles another chance. Especially after I saw this post for "The Best Waffle You'll Ever Eat: Gaufres de Liege" on The Kitchn in one of their end of the year roundups. You can probably tell that I am quite influenced by hyperboles.


I really was excited to find a recipe for a real Belgium waffle that used turbinado sugar instead of pearl sugar since it's ever so much easier to find turbinado sugar in Boston. I didn't have any bread flour so I used regular all-purpose flour instead. I can't tell you how much of a difference it made, but I definitely did end up with a dough more than a batter at the end. The post mentions that any waffle iron should work as long as "the pockets are fairly deep". I'm not sure my waffle iron falls into that category, but I didn't notice any uncooked portions so don't let that deter you. Lastly, the recipe calls for the use of a stand mixer. I don't have a stand mixer. I'd love a stand mixer. I will gladly accept a stand mixer. But until then, I have a hand mixer, and that's what I used. Since the recipe did mention that the dough would be quite stiff, I switched out the usual beaters I use for batters and used the special beaters that the manufacturers stated would work better for stiff doughs. It worked, but I can definitely see why a stand mixer (or an extra hand) would have been ideal.
Gaufres de Liege (from Chichi on The Kitchn)
makes 12 small waffles
6 tablespoons warm milk (no hotter than 110°F)
1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar 

2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (230 grams) bread flour, sifted (all-purpose flour seemed to work fine for me)
1 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 medium egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (4 oz) unsalted butter, at slightly cooler than room temperature
140 grams turbinado sugar, or pearl sugar if you choose
Cooking spray
Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk; then add the yeast. Make sure that the milk is not too hot, lest it kill the yeast instead of promoting its growth. Place a plate or some kind of cover on top of the bowl with the milk, sugar and yeast. Set aside for about five minutes. When you check on it, the yeast should have bubbled up, looking light brown and spongy.
Meanwhile, mix the sifted bread flour with the cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour in the yeast mixture; then add the whole egg and egg yolk. Mix on medium speed until it is fully combined. The dough will be yellow and stiff, yielding only slightly to a poke.
Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest in a warm place for about thirty minutes.
Beat in the butter piece by piece; you do not have to wait for the prior piece to be fully incorporated before adding the next. When the dough has incorporated about half of the butter, the mixture will be like a very thick, somewhat broken-up paste. If you keep engaging the mixer on medium-high speed, the dough will eventually become a cohesive whole, looking smoother and more feeling more elastic. Scrape the sides of the bowl if needed.
Kneading very gently, incorporate the sugar crystals just enough to get them evenly distributed. Work quickly so as not to soften the buttery dough too much.
Divide the dough into a dozen equal pieces, gently forming them into balls.
Place the balls of dough on a cutting board in a warmish place for fifteen minutes or so. During the last two minutes of this resting time, preheat your waffle iron until it is very warm, but not hot.
Spray the griddles with cooking oil. Place each ball of dough in a whole square or section of the waffle iron. Like regular waffle batter, the dough will start to puff up. Cook the waffles until the surface is golden to dark brown. Be sure that the waffle iron you are using is appropriately deep, or else the interior of the waffle will not be cooked through.
Set the waffles on a cooling rack as they come out of the iron to promote a crispy exterior. Serve immediately with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
Any leftover waffles, if they are not dark brown, can be carefully re-cooked in a toaster for approximately thirty to sixty seconds. Leftover waffles may also be kept in an airtight container between sheets of parchment paper, for up to three days.

My roommate declared these waffles better than the previous two. Personally, I think they're a whole other species of waffle so it's hard to compare. These seem more like cookies that I can eat with my hands rather than needing a plate, utensils, and maple syrup. I found that they were sweet enough (and a whole heck of a lot cleaner) to eat without the powdered sugar. The waffles didn't really seem to crisp up as much as get uniformly solid, but the turbinado sugar definitely kept its crunch and gave it a nice, fun texture.

One year ago:   Buckeyes