Crab-Artichoke Souffle

Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.

When it was announced that we would be making soufflés for this month’s Daring Cooks challenge I was quaking in my boots. I have seen my fair share of cooking shows featuring soufflés that never rise or if they do rise totally deflate before serving. With this culinary disaster stereotype in mind I was rather nervous to give this challenge a go. I did a lot of reading up on soufflés and tried to get as many soufflé baking tips in my arsenal before I actually attempted baking my own.

Dave and Linda provided us with three recipes, which we were free to use, but they also allowed us to substitute a recipe of our choosing as long as it was a proper, baked soufflé. We were also allowed to choose between making a savory or dessert soufflé.

When I told my husband about the challenge he immediately requested a savory soufflé, so that is where my recipe hunt began. Of course, I couldn’t help but take a peek at a few dessert soufflé recipes as well, and luckily, I had the time to try my hand at both a savory and dessert soufflé recipe before the posting deadline.

For my savory recipe I went with a crab and artichoke soufflé (pictured at the top). This was my first savory soufflé (to eat or bake), and I must say it is quite a tasty dish! They had a pretty good rise coming out of the oven, but they definitely began to deflate as I was removing the collars and trying to rush them to the table.

Banana Souffle

For the dessert recipe I chose a banana soufflé. I still have an abundance of Halloween candy lying around that I am trying to get rid of, so I decided to add a roughly chopped peanut butter cup to the recipe. This was a very good move; in my book, there are few things finer than the combination of bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate – and bonus, when combined in soufflé form, the combo gets all warm and deliciously gooey. Also, these babies rose sky high and held their shape considerably longer than the savory soufflés, which was pretty exciting.

All in all, I am really happy Dave and Linda challenged us with soufflés this month. Based on my previous notions of them I probably never would have dared to try baking one on my own. I would have most likely kept tossing them off as overly complicated or too finicky to mess with, but boy was I wrong! You definitely have to be on your toes when making them (have all those ingredients ready to go beforehand and be ready to serve immediately!) but the results are nothing short of spectacular. It is a pretty awesome feeling to pull out a pair of beautifully risen soufflés from the oven – something every cook should experience at least once!

You can view both soufflé recipes after the jump.

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Daring Bakers Doughnuts

The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up. Lori chose to challenge DBers to make doughnuts. She used several sources for her recipes including Alton Brown, Nancy Silverton, Kate Neumann and Epicurious.

I love a good homemade doughnut, so it should be no surprise that I was super stoked to take on this month’s doughnut challenge. Lori was pretty generous with the challenge requirements – asking that we simply make doughnuts! 2 cake and 2 yeast doughnut recipes were provided and the sky was the limit as to how we might want to tweak these recipes – fillings, toppings, shapes, and sizes were all up to the bakers.

Since I still haven’t acquired a doughnut pan, I decided that I would go the yeast doughnut route. I also knew that I would want to be baking these bad boys rather than frying them. Me + hot frying oil = not fun times. I settled on adapting the Baked Doughnuts recipe from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks. I halved the initial recipe and veganized it with great results.

I opted for three different glazes (Pumpkin Pie Spice, Southern Comfort, and Apple Cider) and attempted my first filled doughnuts. For the doughnut filling I combined about 2/3c vanilla pudding with 1/3 c pumpkin butter and piped it into the doughnuts – I am telling you, that filling was off the charts! I seriously considered just bypassing piping it into the doughnuts and piping it straight into my mouth. The only things I would change for the future would be to make my glazes a little thicker and to try to show some self-restraint and allow the doughnuts to cool a little bit longer before dunking them into the glazes and devouring.

You can view the adapted doughnut recipe plus the glaze recipes after the jump.

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Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

This month’s challenge was to make a filling and roll it in grape leaves. I’ve tried stuffed grape leaves a few times before at various restaurants, but have never really been a huge fan of them. They often have a very “briney” taste that is a little off-putting to me. Nonetheless, I was excited to try rolling some from scratch.

The filling for the grape leaves was totally up to each individual cook, but whatever filling was chosen had to include rice. Lori provided two recipes for inspiration – one with meat and one without. I opted to go the meatless route and followed Lori’s Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves recipe with a few additions.

I knew that rolling the leaves was going to be the most time consuming part, and I also knew that I wanted to go all out with a tasty Greek feast to accompany the grape leaves. Taking those things into consideration, I enlisted the help of a fellow daring cook to knock these babies out. That was definitely a good decision – having someone to help stuff and roll the leaves not only helped make the time go faster, but I think it also helped me my maintain my sanity. The smaller the grape leaf, the more difficulty I had in getting it rolled and stuffed without splitting. I got desperate near the end and started layering the smaller torn leaves in creative ways to try and produce enough grape leaves to fill the pan tightly.

Despite all the difficulty rolling, I have to say that the end results were fantastic. These were by far the best stuffed grape leaves I have ever tasted. And while they probably won’t be in my regular rotation of cooking, I am so glad I had the opportunity to make them and enjoy the company of good friends while doing so!

You can view the recipe for the Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves after the jump.

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The September 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mandy of “What the Fruitcake?!” Mandy challenged everyone to make Decorated Sugar Cookies based on recipes from Peggy Porschen and The Joy of Baking.

Somehow I have made it 30+ years in life and never made sugar cookies from scratch. Something about that “advanced preparation” tag at the beginning of the recipe always seems to steer me in a different direction, usually towards a cookie that can be baked and eaten in under an hour of when I decide I’m craving some cookies. So, the prospect of finally taking on this labor-of-love cookie seemed pretty exciting.

The mandatory components of this challenge where that we made a basic sugar cookie from scratch from the provided recipe, and that we decorated the cookies with the theme of “September.”

We were allowed to make variations to the sugar cookie dough by adding our own flavorings, and we could opt to make the royal icing from scratch or use a store bought mix.

After taking stock of what ingredients I already had in the kitchen I decided to make my sugar cookies and royal icing using the recipes included in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking. When thinking about the theme of September, I decided that for me, this September has really been all about the anticipation of all the wonderful Fall flavors that will soon be gracing all my favorite products and recipes (think pumpkin everything for the next two months!). So in honor of this, I decided to add 1 1/2 teaspoons of homemade pumpkin pie spice to the cookie dough. I also dusted the decorated cookies with more of the pumpkin pie spice after the royal icing had begun to set up.

Sadly, (as usual) I had some issues with rolling all the dough to the same thickness and had some cookies that didn’t survive the baking process, but those that persevered (ie., were rolled to the appropriate thickness) were super delicious and just the right thing to get my “celebration of Fall flavors” started!

If you would like to get all of the challenge recipes for the sugar cookies and royal icing please follow this link to download the printable PDF. There is a wealth of information on decorating with royal icing that really makes it worth the download!

Thanks for a great challenge Mandy!

Apple Butter
The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun
. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.

This month’s challenge was all about the wonderful world of food preservation. While food preservation in and of itself is quite a broad topic, the focus of this challenge was really geared towards learning about home canning and freezing. The main recipe for this challenge was for apple butter (which can be frozen or canned), but recipes for preserving roasted tomatoes and bruschetta were also provided for some variation. Since apples are just starting to come into season around here, it seemed like the perfect time to make my first batch of homemade apple butter using local apples. I opted to use sweet, Jonagold apples for the recipe.

I have to be quite honest, the prospect of home canning absolutely terrifies me. As much as I would’ve liked to conquer my home canning phobia, I simply could not muster up the courage to give it a shot, so freezing was my food preservation method of choice.

Here is some great information about freezing from our challenge host:

Freezing:
Freezing refers to storing foods in airtight containers at 0ºF (-17.8ºC) or lower. Freezing does not kill bad bugs. The cold temperature causes the microorganisms to go into hibernation/suspended animation.

Freezing is the easiest food preservation method, especially with modern freezers.

The main pointers for freezing:
1) Freeze foods quickly. Quickly freezing creates smaller ice crystals. Water is a funny substance where water expands when frozen. This means larger ice crystals can puncture cell walls (such as whole berries) so when defrosted you end up with a mushy mass.
2) Try not to freeze too much at once. Typical advice 2 to 3 lbs (1 kg) per cubic foot (28 Liters) of freezer space.
3) Containers should be airtight and leak proof.
4) Minimize air and gaps in the packaging. This reduces the chance for freezer burn – drying.
5) Label and date the package. Frozen foods tend to look the same over time, especially when a layer of ice has formed.
6) Vegetables can be blanched to deactivate enzymes. Blanching is quick cooking in boiling water for a few minutes and cooled rapidly in ice water.
7) For initial freezing using pliable freezer bags, freeze on a smooth, flat surface to prevent the bag from molding itself to the rack.

If you’ve never made apple butter, you essentially start by making applesauce. Once you reach the applesauce state, you add your desired spices and cook the applesauce down until it becomes a thick spreadable consistency. It’s absolutely delicious and great used as a spread on sandwiches, an ingredient in baked goods, or a topping for a super delicious bowl of Fall flavored oats.

Fall Flavored Oats

You can view the recipe and procedure for making the apple butter after the jump.

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The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world- life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this month’s challenge – not only were we making Swiss rolls (which turned out to be quite a challenge in and of itself), but we were also making two flavors of homemade ice cream and a hot fudge sauce – and then combining them all into one large, multi-layered ice cream bombe style dessert!

Sunita provided recipes for a chocolate Swiss roll with a vanilla cream filling, along with recipes for vanilla and chocolate ice creams (made without an ice cream maker) and a hot fudge sauce. We were allowed to follow the given recipes or we could change the flavor of the Swiss roll, filling, or ice creams. What was mandatory was that all the components had to be made from scratch and the final dessert had to be set in a bowl/pan in the following order – Swiss roll first, followed by the first ice cream, the fudge topping, and finally the second ice cream.

After spending some time contemplating flavor combinations, I decided to go with a s’mores inspired Swiss roll ice cream cake. I kept with the chocolate Swiss roll, but did a marshmallow cream filling, with a layer of vanilla graham cracker ice cream and a layer of chocolate marshmallow ice cream.

I had really wanted to do a vegan sponge cake, but after two epic failures I reverted back to the original challenge recipe and finally got a Swiss roll that didn’t break into a million pieces after unrolling it. In keeping with the Daring Bakers style of making everything from scratch, I also made the graham crackers and marshmallows included in the two ice cream recipes. If you have never made homemade marshmallows, I highly encourage you to do so. You won’t believe how wonderful and natural they taste; they seriously put store bought marshmallows to shame.

While the process seemed epic, stretching over three days (with many broken Swiss rolls in between), I have to say that I can’t think of a finer reward than finally getting to bite into this dessert! The taste was beyond amazing, and I was quite sad to see the last few bites finished off last night.

You can view the recipes and how to assemble the dessert after the jump.

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The July 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Margie of More Please and Natashya of Living in the Kitchen with Puppies. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make their own nut butter from scratch, and use the nut butter in a recipe. Their sources include Better with Nut Butter by Cooking Light Magazine, Asian Noodles by Nina Simonds, and Food Network online.

I have to admit, I was pretty stoked when I read about this month’s challenge. I am a huge fan of almond butter and manage to figure out a way to get in a tablespoon or two everyday – whether it be in my morning bowl of oatmeal, a smoothie, or a sandwich. Despite my great love of almond butter (and for that matter, peanut butter), I have never managed to venture out beyond those two household staples, and was thrilled that this challenge would finally make me do just that.

So what do you need to know about making your own nut butters at home? Here are a few of the great pointers provided by our hosts:

  • The process for making various types of nut butters is essentially the same. Pour nuts into bowl of food processor. Grind the nuts in the processor until they form a paste or butter. The nuts first turn into powdery or grainy bits, then start to clump and pull away from the side of the bowl, and finally form a paste or butter. The total time required depends on the fat and moisture content of the nuts; grinding time will vary from roughly 1 to 4 minutes (assuming a starting volume of 1 to 2 cups [240 to 480 ml] nuts).
  • You may add oil as desired during grinding to make the nut butter smoother and creamier or to facilitate grinding. Add oil in small increments, by the teaspoon for oily nuts like cashews or by the tablespoon for dryer/harder nuts like almonds. You may use the corresponding nut oil or a neutral vegetable oil like canola.
  • The inclusion of salt in the nut butters is optional and to taste. If you make nut butters from salted nuts, peanuts or cashews for example, you will not need additional salt.
  • Roasting the nuts before making nut butters is optional according to your preference. To roast nuts in the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4). Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until nuts are fragrant and a shade darker in color. Allow nuts to cool before grinding.
  • Homemade nut butters are more perishable than commercial products and should be stored in the refrigerator. The nut butters harden & thicken somewhat upon chilling.

For this challenge we were to make our own fresh, homemade nut butter and then use it in at least one savory recipe. Four savory challenge recipes were provided for us to choose from and there was also an optional challenge to include a homemade nut butter in a sweet recipe of our choice. With a fridge stocked full of various nuts and the desire to try as many nut butters as I could, I made a total of four dishes that incorporated some type of nut (or seed) butter.

For the savory challenge recipe, I chose to make the Asian Noodle Salad with Cashew Dressing.

I was not disappointed – the cashew dressing component of this recipe is absolutely amazing! In an effort to not just eat the leftover dressing by the spoonful, I used it over the next day or two in every way I could think of until the last drop was finished. The leftover cashew butter that didn’t make its way into the dressing found its way into my morning bowl of oatmeal and provided a nice change of pace from the usual almond butter.

For my next nut butter adventure I decided to try another savory recipe using a different type of nut butter. Our hosts provided us with a link to recipes using nut and seed butters from Futters Nut Butters for further inspiration. I visited the site and found a recipe for a Walnut Hummus that sounded too interesting not to try.

For this recipe I made a roasted walnut butter to use in the hummus recipe. I decided to serve the hummus in bite sized cucumber cups with crumbled walnuts sprinkled on top. The combination of cucumbers and hummus was quite refreshing and served as a perfect snack for a hot summer day. I will definitely be hanging on to this recipe for future use. Once again, any remaining nut butter went into the next day’s morning bowl of oatmeal.

For the optional sweet recipe I tried out the Maple Pecan French Toast recipe from the Go Dairy Free cookbook by Alisa Marie Fleming (the recipe can also be found in Vegan Bites by Beverly Lynn Bennett).

For this recipe you essentially soak your bread in a homemade pecan cream (that is sweetened with maple syrup) for about 1-2 minutes before cooking. For the french toast topping I macerated some strawberries with maple syrup. The end result was delicious, but a little heavy on the maple syrup flavor. If I were to do it again I may opt for a non-maple syrup topping so that the pecan flavors could come through a little more.

For my final recipe I went back down the savory route and tried my hand at Roasted Wasabi Chickpeas.

I had been wanting to try this recipe for awhile but didn’t have any tahini on hand or enough sesame seeds to make my own.  I decided to make my own roasted sunflower seed butter and use it in place of the tahini called for in the original recipe.

You can view the recipes for most of these dishes after the jump.

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The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

I was pretty excited when I saw this month’s challenge. I have seen quite a few pavlova recipes pop up on Tastespotting, and they have had my interests piqued, so this month’s challenge finally provided the perfect opportunity to put on my apron and give one a shot.

A pavlova is a meringue-based dessert that has a crisp exterior and a light, almost cotton candy-like interior. It is traditionally decorated with a topping of cream and fresh fruit. For this challenge, we were to make chocolate pavlovas topped with mascarpone mousse and drizzled with a mascarpone cream. I went dairy free with this challenge, so I adhered with the chocolate meringue recipe pretty much to the letter, but deviated in my chocolate mousse and cream recipes. I had remembered seeing a gorgeous cherry chocolate pavlova recipe over at BBC Good Food, so that served as my inspiration for this challenge. My final pavlova consisted of the chocolate meringue, a layer of cherry compote (that you can almost see poking out from under the mousse in the picture above), a layer of chocolate mousse, and a cherry almond cream for drizzling.

I have to say, I am a fan of the pavlova. I loved the contrasting crunch of the outer shell of the meringue with the soft interior of the meringue. It is overall a pretty sweet dessert, but it makes for a great indulgence on a summer day!

You can view all of my recipes after the jump.

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Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

This month was my first foray into the Daring Cooks, and I was excited to get the chance to try my hand at making pâté. Traditionally, pâté is meat-based, and often includes liver, or gizzards, or other animal parts. Luckily, our hostesses also included recipes for fish and vegetable varieties. Since pâté is not usually eaten on its own, we were also required to make a bread to accompany our pâté. While we were required to use one of the three pâté recipes provided, we were given free range to choose any bread recipe we wanted. The only other restriction was that the pâté had to be baked or refrigerated (or both) for a significant amount of time, so that it would have to be unmolded into a serving dish.

I chose to make the Tricolor Vegetable Pâté that was provided. The pâté is comprised of three different layers – a white bean layer, a red pepper layer, and a pesto layer. I decided to halve the recipe since there would only be two of us eating it. The recipe was fairly straight forward and the only trouble I ran into was when it came time to assemble the various layers for the pâté. The red pepper layer completely absorbed the pesto layer! In a moment of panic I quickly threw together the other half of the pesto recipe, thinking maybe I could just add that on top of the little pesto that was still showing. I really wanted to get the tricolor effect when the final pâté was unmolded. Unfortunately, this pesto pretty much got absorbed too, so I didn’t really achieve the tricolor presentation that I was going for. Although once the pâté was sliced, you could get a little glimpse of the tricolor action.

The bread recipe I chose to make was the 100% Whole Wheat and Flaxseed Bread recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I’m happy to say that this recipe was a total success. I actually think it was my best loaf of bread to date, and was a great accompaniment to the pâté.

You can check out both recipes after the jump.

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The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

This month’s challenge recipe was for a Piece Montée, which literally means “mounted piece.” You may also recognize this dessert by its other name – Croquembouche (“crunch in the mouth”). A classic Piece Montée consists of a high pyramid created by stacking cream filled puff pastries. The pastries are then bound with caramel and decorated with spun sugar, flowers, or ribbons.

For this challenge the recipe had 3 main components: pate a choux (puff pastry), crème patissiere (to fill pastries), and a glaze to mount/decorate the Piece Montée. The flavor of the crème patissiere was up to us, and we could use either a chocolate glaze or caramel glaze (or a combination of both) to mount and decorate the piece. The main guidelines we had to stick to were that we had to use the pate a choux recipe provided and the final piece had to be a “mounted piece,” although the overall structure of the piece was up to us as long as it had some height.

I decided that I would attempt a vegan version of the Piece Montée. When doing some initial research on the internet about creating a vegan pate a choux batter it appeared that I may have been a bit in over my head. There was a Daring Bakers eclair challenge in 2008 that used a pate a choux batter, and most bakers reported a myriad of problems with getting their eclairs to rise. I then turned to cookbooks to see if I could find any that contained a recipe for a vegan pate a choux.

I found a book that had a vegan pate a choux recipe in it, but unfortunately my attempt with this recipe was a total failure. Once in the oven the choux didn’t rise at all, and the outsides were rock hard while the insides were still moist and doughy.

I went back to the internet and looked over those eclair challenges again. I read all of the blog entries I could find and tried to prepare for my second attempt. For this attempt I decided I would invest in some Ener-G Egg Replacer and go that route. Again, I piped my puffs and they came out of the oven looking just like they had when they went in – no rise whatsoever. Back to the drawing board…

As I prepared for my third attempt I started thinking that maybe it really is hard to replace 4 eggs in a recipe and maybe I would have better luck if I halved the recipe. I also decided that I needed more help with the rise, so instead of using regular water to mix with the egg replacer, I decided to try carbonated water (club soda) on the next attempt. It also occurred to me that maybe the way I was piping the puffs was setting them up for failure from the very beginning. I had been following the instructions from the initial book recipe I found and piping a little swirled mound. For my third attempt I decided I would try piping in more of a Hershey Kiss formation. I also wanted to try some not piped at all, and instead planned to shape them with a spoon similar to a drop cookie.

I got really excited with the consistency of the batter in my third attempt and wound up piping out about 3/4 of the batter into Hershey Kiss shapes because I was so confident they would finally work. They didn’t. The choux still came out of the oven in the same exact shape they went in. Disheartened, I took the remaining 1/4 of the pate a choux batter and using a teaspoon, scooped out heaping teaspoons of batter that I then rolled into balls and placed onto the pan. After peeking into the oven after about 5 minutes it appeared that I was about to experience failure yet again, but I went back to cleaning up and when I looked back in after 10 minutes, to my surprise and delight I was getting some puffing action! I quickly had to work to assemble the pastry cream and chocolate sauce so that I could actually enjoy these little puffs when they came out of the oven. For the pastry cream I used the vanilla pastry cream recipe found in the Joy of Vegan Baking.

Of course, as luck would have it, when I finally hit upon the right combination to get the choux to puff I had only used a small amount of pate a choux batter, so I wasn’t really able to have any height to my Piece Montée, but to finally have a success made it all worth it – and even better, the choux were awesome. They actually tasted like real cream puffs! I had to fight off my husband to grab a few for myself!

You can check out my final recipe for the pate a choux and learn how to assemble the Piece Montée after the jump.

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