Monday, October 26, 2009

Zora Kolači and images of the back yard

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Thank goodness David was the only one to witness my embarrassing moment in the back yard the other day.  I was enjoying the cooler temperatures and the crystal clear skies, and I was taking pictures with our brand new Cannon zoom lens. 

Here’s Esperanza (Yellow Bells)…

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and a White-winged Dove - one of three species who come to visit the bird bath and feeders:

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My 17-year-mistake, aka Cowgirl Joycie, was sniffing for coyotes and snakes…ok, no coyotes but snakes – it’s always a possibility when you live near a bayou.

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Favorite dog Chula, also known as Shederella, was chillin’ quietly in the bushes.

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Rocky LuLu’s head was buried in the Katy Ruelliano doubt also looking for small, unsuspecting creatures.


Even the garden art was minding its own business!

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The monarchs are migrating south and our yard is a reliable stop-over:  favorite Husbie plants native bushes that naturally attract butterflies…a gardening wizard is my man!  

I was lying in the hammock and I had just photographed this slim beauty feasting on the nectar of a Mexican milkweed plant when suddenly…

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Snap! snap!…quickly followed by a few more snaps and lo and behold within a couple of seconds, I was very rudely deposited on the metal support beam on the ground.  OUCH!  My back, my buttocks, my elbow…the camera…

was safe!   And sweet, considerate David had turned his head! 

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Just so that we are on the same page:  I AM NOT AS BIG AS THAT ENORMOUS HOLE!  

Favorite daughter’s hammock was left out all summer during the heat and drought, followed by several weeks of downpours, and then back with the stifling heat.  Those ravaging most destructive forces must have aged and weakened the ropes substantially… or was it bad construction - made in China, no doubt…?


Do you think it’s because I’ve been eating too many of these sweet, delicious and addicting Zora Kolači? 

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Zora Kolači have always been a favorite treat in my family.  In my native Serbia, Kolač (pronounced Kolach) is a pastry or cake, and Kolači are cookies or small cakes.  With no similarities to the filled yeast dough known in Texas as Kolaches, these bars have three layers: a sweet short crust base, jam in the middle and a moist and crispy meringue on the top.  These are easy to make and very popular with locals alike.

You start with a meaty nut, like walnuts002 v1 

Grind them as finely as you can.  I used my awesome Serbian grinder, but a food processor will do.006 v1

Pat the short crust pastry in the baking pan and spread it with a thick layer of raspberry (or apricot) jamYu-um!007 v1

Whip up the egg whites and sugar, then gentlyoh so gentlyblend them with the ground walnuts to make a meringue for the top.009 v1

With a crispy, cracked top and a gooey middle, chocolate brownies will have stiff competition!013-crop v1

Zora Kolači

Translated from Veliki Narodni Kuvar (People’s ‘Big’ Cookbook)


For the short crust base and filling:

1¾ cups (210 grams) flour

½ teaspoon (2 grams) salt

1/3 cup (70 grams) sugar

10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 egg yolk

½ cup raspberry or apricot jam

For the meringue topping:

5 egg whites

¼ teaspoon (1 gram) cream of tartar

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (210 grams) granulated sugar

1 cup (140 grams) walnuts – measure and then grind as finely as possible, without becoming pasty

about 1 heaping teaspoon confectioner’s sugar, for dusting the top

Prepare a 8 x 8inch (20cm x 20cm) or a 7 x 11inch (18cm x 26cm) baking pan by buttering the bottom and sides and dusting with a little flour.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC)

Make the base:

Place flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a mixer (or you can use a regular bowl and hand-held mixer). Blend together. Add butter and egg yolk and combine until starting to form a ball. Don’t overbeat. Gently pat dough into the prepared baking pan. I does not have to be smooth. Spread jam over dough to about ½ inch (12cm) from the sides of the pan. Refrigerate while you make the meringue topping.

Make the meringue topping:

Combine egg whites and cream of tartar in a clean and dry bowl of a mixer (or you can use a regular bowl and hand-held mixer). With the whisk attachment, beat the whites until foamy and white. With the mixer on medium speed, slowly pour in the sugar. Beat until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the ground walnuts. Using a spatula, slowly and very gently mix in the walnuts by lifting the meringue from the bottom upward. You don’t want to deflate the meringue by stirring or using a mixer at this point. Spread meringue on top of jam without ‘working’ it too much.

Bake in a preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes (depending on the size of the pan). The meringue should be light brown and start to crack at the edges when done. Cool on a wire rack. When cool, cut longwise with a sharp, thin knife, into about ¾ inch sections and crosswise into about 1½ inch sections. The meringue will crack as you go, but that’s ok. Rinsing and drying the knife after every cut will help achieve ‘cleaner’ edges. Using a sieve and about a heaping teaspoon of confectioner’s sugar, dust the tops and serve.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Phở - nomenal, phở sho!

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I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but here in northwest Houston, phở restaurants have popped up on every corner and in every retail centre.  Google “pho restaurants in Houston” and you will find a list of no fewer than 380 phở restaurants (and counting…).   With interesting names like  Phở Vang,  Phở-Nag (that would be mine, according to my family!),  Phở Danh,  Phở Bong Seng,  Phở Dung and  Phở Pasteur, it’s a Vietnamese phở-nomenon!  

The basis of phở is a deliciously spiced, clear broth with rice noodles.  A variety of meats, fresh herbs, sprouts and peppers allow the soup to be personalized.   Phở Gà  -  phở with chicken, is a favorite of mine -  you will find the easy recipe below as part of this month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge.   The correct pronunciation of Phở  is “fuh?”  You say the word like it’s a question!!!  Try saying it in a sentence without asking a question!

DBKitchen logoThe second part of the challenge is to make a dessert using wonton wrappers.  You will find my Spicy Chocolate Wonton Pillows in the second half of this post. 

Blog checking:   The October 2009 Daring Cooks’ challenge was brought to us by Jaden of the blog Steamy Kitchen.  The recipes are from her new cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

For my phở to be as authentic as possible, I made the stock from scratch.  I followed the instructions on lovely Jaden’s awesome website for homemade chicken stock.   Click on the link to see her tips on how to get a clear and tasty broth. 

Charred onions and ginger (not shown) add depth to the soup121-crop v1

The chicken bones are split to expose the flavorful marrow for maximum flavor109-crop v1

Toasting the spices makes them very fragrant and intense:  star anise, whole coriander seed and whole cloves021 v1

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Phở  Gà  - phở with chicken from Jaden’s The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook.

Makes 4 servings

2 tbsp. whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 quarts (2 liters/8 cups/64 fluid ounces) store-bought or Jaden’s homemade chicken stock
1 whole chicken breast (bone in or boneless)
½ onion
1 3-inch (7.5 cm) chunk of ginger, sliced and smashed with side of knife
1 to 2 tbsps. sugar
1 to 2 tbsps. fish sauce (available in the Asian section of most grocery stores).  Fish sauce is an essential component of Phở.  Soy sauce is not a good substitute.  I added about 1/2 cup extra fish sauce to my phở.

1 lb. (500 grams/16 ounces) dried rice noodles (about ¼ inch/6 mm wide)



2 cups (200 grams/7 ounces) bean sprouts, washed and tails pinched off
Fresh cilantro tops (leaves and tender stems)
½ cup (50 grams/approx. 2 ounces) shaved red onions
½ lime, cut into 4 wedges
Sriracha chili sauce
Hoisin sauce
Sliced fresh chili peppers of your choice (I used red jalapenos)

Heat a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the coriander seeds, cloves and star anise and toast until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes.  Immediately spoon out the spices to avoid burning.

In a large pot, add all the ingredients (including the toasted spices) and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 20 minutes, skimming the surface frequently.  Use tongs to remove the chicken breasts and shred the meat with your fingers, discarding the bone if you have used bone-in breasts.  Taste the broth and add more fish sauce or sugar, if needed. Strain the broth and discard the solids.

Prepare the noodles as per directions on the package.  Ladle the broth into bowls. Then divide the shredded chicken breast and the soft noodles evenly into each bowl.  Have the accompaniments spread out on the table. Each person can customize their own bowl with these ingredients. 

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The second part of the challenge was to produce a chocolate dessert using wontons.  My creation, using Vietnamese spices in the chocolate filling, is light and flavorful and delicious with coconut ice cream. 

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Spicy Chocolate Wonton Pillows
Makes 12 wontons

1 large egg
1 tbsp. water
1 cup heavy cream
1 star anise
2 cloves
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup sugar (optional)
1 cup plus 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided use (I like Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips)
24 wonton wrappers, defrosted (keep wrappers covered with damp towel) high-heat oil for frying (i.e., vegetable oil, corn oil) confectioners’ sugar (icing sugar) for sprinkling
coconut ice cream

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and water to make an egg wash.  Set aside.

On medium heat, bring cream to a boil in a small pot.  Remove from heat and add star anise, cloves and red pepper flakes.  Set aside for at least 30 minutes.  Sieve cream into another pot and discard spices.  Add sugar if you want a sweeter filling.  Reheat mixture until hot.  Remove from heat and add 1 cup chocolate chips.  Allow chocolate chips to melt and then stir until mixture is smooth.  Cool completely.   Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips and stir to combine.

Lay a wonton wrapper on a clean, dry surface.   Using a pastry brush, brush egg wash on the edge of all four sides.  Spoon about 1 1/2 tablespoons of chocolate mixture in the middle of the wonton.  Carefully cover with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to adhere, allowing the excess air inside to escape. Make sure the wrapper is sealed completely.  Repeat with the remaining wrappers and chocolate.  Keep the folded chocolate wontons covered under plastic wrap or a damp paper towel to prevent them from drying.

In a wok or medium pot, pour in 2 inches (5 cm.) of high-heat oil.  Heat the oil to 350º F (180º C) and gently slide a few of the chocolate wontons into the hot oil. Make sure you don’t crowd the chocolate wontons.  Fry the wontons for 1 ½ minutes, then flip over and fry another minute until both sides are golden brown and crisp.

Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve with a scoop of coconut ice cream.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Mastering puff pastry and vols-au-vent

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Kitchens should be getting cooler in the northern hemisphere…says Steph innocently from her home in Sydney.  No such cooling took place in good old Texas in September, where temperatures were still reaching the 90’s and when I was supposed to post this Daring Bakers challenge.

I’ve baked with lots of purchased puff pastry in the past (“Mom, can you make pastries for breakfast today?”) but I have never taken the time to make it from scratch.  Now I remember why!  If you live in Texas, my friends, it’s an all-day process during the month of September!  We’re still struggling to keep our homes cool, so the conditions are not exactly conducive to a process that requires keeping the butter solid cold while you perform a series of turns which creates the flakiness of the dough.  Roll, fold, turn, chill and wait; roll, fold, turn, chill and wait again; roll… and so it went all day long.  The key to successful puff pastry is to keep the butter from playing hookie on your counter instead of being obediently enveloped in the dough while you’re rolling it.  A cool marble countertop cool to look at and cool to the touch would be sooo perfect for this project…note to self –  make sure you get at least one marble countertop for making pastries when you redo the kitchen!   

DBMiss Measure_v150x200I’m not a master yet when it comes to making puff pastry, but it was good enough to produce the vols-au-vent (literally “windblown” for its airiness), pictured above.  Vols-au-vent are typically served hot and are filled with a creamy savory filling.  I filled them with a chilled fresh Crab Salad –  who wants to heat up the stove in 90 degree weather?  

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.  Thanks Steph for organizing the challenge and thanks to Lis and Ivonne for rocking the Daring Bakers every month with their cool challenges!

Vols Au Vent:
Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From: Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2-1/2 pounds dough.  If you are interested in making your own puff pastry and/or vols-au-vent, please click
here to see the recipe and a detailed explanation.  Also included are helpful instructional videos.  The selected instructions below describe my pictures only.

Place the block of cold butter (the beurrage) in the middle of the dough (the détrempe) and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely.  This dough/butter packet is called a paton and is rolled and folded repeatedly (turning).fall veggies and vol-au-vent 030-crop v2

Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24" …With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!). fall veggies and vol-au-vent 043 v1

The total number of turns needed is six…However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it. fall veggies and vol-au-vent 050 v2  
Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. vol-au-vent 003 v1 
Crab Salad  enough to fill about 12 vols-au-vent, but also good on a bed of lettuce!

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat (none of that rubbery imitation stuff, ok?)

¾ cup red bell pepper, finely chopped

2 shallots or ½ red onion, finely diced

2 jalapenos, finely diced

zest of 1 lime

juice of 2 limes

leaves of about 10 stems of cilantro, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

Pick through the crabmeat to remove any scales.

Place red bell pepper, shallots or red onion, jalapenos, lime zest, lime juice, cilantro, vinegar and olive oil in a bowl. Whisk to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add crabmeat and gently mix it in. Top with scallions and serve with salad greens or in vols-au-vents.

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