Category Archive: First on the First

First on the First is a foray into new experiences in the kitchen! Hosted by me and Kate of Food Babbles, we post on the first of the month.

Apr 01 2014

#FirstOnTheFirst: Homemade Naan

I’ve never met a bread I didn’t like.

While my palate could be much more refined than it is, there’s one thing that’s universal regardless of its cuisine of origin: bread. Flat or fluffy, soft or crunchy, bread in all its forms is wonderful.

homemade naan

Years ago, I took a History through Fiction course that focused on books set in Eastern Asian countries. The concept was simple: learn a little bit about a culture by the books set in and written by authors who have lived it. Memoirs of a Geisha, Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, The Ramayana and A Passage to India were just a few of the works we read. The instructor, a former member of the CIA, always had the best stories to tell. Because of her, I came very close to minoring in Asian Studies. What would I have done with that? I’m not sure. But she captured my interest and had me wanting to know more. It wasn’t just the content–it was her teaching style that attracted me. I enjoyed every minute in her classes.

But back to the History through Fiction course. This was a night class at a regional campus for UCONN and, as such, took place right around dinner time. Our teacher thought it would be fun if we had an Asian-themed meal during one of the classes. This was before the explosion of options came to my town–no Thai, no Hibachi, and definitely no sushi. No Indian food either. If you wanted pizza or pasta, you could toss a stone and find a place to go, but there wasn’t a whole lot else to pick from. The idea of eating something other than Chinese take-out seemed quite exotic. And a little scary.

homemade naan

The class voted and chose Indian for our meal, which had to be retrieved 30 minutes away. (See! I told you! We were a barren wasteland then!) I had never seen Indian food before, so I had no idea what to expect. And, to be honest, I have no idea what I ate. The colors and aromas all mixed together in my memory. But I did learn one thing–naan is awesome. That night, I became addicted to it. And many years later, when I discovered it was available in the grocery store for enjoyment at home, I thought I had struck gold. Woohoo! It has become the base of many lunches and dinners (and breakfasts and snacks) ever since.

Like most other things, making naan at home is much more economical than buying it at the store. I managed 10 flatbreads with this recipe and it probably cost me no more than $2 to make. Hard to argue with that kind of value! They freeze well for later use and are great to have on hand for quick pizzas, sandwiches, dipping in hummus, and just plain eating. There isn’t a lot of active work involved, just some waiting for the dough to rise and then standing at the stove when cooking them off. It’s easy enough that I’ll probably show my nearly-9-year-old how to make them soon. She’s looking forward to it!

First on the First Homemade Naan

These ladies also took on the naan challenge this month:

I cannot wait to see their results! As always, I’m eternally grateful for those who take part in these challenges with me. It’s always more fun when you can share something new with great friends!

Next month’s First on the First challenge will be Mille-Feuille

Also known as Napoleons, these are little pastries that consists of layers of puff pastry and pastry cream and/or fruit. They’re delicate and delightful and I’m really looking forward to tackling them! Please do come back on May 1st to see how they worked out!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Homemade Naan
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Bread
Cuisine: Indian
Serves: 10
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup hot tap water (you don’t really want it above 100 degrees Fahrenheit or you’ll kill the yeast)
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus more for the work area
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup warm whole milk (again, not really above 100 degrees Fahrenheit; a quick hit in the microwave should be sufficient)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I used Stonyfield Organic Smooth & Creamy Whole Milk Plain yogurt)
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
Instructions
  1. In a 2-cup measuring cup, combine the water and sugar, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Add the yeast, stir, and set aside for 5-10 minutes.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a medium mixing bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, combine the milk and yogurt. Once the yeast mixture is frothy, stir it into the milk/yogurt, then add to the dry ingredients.
  5. Turn the mixer on to speed 2, mix and then knead the dough for 5 or so minutes, until you get a smooth yet somewhat sticky dough. (You can add flour 1 Tablespoon at a time if, after kneading for a few minutes, it’s too sticky that it won’t clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be stuck to the bottom of it; if it’s too dry to come together, you can add more warm water 1 Tablespoon at a time–try not to do these unless absolutely necessary, as they can throw off the balance and mess up the dough.)
  6. Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, transfer the dough ball to it, cover with plastic wrap, and set somewhere warm for 1½ hours (I usually set my oven to the lowest temperature then shut it off once it reaches that, so it’ll hold some warmth for proofing without being too warm).
  7. Once the hour and a half has passed, flour your work surface well and transfer the dough to it. Cut into 10 equal portions then let sit for 30 minutes so the dough can rest and relax the gluten a little.
  8. Melt the butter and get out a pastry brush.Heat a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat.
  9. Roll out the portioned out dough to ovals/circles roughly the size of your skillet.
  10. Brush the tops with melted butter.
  11. Place 1 in the preheated skillet, butter side down, then brush butter on the top.
  12. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the edges are dry and the surface is bubbly.
  13. Flip and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes. When done, the bubbles will be browned but the rest of the naan will still be pale.
  14. Remove to a plate or wire rack to cool.
  15. Repeat with the rest of the naan.
  16. Naan can be stored in a large zip-top bag for up to 3 days or wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.

This recipe was adapted from food52.

Now that you have your naan, why don’t you make some onions and peppers naan pizzas…?

What’s your favorite Indian food?

Mar 01 2014

#FirstOnTheFirst: Individual Beef Wellington

I am not much of a fan of reality TV. There’s very little that’s real about them, to start.I also don’t like how they’re intended to play the audience like a violin. In spite of all of this, I am a junkie for Gordon Ramsay‘s shows. MasterChef. Kitchen Nightmares. And, of course, Hell’s Kitchen. It seems like every week on Hell’s Kitchen someone receives Chef Ramsay’s wrath for screwing up either risotto or Beef Wellington. In my mind, both of these have become epic challenges, so difficult nobody can get them right. Nobody. And yet, I thought it would be a great idea to make Beef Wellington the #FirstOnTheFirst challenge for March 1st. Makes sense, right? Yikes!

Beef Wellington

I originally intended to make little bites of Beef Wellington–it seemed less likely I’d mess that up. But once I bought my meat–which, by the way, I have never approached the butcher in the grocery store before and certainly never spent $19.99/lb for any meat I’ve ever eaten at home–I was too terrified to chop it all up. $35 worth of beef sat on my counter in steak-form–I could not find a roast–and I started to hyperventilate. I don’t cook meat. I love it, but I don’t cook it because the stuff that sells for $7/lb seems too expensive to experiment with. This? This was insane.

Finally, I gave in. Shut the TV off and immersed myself in the challenge. It was time to face my fear and go for it. I had investigated several recipes for inspiration and even watched Chef Ramsay make Beef Wellington himself. I had this.

Once my Individual Beef Wellingtons were in the oven, I watched closely. I was terrified of overcooking them, or ending up with a totally raw center. Chilling the meat in between and throwing the puff pastry-wrapped meat parcels in the freezer for a bit helps keep the beef inside from getting too well done while the puff pastry finishes. 12:30 AM and I was done. Because everyone makes Beef Wellington in the middle of the night, right? I held my breath, plated it, and adored it. Snapped some photos and then dug in. Because you can’t waste a project like this by turning it immediately into leftovers.

Beef Wellington

It was uh-mazing. No exaggeration here. So tender, so rich, so salty and yet not. Wonderful. The next night (the same night?) I served the rest as leftovers to my family. Which was also nerve-wracking–reheating without overcooking. I highly recommend heating on a rack in the pan so the crust doesn’t get soggy, and in a toaster oven or oven, NOT the microwave. The kids LOVED it. They couldn’t get enough, begging for more and more. My leftover Beef Wellington was just as awesome as my midnight snack, albeit a little less glorious. YUM.

So yeah, consider that challenge killed with great success. Will I ever make it again? Probably not–the anxiety level was too high and the investment was too great for a family meal. But I’m glad I tried it. And all of us enjoyed the end result. Take that, Hell’s Kitchen!

Beef Wellington #FirstOnTheFirst collage

Now I know you’re dying to see how everyone else did on this challenge….

Beef Wellington

slightly overcooked but still extremely delicious

Next month for First on the First…

…we’ll be making naan. A much more economical culinary adventure, and one I am really looking forward to. Check out the First on the First tab for more details on how to participate.

#FirstOnTheFirst: Individual Beef Wellington
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 beef tenderloin steaks (about 1.75-2 pounds total)
  • ¾ teaspoon flaky sea salt (like Maldon)
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 ounces baby Bella mushrooms
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Kerrygold garlic and herb butter
  • 3 Tablespoons cooking sherry
  • 8 ounces Prosciutto di Parma (8 slices)
  • 1 package Dufour puff pastry (14 ounces), thawed
  • 1 large cage-free egg
Instructions
  1. Take the steaks out 30 minutes before cooking and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Set aside.
  2. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet heat 2 teaspoons EVOO over medium high to high heat.
  3. Add the steaks, spacing at least an inch apart from each other. Sear each side for 1-1.5 minutes, then remove to a plate to chill in the refrigerator while preparing the next part.
  4. Clean mushrooms and slice, then chop shallot. Add both the bowl of a food processor and chop until almost pureed.
  5. In the same skillet used to sear the meat heat the Tablespoon EVOO and herbed butter over medium heat. Add the mushroom paste and sautee until the moisture has cooked out, about 10 minutes.
  6. Add the sherry and cook until the moisture has, once again, cooked out, about ten minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat.
  7. Lay out 4 pieces of plastic wrap and lay out 2 slices of prosciutto in the center of each piece of plastic wrap, overlapping them slightly.
  8. Divide the duxelles (mushrooms/shallots) evenly and spread over the prosciutto.
  9. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator, place one in the center of each prepared prosciutto and, using the plastic wrap to assist, wrap with the prosciutto. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
  10. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  11. Divide the thawed puff pastry into 4 portions and roll them out, if necessary, to accommodate each steak. Cut squares off the corners so you're left with + signs. Set aside scraps to be cut into small shapes for accents, or saved for another project.
  12. Remove the plastic wrap from the steaks and place one in the center of each piece of puff pastry. Gather the ends so the steaks are wrapped entirely in puff pastry. Place on the prepared baking sheet.
  13. In a small bowl, whisk the egg for 1 minute. Seal the edges of the meat parcels using a little egg wash, then brush over the steak packages. Adhere any cut-out accents and brush those with egg, as well.
  14. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes. Save the remaining egg in the fridge.
  15. Remove dough packages from the freezer and apply egg wash to the dough packages again.
  16. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until pastry is golden in color.
  17. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Notes
While I have noted this serves 4, you can (and probably should) split each one into 2 servings, resulting in a total of 8 servings that are enough with side dishes. No one will feel skimped on.

 

Feb 01 2014

#FirstOnTheFirst: Steamed Bacon Buns

I have a confession to make: the first time I ate a steamed (pork) bun was last year. March, to be exact, when I attended the Tourism Australia luncheon. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first–it looked…anemic. Where was my golden crust? Why did it look under-baked? Why would I want to consume that? There was something wrong with it, for sure. But as everyone else dug in, I knew I’d look like a fool if I begged off. I had to try it.

Steamed Bacon Buns

I am so glad I did, because what a world that was opened up to me that day! Wow! Since then, I’ve had pork buns when I’ve come across them, but the opportunities have been few and far between. I don’t know of anywhere I go locally that I can get them. And my trips to NYC aren’t as frequent as I’d like.

So, when it was proposed that we make steamed buns for #FirstOnTheFirst, I was cautiously elated. Thrilled that I’d have a chance to make my own at home. Terrified that I’d be making my own at home. What business did I have embarking upon a culinary journey like this? I knew nothing about steamed buns. But I had to try.

Steamed Bacon Buns

Steamed buns are also known as bao. My favorite fillings I’ve found have been on the porky side–including these bacon buns–but they can also contain sweet bean paste, chicken, etc. Typically they are steamed in bamboo baskets, but I already have enough specialized kitchen equipment; I wasn’t buying more. I can tell you this–the steamer basket on your rice cooker is not the best option. Go with a steamer basket in a regular pot with a little water and cover–this works remarkably well and is quick, too. Leftover bao can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for longer. You can re-steam them to freshen them up, or pop them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, making them a fantastic option for work lunches. Or breakfast. Whichever.

Steamed Bacon Buns

They do take some time, though. The dough needs to rise for 2 hours. And you can only steam so many at a time (in my case, 4). All told, it was about 3 hours from start to finish, and that was on a work night. I was tired at the end, but extremely proud of myself. And a bit addicted. It probably wasn’t a great idea to eat 1.5 steamed bacon buns and then start my exercise for the night. Oops. Next time I’ll stash them for the week following and spread the love out a bit.

Want to check out some more steamed buns? You know you do!

#FirstOnTheFirst Steamed Buns

Now… for my version. I discovered the cutest tutorial ever on my name is yeh and I couldn’t resist! Truly–you must check it out! The bacon caught my attention, that’s true, but those adorable little buns smiling and snoozing won my heart. I had to try her recipe–or, at least, a riff off of it. I’m so glad I was enticed by her cute little buns, for this is now a keeper! Some sweet heat balanced by soft pillows of dough and bacon, of course. This might be the best food ever. You owe it to yourself to try them!

Steamed Bacon Buns

Next month, we’ll be making Beef Wellington. I really need my head examined. If you’d like to participate in the insanity, check out the First on the First tab for details. We’d love to have you!

Steamed Bacon Buns
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Serves: 12
Ingredients
Dough
  • 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup warm whole milk
  • ¼ cup Spectrum organic shortening
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
Filling
  • 12 ounces nitrate-free bacon, chopped, cooked, and drained
  • ¾ cup water
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoons sesame oil
  • ¾ teaspoon sriracha sauce
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
Instructions
  1. Combine the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.
  2. Mix on low (speed 2 on a KitchenAid) until combined and watch that the dough becomes smooth and slightly sticky--it should adhere to the bottom of the bowl while kneading. If it's too sticky, you can add flour 1 Tablespoon at a time, waiting until it's incorporated before adding any more. If the dough is too dry, you can add warm water 1 Tablespoon at a time.
  3. Knead for 5 minutes, then transfer to a clean bowl.
  4. Cover and keep in a warm, draft-free place to allow the dough to rise til doubled in size, about 2 hours. (I turn my oven on the lowest temperature for a few minutes, turn it off, leave the light on and put the bowl there.)
  5. During the last hour of the dough rising, combine the bacon, water, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha, and red pepper flakes in a medium sauce pan.
  6. Cook over medium heat until it starts to boil.
  7. Remove 3 Tablespoons of the fluid, add to it the cornstarch, and whisk til combined.
  8. Pour back into the bacon mixture, stir, and continue cooking until thickened. Set aside to cool.
  9. Cut out 12 parchment squares for the next stage...
  10. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  11. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 12 equal pieces.
  12. Flatten 1 piece of dough into a disc, put 2-3 teaspoons bacon filling in the center, and gather the edges up in the middle, pinching to seal, so you have a little packet of meat.
  13. Place on a prepared baking sheet and pop in the warm oven to wait until ready to steam.
  14. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.
  15. Fill a large sauce pan with 2-3 inches of water, place in it the steamer basket, and place 4 parchment squares in the basket. Put buns on top of the parchment squares, cover, and cook on medium-high temperature, steaming for 10 minutes.
  16. Check that the exterior of the buns has hardened a bit and isn't sticky. Cook for a couple more minutes, if necessary, then transfer to wire racks.
  17. Repeat with remaining buns.
  18. Eat warm; if cooled, re-steam or microwave for 30 seconds before consuming.

 

Jan 01 2014

#FirstOnTheFirst: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Getting Seasonal…

#FirstOnTheFirst Sticky Toffee Pudding

When we plan our challenges for First on the First, we try to take the time of year into consideration. Croquembouche, for example, was set for June because it is traditionally served at French weddings and June is often thought of as the height of the wedding season. When we get to projects we’ll be preparing around Christmas-time, treats like last month’s Homemade Candy Canes come to mind. It may not be a food we typically serve–I hadn’t eaten Sticky Toffee Pudding before this challenge, for example–but it shouldn’t seem completely out of place. I think we hit the mark quite well this time. Visions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol filled my head as I got to work, transporting me to a Christmas past without the need of any spirits. Well, except for a little Cointreau.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

The funny thing is that, at least, according to Sharrow Bay Hotel in the UK, Sticky Toffee Pudding has only been around since the early 1970s, when it was invented by Francis Coulson. In other words, my idea of a traditional Victorian Christmas could use a little revision. I’m off by 100 or so years. Oops. I really should find more time to read…

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Regardless, you can’t get more Christmas-y than this sticky cake with its ginger undertones and deep, rich flavor. My husband surprised me by actually liking it (have I told you what a picky PITA he is?) and the kids couldn’t wait to have another serving. By baking in these mini Bundt-like pans, each was treated with his/her own cake to devour. The plates were all licked clean.

Getting Sappy…

Sticky Toffee Pudding

As we close out another year of First on the First, I want to thank Kate of Food Babbles for her unending patience! We’re pretty opposite in our planning strategies and she has been a saint in putting up with my last-minute nonsense! I want to thank all the participants for struggling along with us. Sometimes the challenges are–literally–a piece of cake. Other times, you wonder why you even bothered. But we’re in this together, and I appreciate you coming back, month after month, for more abuse. Last, I want to thank all of you for reading about our journeys! It’s not easy to share when something you’ve tried in the kitchen is a flop, especially for the whole world to witness. But you have made it easier to see the big picture and understand that, in the grand scheme, something good comes from each of these experiments. Your support and wonderful comments encourage us to keep on trying.

Getting Sticky…

Now…who wants some pudding? Grab a fork and dig in!

And for February…

We’ll be starting the year with Steamed Buns. Sounds like I need to pick up some new kitchen equipment first! If you’d like to join in, please click on the First on the First tab above for details. We’d love to see what you create!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky Toffee Pudding
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 10
Ingredients
Pudding
  • 1 cup water
  • 1½ cups chopped pitted dates (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ cup candied ginger, chopped
  • ¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing the pans
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large cage free eggs
Toffee Sauce
  • ¾ cup turbinado sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Lyle's Golden Syrup
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • pinch flaky sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons Cointreau, or other orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving
Instructions
Pudding
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the water and dates and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in the baking soda; it will foam up; then stir in the candied ginger. Set aside to cool a bit.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour 10 mini Bundt pans (or 10 cavities in 2 pans of 6-cavities... I know, that sounds confusing). Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  5. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  6. Beat in the vanilla extract.
  7. Add 1 egg and beat until it's fully incorporated.
  8. Add half the flour mixture and half the dates, mixing until incorporated.
  9. Beat in the other egg, then add the remaining flour and dates, mixing until incorporated.
  10. Fill prepared mini Bundts half-way.
  11. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out clean.
  12. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then cover with a wire rack, invert, and release onto wire rack to cool.
Toffee Sauce
  1. Bring the sugar, syrup, cream, butter, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. Boil gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently to keep from burning. Once it coats the back of a spoon, it's done.
  3. Remove from heat, add the Cointreau and vanilla extract (it will bubble up a bit--be careful!), and stir.
Serving
  1. Place a mini Bundt in the center of a shallow bowl. Spoon warm toffee sauce over the top of it. Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Notes
If you can't find Lyle's Golden Syrup in the baker's aisle of your local grocery store, you can substitute unsulphured molasses. You'll get a deeper, richer flavor doing this.

You can make the cakes a day in advance and the toffee sauce as early as a few hours before serving. Just reheat the toffee sauce before spooning over the cakes.

Happy New Year!

May 2014 bring you good health, wealth, and happiness! I hope you’ll continue following our journey–and even consider participating!

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