Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kiwi Tart

Beauty and the Feast, continuing with the European theme is blogging for you now from Milan, Italy. Upon landing (and meeting up with my former New York roommate) it was agreed that the best thing to do to cope with my traveling fatigue was to cook a tart. Naturally.

Fortunately we had some overripe kiwi on hand, in addition to a gigantic bag of frollini's (some sort of italian butter cookie). We stumbled upon this recipe for a gingersnap crust, and realized that the aforementioned cookies could be substituted. We crushed 8 ounces of cookies, (which is about 226 grams for you fans of the metric system), and mixed the crumbs with some melted butter.

After the crumbs were mixed evenly with the butter and started to stick together, we pressed them into a pyrex dish (though if you have a tart pan, that will definitely suffice).

The crust before...

And after baking at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, or 163 degrees Celsius.

While the base of our tart was baking, we assembled a quick pastry cream, based on this recipe. A pastry cream is essentially sweetened milk flavored with vanilla, thickened with eggs yolks and corn starch (or flour) and stirred very briskly over heat.

Once it's reached the proper consistency, we transferred it to a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and set it to cool on the refrigerator. You'll want to push the plastic all the way down to the surface of the cream, to prevent a skin from forming

When it had properly cooled, we prepared the fruit. By peeling:

And slicing the kiwis:

Finally, we assembled the tart, first filling the cookie shell with the cooled pastry cream:

And then arranging the kiwis. The final result was colorful, fresh and absolutely delicious!

*Please note that my delightful NY roommate Rebecca alternately photographed my hands, and assisted in the assembly of this yummy confection. Thanks Becka!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Apple Cinnamon Streusel Cake

Fall means several things to me. It means the leaves changing color. It means fall flavors. It also means apple season. Sleeping with a bowl full of fruit near my head has had an interesting effect on me. Weeks ago, it meant making a pear and pecan cream tart. This week, sleeping with apples near my head, slowly becoming overripe, it meant making an apple pie of some sort.

I didn't want to make the typical apple pie. And I am waiting for thanksgiving for my french hostess to make her famous apple crumble. I was searching my favorite baking blog ovenproof when I saw that her recipes with apple included a german apple cake. She also references the king arthur flour website a few times, which I had never looked through. I stumbled on this recipe for a cinnamon-streusel coffee cake, and a little lightbulb went on over my head. I could use the best of both recipes. Make a coffee cake, but instead of a center swirl of cinnamon and sugar, I would have cinnamony and sugary apples. Perfect!

First things first, I mixed the dry ingredients for my filling-brown sugar, cinnamon and cocoa. I used a rich cocoa that I had recently purchased in Paris. I added to this mixture three chopped apples that had seen better days. It's very important to me to rescue fruit and vegetables from being thrown out. I set the apple mixture aside.

I then set to work on forming the cake mixture. I've been going old school recently- mixing ingredients with my BARE HANDS. Here I am creaming the butter and sugar.

After vanilla, baking powder and salt were added, it looked a little something like this:

Then three eggs were added one at a time. The mixture became rather soupy.

Flour was added. In a separate bowl, milk and yogurt were combined. The milk was added to the batter a little bit at a time until it was incorporated.

Once the batter was assembled, I threw together a quick crumbly topping of flour, cinnamon, sugar and melted butter.

Now for the fun part- assembling the cake. I used two well buttered loaf pans. First, I poured in a layer of the cake batter. Then, using a slotted spoon (since the apples had released some of their juices) I spooned the sliced apples on top. This was followed by another layer of cake batter, and then the crumbly topping was sprinkled over it.

the cakes were slid into a hot oven preheated to 350 degrees farenheit (for you american readers) or 176 degrees celcius (beauty and the feast is now european and metric friendly!) The recipe stated that the cake should bake for an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Perhaps it was my rustic french oven, but it took far longer than an hour to bake, so keep an eye on your cake.

As far as I'm concerned, the wait was worthwhile. Besides filling my sweet french flat with the aroma of cinnamon bread, the cake itself was delightfully moist. The crumbly top toasted and became crunchy, which was a nice foil to the soft cake. Also, after tasting this confection with apples I can't even imagine what it would have been like without them.

*Special thanks to the lovely Sarah Reed for both baking with me, and capturing the photos of my hands.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Chocolate Mousse

There is nothing more decadent than a well prepared chocolate mousse. Wickedly smooth and marshmallowy, when done properly it's a very satisfying indulgence. It's a big crowd pleaser, but I've also found that if I have an abundance of ramekins of this fluffy stuff I start replacing meals with it.

The initial inspiration came from two sources: the first, upon tasting the chocolate mousse at Trattoria del Arte in New York (highly recommended), the second- to concoct something other than chocolate chip cookies with the semi sweet chocolate chips in my closet. It was perfect. I wanted a cool creamy dessert, and I could make it with the contents of my pantry- chocolate, eggs, cream, vanilla extract and sugar.

I liked the look of Tyler Florence's recipe. Simple. Tasty. Thickened with egg yolks instead of gelatin. I wasn't looking to make pudding, after all.

You start by melting the butter and chocolate in a double boiler. I also added a shot of some leftover coffee, because I've found that coffee sharpens and enhances the chocolate flavor.

Now, mixing in a double boiler is a gentle process. You don't want to burn the chocolate by putting the heat up too high, and one of the keys to a good creamy mousse is to get all the lumps out of the chocolate, so be patient. Stir the chocolate until it gets glossy and all the chips have melted through.

Separate three eggs. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and allow it to cool before adding the egg yolks. You don't want to cook them. Add them one at a time whisking like crazy or using an electric mixer.

In a separate bowl beat the egg whites with a 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar. Don't overbeat the whites, you want them to form soft peaks. When they have reached the desirable consistency, beat in 1/4 cup of sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Then gently- and I mean gently- add them to the chocolate mixture. Use a spatula to fold them in. The best part of chocolate mousse is it's lightness. It get's its air from the whipped egg whites, and its creaminess from the whipped cream you will be adding next. DO NOT OVERMIX.

The whipped creamy is easy to make. Beat 1/2 cup of very cold heavy cream with an electric mixer gradually adding 2 tablespoons of sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract until stiff peaks form.

Add this to the chocolate/egg white mixture. Again. You want to execute this with a delicate hand.

All that's left is to put them into some ceramic ramekins, or martini glasses, or whatever you would like to serve them in and let them chill in the refrigerator for a few hours. If you are feeling extra fancy you can top them with a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings or berries when you serve them. Personally, all I need is my own ramekin and a spoon... and a double batch!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mushroom Beer Risotto

As noted in previous posts, I like to cook with what I have. I think its important to make the best of what you have, and frequently giving yourself these kinds of parameters, provides a lot of room for ingenuity. With that in mind, I gave myself the challenge of preparing risotto. I had all the necessary ingredients down to the arborio rice. Also, I decided to substitute beer for wine. Again, because I had it.

All risotto begins the same way- saute some shallots.

Add the arborio rice, make sure there is plenty of oil or butter to coat it while it toasts - this is very important! Stir until the rice is toasted and coated evenly, about a few minutes.

Add your chosen alcohol. Typically, a nice dry white wine is used. I've made risotto's with red wine, which is also delicious. I was making this vegetarian, using a combination of mushroom and vegetable stock, and I wanted something with a strong flavor that could stand up to the mushroom stock. Also, I had a large bottle of beer in my refrigerator and thought ala Julia Child- some for the pot, some for me:

After a few quick splashes of beer, which got absorbed pretty quickly, I turned down the heat, and added a few ladles of stock and some chopped mushrooms. You want to add just enough stock to cover the rice. Keep the heat low. Stir continuously, and add more stock after the risotto has absorbed it.

Keep adding stock after it gets absorbed. If you walk away from the pot, you won't want to walk too far. The risotto needs constant stirring, constant stock-adding, and constant tasting so it doesn't overcook and become total mush. Most cookbooks and recipes state that it should take half an hour for the arborio rice to cook through, and that you being counting after you start adding the broth. Truth be told, it depends on your stove, your choice of pot...etc. I would recommend using a heavy-bottomed pot. Something wide because surface area helps the rice cook faster.

When I thought the rice was close to being done, I added peas for color and sweetness.

You know the risotto is done when its almost like a soup but still has a bite. the slow cooking process opens up the rice kernel and makes it creamy, one of the unique traits of this particular grain. The finishing touch is to add a tablespoon of butter and some parmigian. Move the pot from the heat, cover it, and let it rest for a moment. It will thicken even further as it cools.

A detail of the texture of the rice, for reference.

I ate some immediately, and it was delicious. The beer added a different flavor than the wine. Because I used a lager there was a robust and almost bitter aftertaste. I imagine that it would have been fruitier if I had chosen to use a Belgian beer, it's definitely something I'm going to experiment with further. Something to keep in mind- wine typically complements the risotto well. It leaves a sweeter and well rounded taste. Also, if white wine is used, the risotto will have a lighter color. My mushroom stock happened to turn the dish brown, as would a red wine.

mushroom beer risotto
-1 cup arborio rice
-3 shallots, minced
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1/2 cup - 1 cup beer (I used lager)
-1 quart mushroom stock
-1/2 cup sweet peas
-6 or so mushrooms, sliced
-2 tablespoons of olive oil
-2 tablespoons butter (for finishing)
-1/4 cup parmigian cheese

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Panzanella (Bread Salad)

I wanted to fix myself a sandwich this afternoon when I noticed that the baguette I was going to use had gone incredibly stale and hard. Most of the food I cook in my kitchen tends to be a way for me to use or salvage ingredients I already have. What better way to save this once delicious garlicky baguette than to toast it into croutons and make a salad with it?

I started by cutting the bread into one inch cubes.

Then I slid them into a bowl and tossed them with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Then I heated my cast iron skillet and toasted the bread until the cubes were golden brown.

In a separate bowl, I assembled the dressing: dijon mustard, one clove of minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. The recipe called for champagne vinegar, but it's really just schmansy white wine vinegar (which is a lot easier to come by), so I used three tablespoons of that instead.

The rest of the salad can be more or less vegetables of your choice. You can stay with the staples: tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, and red onion. I wanted the salad to be really colorful, so I used some beautiful vine cherry tomatoes:

Some adorable mixed baby bell peppers of different colors:

I also used a hot house cucumber, otherwise referred to as European cucumbers. I like them because you can leave the skin on, they're less bitter, and they have very few seeds. I also added some chopped basil. Add your vegetables to the toasted croutons, top with dressing and mix it. Difficult as it may be to wait before diving in, this salad is best enjoyed if you set it aside and let the dressing soak a bit into the croutons. This is especially essential if you started with really stale bread. The ingredients meld, and the flavors become a lot bolder.

I love this salad. As I was mixing it I literally gasped out loud because the colors were so beautiful. The basil adds a delightful freshness to the vegetables, but it's very difficult to not pick out and eat all the croutons. They get infused with a wonderful aroma and the crispiness mixed with the dressing is very satisfying.

I based my recipe on Ina Garten's Panzanella Recipe. As I stated earlier in this post, I substituted white wine vinegar for champagne vinegar. It's just easier to acquire.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chicken Pasta Bake

Sometimes, even in the depths of summer you want something warm and comforting, read: heavy. I typically give in to my cravings, so I set forth to make myself a yummy italian pasta bake. I based my recipe on one of Giada's because she can do no wrong my eyes. Full recipe can be found here.

I try to be as organized as possible when I'm making something with several ingredients. Here you can see all the ingredients prepped for cooking- the mozzarella cheese, chopped onions, cubed chicken breast, chopped parsley, and even though the recipe didn't call for it, mushrooms. Because I had them, and they are delicious.

Before I could assemble the rest of the dish, I had to cook the pasta. The recipe called for one cup. I had a lot of the other ingredients, so to keep the proportions in balance I made two. Remember that the pasta is going to continue cooking in the oven, so only cook the pasta until it's al dente.

Once the pasta is almost done, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and assemble the rest of the mixture. Saute the onions with the chicken.

Then add the mushrooms.

Cook for about 5 minutes until the chicken is done. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the cheese, parsley, and the chopped canned tomatoes. Add the cooked pasta.

When the pasta is properly coated with the chicken tomato mixture, transfer to a baking pan.
Sprinkle generously with parmigian and bread crumbs. I used italian seasoned panko bread crumbs. Panko adds a delightful crunch, and these are pre-seasoned. I was very excited to find them at the supermarket. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the bread crumbs turn golden brown. If you find, as I had that they aren't toasted to your liking, just stick it under the broiler for a few minutes.

This dish turned out to be exactly what I wanted. Many italians talk about how americans over sauce their pasta, in this dish, the pasta wasn't bombarded with sauce. There was just enough to flavor it between the chicken, the cheese, and the tomatoes. The bread crumbs were fantastically savory, crunchy, and a lovely contrast against the soft pasta.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Skirt Steak Tacos with Guacamole

Summer is upon us, and with it- grilling season. I love just about anything off the grill. Roasted vegetables, chicken, buttery vidalia onions, kebabs... I could probably list items forever. One my favorite items is the seriously underrated skirt steak. Its economical, easy to cook, lean and grills beautifully. I like to pick some up and make tacos out of them. Again, it's very easy and is a big crowd pleaser.

If you have been keeping abreast of my entries, you'd know I enjoy a good marinade because of the amount of flavor you can pack into your dish. my favorite way to marinate skirt steak, particularly for tacos is simply with some citrus, a bit of garlic, cumin, and cilantro. Simple flavors.

First things first, I place my steaks in a bowl, drizzled a little bit of olive oil over them, because it helps the spices stick. I sprinkled some salt, pepper, cumin and the minced garlic over them and rubbed all the seasoning in.

I topped this off with citrus juice. You can use any and all citrus you have in the house. I generally use lemon and lime juice, though orange would be good too.

Zest from the citrus is excellent too, it smells wonderful and a little goes a long way. Roll your lemons or limes on your counter or work surface, it helps release the juice.

Zest them first, and then squeeze the juice out of them being careful to avoid getting the seeds in your food. You can do with or without the crushed garlic. I add garlic to everything, so I used some. You can also add some red pepper flakes for a spicy kick. You will want to marinate this for at least an hour or two before grilling, so the meat tenderizes and absorbs all the different flavors.

I grilled these on my stove top grill, though obviously a real grill would be great. About 10 minutes on each side should suffice if you like your steak medium rare. Grill it until the outside is charred and the center is cooked to your liking.

When you remove it from the grill, it's important that you let it rest for a few minutes to allow the juices to redistribute. It will also be softer if you let it rest properly.

Once the steaks were grilled, and had time to rest, they were sliced and the tacos were assembled. I used hard taco shells, shredded cheddar cheese (though pepper jack would also be excellent), and some mixed greens on top of the sliced steak in my tacos.

I served them with some homemade guacamole, the recipe is below:

This guacamole is the perfect accompaniment for the tacos. I can't overstate how much better guacamole is if you keep it simple. I like to go with the basics: lime juice, cilantro, and a little bit of garlic for sharpness.

I like to use Haas avocados because they have a creamy richness that I haven't detected in other avocados. Right after I slice them open, I always drizzle a little bit of lime juice on them, because I don't want them to oxidize and turn brown. Brown guac is not very appetizing.

After the avocados have been scooped out of their husks, I added a handful of chopped cilantro, more lime juice, salt, pepper and minced garlic. If you find that your avocados are a bit under ripe, you can add some olive oil to smooth it out.

Use a fork to mash the avocado, you can keep it as smooth or as chunky as you like. Garnish with some cilantro and lime and you're done! You can add chopped tomatoes, or a spoonful of salsa, but the most important thing is to keep it simple and let the nutty taste of the avocados shine through.

*A helpful tip. If you want to store any leftover guacamole, put it in a ziplock bag and squeeze out as much air as possible- this will keep it from turning brown in the refrigerator.