Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The cake batter was started with a simple mix of softened butter, dark brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and rum. Once combined, flour mixed with baking powder, baking soda, and salt was alternately added with buttermilk. The cakes were baked and cooled. Then, what I’m going to call the best frosting ever was prepared. To make it, butter was melted and browned, then dark brown sugar, cream, and salt were added. It was brought to a boil while whisking and cooked for three minutes. That lovely, lovely mixture was transferred to the bowl of a mixer and left to cool. Once cool, additional butter was mixed into it. In a separate bowl, cream cheese was mixed with confectioners’ sugar, and then it was added to the butter mixture and mixed until smooth. The frosting then needed to be refrigerated to firm up a bit, but I recommend you taste it several times as it chills only because it’s incredible. Butterscotch cream cheese frosting should top everything from cinnamon rolls to toast. Ok, the cake was baked and the frosting was almost ready, but there was one other component to this cake. A butterscotch sauce was made by mixing sugar, butter, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan. This was cooked over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolved and then it was brought to a boil. Off the heat, cream was added, and then it was cooked for two more minutes and allowed to cool. This sauce was brushed over the cake layers before they were frosted. The layers were stacked, frosting was generously applied, and chopped, toasted pecans were added on the sides.
As I tasted the different parts of this at each step along the way, I repeatedly said that this was the best cake I’ve ever made. The frosting with sweet dark brown sugar and browned butter with a hint of salt mixed with cream cheese was scandalously good. There was no counting of calories while enjoying this cake. It’s too delicious for you to even care.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Monica: 1. Every Day in Tuscany by Frances Mayes - I have been totally immersed in this book recently. Mayes is one of the most poetic writers I have ever read. Her words take me to Tuscany, make me feel like I am in the piazza with her, sipping my cappuccino and watching the miracles of everyday life on a street corner. I want to breathe the air she breathes, eat the roasted chestnuts her husband roasts over their fireplace, and gaze in wonder at the masterpieces of artists she loves. She makes me want to wander. A perfect read for lovers of food of all kinds but especially for those longing for a bit of romance and those filled with wanderlust
2. The Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson - I interviewed chef Marcus once and totally fell in love with his philosophy on food and spices. And I love his book. The recipes are enticing and make me want to run into the kitchen. Who would not want to make a caramelized mango soup with poppy seed rice pudding or a spectacular beet ginger chutney. This book is perfect for a spice-lover like me!
Saturday, March 27, 2010
The winner of the gift of chocolates is Pam from Sidewalk Shoes. Congratulations, Pam!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
That gallon of whole milk, three quarters of a cup of distilled white vinegar, and a tablespoon of salt were placed in a large pan and brought up to 140 degrees F while stirring constantly. Then, it was left to continue warming to 175 degrees F. The separated curds were then spooned into a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer with a base that was sitting in a large bowl. The strainer needs a base so that it can stand above the liquid that drains. It drained for about an hour, and voila, beautiful ricotta was born. That was the key to this pizza’s toppings. Ricotta with honey and pistachios is a natural fit, and then pushing those flavors a little by contrasting the sweetness with some savory heat was what resulted here. Those toppings just happened to have been on brioche dough.
Don’t call the butter police. I know this will sound like a lot of butter, but that’s brioche. The dough was started by mixing sugar, warm water, and yeast. Flour, additional sugar, and salt were combined, and then eggs and the yeast mixture were added to that in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. While mixing the dough, it was necessary to stop from time to time and pull the dough down off the dough hook and then continue. Then, softened butter was added one tablespoon at a time allowing each bit to be incorporated before adding more until the 16 luscious tablespoons of butter had been added. The dough was briefly kneaded by hand on a floured surface and was left to slowly rise in the refrigerator for at least four hours or up to two days. It was a lovely dough that was actually very easy to roll out for pizzas.
To make these pizzas, pistachios were fried in olive oil and then removed, drained on paper towels, and were coarsely chopped. After the olive cooled a little, red pepper flakes and sliced garlic were added to it. That flavored oil and some of the pepper flakes and garlic were brushed onto the rolled out pizza dough. The oil was topped with chopped pistachios and scoops of fresh ricotta. The pizza baked for about thirteen minutes, and then it was drizzled with honey and sprinkled with fleur de sel. I should explain that this isn’t really the kind of pizza to serve for eating several big slices while watching the game although I’m sure it would taste just as good whether a game was being watched or not. Rather, this is more of a pizza to cut into small pieces to be enjoyed with a cocktail. The rich dough was a very suitable platform for the creamy ricotta, sweet honey, and spicy hit of pepper. I wasn’t sure Kurt would love this, and neither was he. After tasting it, he claimed that the toppings really worked well together, and I couldn’t have agreed more. I also thought it was a great use of my very first fresh ricotta.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I used dried chickpeas which I soaked overnight before cooking, but rinsed and drained canned chickpeas would also work. While the chickpeas cooked, I mixed together the mojo verde in a food processor and fried some thinly sliced shallots since they could sit while the rest of the dish was prepared. I decided to use shallots for the crispy topping, but onions were used in the original recipe. To begin the braise, finely chopped onion, garlic, broken pieces of dried red chiles, and ground cumin were sauteed in olive oil. Tomato paste was stirred into that mix before the cooked chickpeas and some of their cooking liquid was added. That was left to simmer until the liquid had almost disappeared, and then I added a mix of fresh greens that I found at the farmers’ market. There were spinach leaves and mizuna and a few small kale leaves which were washed, stemmed, and torn into pieces. While the greens wilted their way into the chickpeas, the haloumi was quickly pan-fried in olive oil.
The chickpeas were full of flavor from the onion, garlic, and dried chiles and those flavors wound into the greens as well. Haloumi can’t help but be delicious. The same goes for crispy shallots, and the mojo verde with cilantro and sherry vinegar was a touch of herby acidity in the dish. This could make a very good, little starter stacked nicely with the frizzy shallots on top, but I’m glad I served this as a main course because I would have wanted more than just a small plate of it.
The recipe is not available on Cuisine’s web site, so I’ll include it here.
Braised Chickpeas with Spinach, Haloumi, Crispy Shallots, and Mojo Verde
1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight (or two cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying haloumi
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped plus 2 cloves garlic smashed
3 small dried chiles such as chile de arbol, crumbled
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 big handfuls spinach leaves or small leaves of other greens, washed, drained, stemmed, and chopped or pulled into pieces
1 package haloumi, cut into ¼ inch slices
Salt and pepper to taste
-Drain the soaked chickpeas and place in a large saucepan with water to cover by two inches. Add the smashed garlic cloves and one crumbled chile. Bring to a boil and simmer until chickpeas are tender, about one to two hours. When cooked, reserve the cooking liquid.
-While the chickpeas are cooking, prepare the mojo verde and fry the sliced shallots as described below.
-In a large saucepan, heat two tablespoons olive oil and fry the onion until soft. Add garlic, crumbled chiles, and cumin and fry for an additional minute. Stir in the tomato paste. Add the cooked, drained chickpeas and two cups of the reserved cooking liquid. If using canned chickpeas, add two cups water. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.
-Add the spinach and/or greens and stir to combine. Check seasoning and adjust as needed.
-As the greens wilt into the chickpeas, fry the haloumi slices in olive oil until golden on each side, about one minute per side.
-Serve the braised chickpeas and greens with a few slices of haloumi on top. Drizzle haloumi and chickpeas with mojo verde, and top with crispy shallots.
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
-Place garlic, cumin, and sea salt in a mini food processor and process until smooth. Add the cilantro, vinegar, and olive oil. Process again until smooth and emulsified.
2 large or 4 small shallots, skinned and thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
- Place oil and sliced shallots in a small frying pan and slowly bring up to bubbling. Continue cooking until the shallots are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove shallots and drain on paper towels.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Michael Ruhlman has appeared on several television shows including Cooking Under Fire on PBS, was a judge on the Next Iron Chef on the Food Network, appears occasionally as a judge on Iron Chef America, and has been a featured guest on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. His most recent book is Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, and he recently co-authored the cookbooks Ad Hoc at Home and Michael Symon's Live to Cook. More of his informative and thought-provoking writing as well as stunning photography by Donna Ruhlman can be found on his blog. I wanted to know: Michael Ruhlman, what are you reading?
Michael: I most recently finished Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. A delightful and compelling read, the book argues that it was the eating of cooked food that shaped our bodies into what they are today and shaped our society.
Also, I’ve been reading The New Yorker food issue with excellent stories on taste creation, Michelin restaurant evaluators, and Calvin Trillin.
I’m currently finishing much needed non-food reading, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, an excellent long novel.
Thank you for participating, Michael! Check back to see who answers the question next time and what other books are recommended.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
The cookie dough was mixed and then wrapped in plastic and left to chill in the freezer for 20 minutes to make it easier to handle. Still, it was a sticky dough, and in the book, Heidi suggests rolling it out between layers of plastic wrap. I could tell that rolling it on a floured surface would have caused a lot of extra flour to be incorporated, but with big sheets of plastic, rolling the dough was a breeze. It was rolled to a thickness somewhere between one quarter inch and an eighth inch. Too thin and the cookies would have been brittle; too thick and they wouldn’t have had a nice crunchiness. The cut cookies were baked and allowed to cool. Then, semi-sweet chocolate was melted and flavored with mint extract. A tip to keep in mind is to add a little extract at a time and taste as you go. I added the extract in one half teaspoon increments and ended up adding a total of two teaspoons. But, each brand is different so, unfortunately, tasting is a task you just have to do. With a face full of chocolate, I set about dipping the cookies and then letting them dry on parchment paper.
The good news about making your own thin mints is that you can choose the ingredients that go into them. In the cookies, I used Van Houten cocoa powder from France (a lovely gift that I continue to enjoy). And, for the chocolate coating, I used 58 percent cacao El Rey feves. You can also decide how minty you want them to be. It’s hard to say no to those little girl scouts selling their cookies, but the homemade version is pretty irresistible too.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
We’re blessed with a few pretty amazing grocery stores here in Austin, and we also have some great ethnic markets and specialty shops in addition to a lot of locally produced items sold at our farmers’ markets. Yes, I spend a lot of time shopping for food, and I’m driven completely insane when I can’t find certain ingredients despite having all these great places to shop. I once spent the better part of a day on an unsuccessful search for salt-packed anchovies, and I’ve never seen bottarga sold locally, and fennel pollen was a whole other story. The good news is that I recently learned of an online source for all of that and more. I was offered samples of a few products from Sausage Debauchery which offers a lot more than just sausage, and I was thrilled with the quality of everything I received. For my first use of the Sicilian, salt-packed anchovies I received, I decided on the Neapolitan crostini from Molto Italiano.
Before using the anchovies, I soaked them in a few changes of cold water and drained them. Then, I split each anchovy lengthwise and removed the spines. For the crostini, toasted bread was rubbed with a raw garlic clove. Then, the bread was topped with a fresh, Calabrian ricotta that had been mixed with red pepper flakes, black pepper, and chopped fresh oregano. The anchovy fillets were placed on top, and the crostini went back under the broiler for a minute or so. The ricotta was nicely softened and warmed, and the anchovies became glistening. I like anchovies, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of different kinds and brands of anchovies in a lot of different dishes, but these were what anchovies are all about. There was no tinny taste, and the flavor wasn’t masked by any oil often used in packing. They were a little salty, and I’ll rinse them even more carefully next time, but the flavor of the little fish themselves was fantastic. To store the remaining anchovies, I packed them into a couple of disposable, airtight containers, covered them with coarse sea salt, and put the containers in the refrigerator.
Another product I received was grated mullet bottarga from Sardinia. I was inspired by a scrambled egg and bottarga dish I’d read about in the The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. The Zuni dish is a very carefully prepared version of scrambled eggs in which slivers of butter and some grated bottarga are whisked into the eggs before they’re slowly and gently cooked over low heat while stirring with a wooden spoon that has been rubbed with garlic. It’s then served with more grated bottarga on top. It sounds lovely, but I was rushed and just scrambled some eggs in melted butter the same way I usually do and then topped them with the grated bottarga. I’ll try the very careful preparation next time. There’s a cured flavor to bottarga, not unlike smoked salmon, and it was a treat with the eggs for breakfast. It tastes of the sea in a way that I like, and it would be a nice topping on breadcrumb-crusted, broiled clams. I also look forward to using some of the grated bottarga on pasta. Although this is cured fish roe, there are no chemical preservatives used as it is simply dried with salt. The products I received were really good stuff, and the site has a lot of other great things to offer as well.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Last Saturday, I attended a food blogger workshop here in Austin which was organized by Babette Pepaj and Jaden Hair and co-produced by Natanya Anderson. The talks and presentations at the workshop were very informative, and it was a great opportunity to meet some fellow bloggers while learning new things. I cooked up the idea for this new feature over the weekend and since I’d just met Jaden, I wanted to ask this question of her first. Although Jaden requires no introduction, I’ll go ahead and mention that she’s the award-winning food blogger behind Steamy Kitchen, appears twice a month on the Daytime Show, and is a columnist for Discovery’s TLC and for Tampa Tribune. Her book is The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook. So, with no further ado, Jaden Hair, what are you reading?
Jaden: The book I'm currently reading is Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuck. I was lucky enough to have met him in Austin on Monday, and he is every bit as energetic, passionate and caring in person as he is in his book. I actually bought his book via audible.com the day before I flew to South by Southwest and downloaded it to my iphone to listen to while driving. Even though it's not about cooking or food, Gary is a fellow blogger, social media expert, and he totally gets it about the future of small business, entrepreneurship, and marketing. I highly recommend it!
Thank you for participating, Jaden! Check back to see who answers the question next time and what other books are recommended.
Monday, March 15, 2010
To make the dough, softened butter and grated manchego cheese were creamed together in the bowl of a mixer. Flour and salt were added, and the dough was supposed to form itself after a bit more mixing. Mine remained very crumbly and wasn’t sticking together at all, so I dribbled in just a tablespoon or so of milk and let the mixer turn a few more times until it seemed like dough. It was then formed into a log, and I flattened that into more of a long, square-ish shape which was wrapped in plastic and left to rest in the refrigerator for an hour. One quarter inch thick pieces were cut from the dough, and each was brushed with egg wash and topped with a marcona almond before being baked for 15 minutes.
The crackers were crunchy on the edges and a little tender in the middle and full of great manchego flavor. Marcona almonds are pretty addictive all by themselves, and they made the crackers even better than they already were. This was a very basic cracker with just butter, cheese, and almonds for flavor, and I’m not complaining about that at all, but I was thinking about how it might be fun to add a little smoked paprika or a pinch of cayenne next time.
Friday, March 12, 2010
The tart crust was made from the sweet tart dough recipe in the same book. That dough includes an egg, an egg yolk, and baking powder in addition to the butter, flour, and sugar. It was mixed in a food processor and then wrapped in plastic and left to rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so. It was more dough than I needed for my rectangular tart pan, so I also made a small, free-form rustic tart to leave at home. The filling was made with frozen blueberries, sugar, a tablespoon more of cornstarch than the four tablespoon suggested, and nutmeg. After cooking and thickening, cold butter was stirred into the blueberry filling mixture. The ample crumb topping was made by combining flour, baking powder, cinnamon, brown sugar, and melted butter. Once folded together, it was left to sit while prepping the tart shell and filling. Often it’s tempting to double the quantity of a crumb topping, but I can tell you this recipe made plenty and doubling it would have been way too much. Once the filling was spooned into the shell and the crumble topping was sprinkled on top, the assembled tart baked for 40 minutes.
The crust was flaky and golden and lovely, and the filling was just firm enough and full of blueberry goodness, but the crumble topping was my favorite part. Those nuggets of buttery, crunchy, fun were a delight on top of the tart. It could have been almost any fruit in the filling because in the end, the blueness of it didn’t matter at all, but I’m glad that concept led me to this tart anyway.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
First, the quinoa was cooked and then spread on a sheet pan to cool quickly. A dressing was made by whisking together sherry vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, and a chopped chipotle chile, and then olive oil was incorporated. Sliced scallions, minced red onion, finely diced yellow pepper, and chopped cilantro were combined with the cooked and cooled black beans and quinoa. The dressing was poured over the mixture, it was tossed to combine, seasoning was checked, and that was it.
The salad is so full of flavor and varied textures you won’t even pause to think about how healthy it is. The chipotle added a little spiciness, and you could increase that and taste as you go while making the dressing. Obviously, you could change the vegetables in the salad, but the ones suggested were a nice mix of colors with the yellow pepper against the black beans and flecks of green cilantro and scallions here and there. This makes a very large quantity of salad, but it stores well in the refrigerator. It’s also great on a bed of arugula and topped with some crumbled feta, so I didn’t mind having a big bowl of it in the refrigerator for a few days.