Thursday, October 19, 2017

Black Sesame Otsu with Soba Noodles and Tofu

The first thing I noticed about Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook was the variety among the recipes. When I started flipping through my review copy, it was immediately clear that there are a lot of different styles and cultural influences here, and I like that a lot about it. The recipes are all tried and true favorites from women who have been featured in or have inspired the makers of Cherry Bombe magazine. And, several of the recipes are family favorites rather than trendy dishes from the latest restaurant menus. The chapters are organized by Mains, Soups and Salads, Sides, Apps Snacks and Sips, Cookies Cakes and Pies, and Sweet Treats. I’ll be watching for the first local beets of fall so I can try the Pink Spaghetti with Beet and Ricotta Sauce by Elettra Wiedemann of Impatient Foodie. Jessico Koslow contributed the Lemongrass and Ginger-Brined Chicken that looks fantastic with a simple arugula salad. The “Million Ingredient” Autumn Salad from Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats includes delicata squash, persimmons, and pomegranate seeds and would be great on a Thanksgiving menu. Speaking of fall menus, the Pumpkin-Swirled Mashed Potatoes with Vegan Rosemary Gravy looks like a delicious way to celebrate the season. For a twist on a classic cocktail, Gail Simmons’ Charred Pineapple Margarita is on my to-try list. And, the Candied Grapefruit Pops, involving grapefruit segments skewered on sticks and dipped into caramelized sugar, looks like such a fun citrusy treat. I started cooking from the book with the Black Sesame Otsu with Soba Noodles and Tofu from Heidi Swanson because the unique black sesame paste drew me in. 

That paste is sort of like pesto but taken in a different direction. Pine nuts and sunflower seeds were toasted in a dry pan on the stove. Black sesame seeds were added to toast briefly at the end. The nuts and seeds were crushed in a mini food processor, but a mortar and pestle would also work. Shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and some ground cayenne pepper were added. Drained tofu was to be cut into sticks and browned in olive oil in a skillet. My preferred method for browning tofu has for years been broiling. I toss the tofu pieces with oil, season them, and arrange them on a sheet pan. I place the sheet pan under the broiler, and every four minutes or so, I turn each piece of tofu so an uncooked side faces up until all sides are browned. The browned tofu was set aside while the soba noodles were boiled. Some of the water from boiling the noodles was used to thin some of the black sesame paste. A big spoonful of the sesame paste was set aside to use as garnish. The drained, rinsed, and drained again noodles were tossed with the thinned sesame paste and sliced green onions. The noodles were served with tofu pieces, more sliced green onions, and a dollop of the reserved sesame paste. 

I appreciated this recipe’s use of a couple of very Italian techniques that were reinterpreted with Asian flavors. The sesame paste paired nicely with the soba, and the notes in the book suggest several other uses as well such as serving it with spinach, roasted potatoes, or broccoli. I’d like to try all of those ideas. Or, I might revel in the variety by turning to a recipe found a couple of pages later which is a Caesar Brussels Salad. There’s a lot to explore here. 

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Sarah Bernhardts Cookies

I previously had baked from five of Alice Medrich’s books and always appreciate her insight into ingredients and precise instructions. However, I’d never used her first book until receiving a review copy of the newly republished Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts which first appeared in 1990. A lot has changed in the availability of varieties of chocolate and cocoa powder since then. These days, you can find exactly the cacao percentage you’d like to use for dark and even milk chocolate. But, back before such offerings could be found easily, Alice Medrich was creating incredible, artful desserts at her shop in Berkeley starting in 1976. In this new publication of the book, she has added some updated information including a Chocolate Chart. The chart indicates what percentage of cacao chocolate should be used for each recipe since when the ingredient lists were first written, they just called for semisweet or bittersweet. And, these are beautiful desserts. Any fear of attempting them will dissipate as you read the book. The instructions explain which recipes are deceptively simple and any of the more complicated steps for the truly show-stopping treats are carefully explained and illustrated. There’s a chapter full of torts that are all easier to make than you might first think, and they can be served simply or adorned. The Mocha Pecan Torte with a Mocha Glaze is one I want to try. Next is a chapter of Designer Desserts, and these require a little more time and attention for the incredible results. The Strawberry Carousel with White Chocolate Mousse and the Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Tart are both elegant options for a special occasion. Not every recipe in the book is chocolate-focused. You’ll find a Coco Cabana cake made in a dome shape and topped with big pieces of coconut, Lemon Roulades that are made in petite individual serving size, and a Citrus Tart with glistening candied citrus slices. There’s also a chapter of Petite Rewards full of smaller treats like Walnut Squares which take brownies to a new level, Chocolate Dessert Cups that can be filled with ice cream or berries, and these dressed-up cookies shown here named for Sarah Bernhardt. 

So, who was Sarah Bernhardt? She was a French stage actress who performed around the turn of the 20th century. The cookies were invented in Denmark when she visited Copenhagen. They’re made up of an almond macaroon base topped with a chocolate ganache, and the cookie is then dipped into chocolate glaze. In Cocolat, the photo shows perfect, little confections. The ganache has been piped into precise cone shapes, and only the top is covered in chocolate with the cookie base seen below. They are also adorned with flecks of gold leaf. Mine look a little more casual by comparison, but the flavors and textures were divine. They can be made in stages, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First to make the cookies bases, you do want to carefully measure the egg whites. It should be exactly three tablespoons and not just an eyeballed amount from one to two eggs as I did incorrectly the first time. My first attempt produced cookies that spread too much but were delicious thanks to the almond extract. The second time, I measured the egg whites and ended up with a thicker paste of a batter that was easily piped into small rounds. For the ganache topping, the recipe suggests making a double batch of the Chocolate Ganache in the book. That seemed like a lot of ganache to me, so I decided to just make a single batch and see how far it would go. I ended having more than enough to top all the cookies. The ganache is a simple mixture of warmed cream and chopped chocolate, stirred until melted and smooth, that was chilled overnight before being beaten to a silky, smooth texture. After lightening the ganache in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, it was piped onto the cookies. I created more of a swirl shape rather than a cone. The cookies were then chilled while the chocolate glaze was made. The glaze was made from chopped chocolate, butter, and corn syrup. Once melted and mixed, the glaze needs to cool to about 90 degrees F before being used. And, it’s handy to place the glaze in a tall container to dip the cookies into it. You could dip the entire top of the cookies or just the ganache, but work quickly so the ganache doesn’t become too soft. Then, chill the cookies again until ready to serve. 

Alice Medrich is a master of chocolate confections, and I always love learning from her. The techniques in this book, from working with chocolate for glazes and piped decorations to ribbons of chocolate to top a cake, will set you on a path to making amazing desserts. And, as she points out, regardless of how the creations look, they’re going to taste delicious. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 
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