Tuesday, April 27, 2010

lemon pineapple biscotti

these things have tortured me since sunday night, when the idea of lemon-pineapple biscotti first occured. first thing monday morning i rush to trader joe's, but they had no pineapple (and no hazelnuts, incidentally, which i needed for another project) and as there was no time to go to a different store they had to wait until today. or, i had to wait, and i don't do patient. not with a craving the size of montana.

it was a rough night, but here we are. zhara got very excited at the prospect of cookies, and she yelled 'me too' after every single gesture of mine. not to mention i had to measure the pineapple three times cause some of it kept dissapearing. (one mangled piece mysterioulsy reappeared in her hair.)
this recipe is featured in the recipe booklet that came with my food processor. the other morning i was de-junking my flyer drawer when i found the booklet. it's been sitting there for the past two years. there's more to come from it, a great little recipe for banana bread. anyhoo, this biscotti recipe originally had a lot more sugar and ginger, which i don't particularly enjoy, but i loved the lemon part so i started from there.

3 oz or 87 gr white chocolate
2 oz or 58 gr crystallized pineapple
12 oz or 2 1/2 cups or 345 gr all-purpose flour
2 ts or 10 gr baking powder
1/4 ts salt
zest of 3 lemons
3/4 cup or 158 gr sugar
1/2 cup or 113 gr unsalted butter, room temp
2 large eggs
1 tb brandy or grand marnier
1 tb vanilla extract

preheat oven to 325F or 160C.
chop chocolate so no piece is larger than 1/4 inch. if you have chips you're all set. do the same for the pineapple and reserve. sift together flour, salt and baking powder and reserve. using a vegetable peeler remove the zest from the three lemons in strips. process the zest with 1/4 cup of the sugar until minced. add the remaining sugar and the butter and process until smooth. the mixture may look curdled. with the processor running, add the eggs one at a time. and the grand marnier or brandy and the vanilla. scrape the bowl. add the flour, chopped chocolate and pineapple and process to incorporate. turn out to a lightly floured surface and gather into a ball. the dough will be rather sticky, be sure to flour your hands too. (when zhara saw this, she started again with the me toos, so i pulled the salt dough and talked sweetly about her having her own work station on the other counter. really i was thinking i'd rather be dragged around by wild horses than let her schmear that stuff all over the kitchen. cooks with toddlers, be warned.)

so once you have it into a ball, divide in two and shape into logs. you can make them as wide as you like, they won't spread too much. they will rise to about double. put them on ungreased sheets bake for 22 minutes. remove from the oven, let them sit for 5-10 minutes or until you can handle them, and slice using a serrated knife. place them back on the sheets, cut side up, and bake another 20 to 25 minutes, depending on how crunchy you like them. 20 was plenty for me. when you take them out they will still be kinda soft, but that's no indication. they will harden as they cool. once they're cooled you can drizzle more chocolate on top, they really are not that sweet and can easily afford another layer. store airtight for 6 weeks. they freeze well, too. they're my number one cookie.

later update: it's been 36 hours since they're out of the oven. they're firm, no doubt, but not hard. they don't really stand up to repeated dunking. it suits me fine cause zhara has taken quite the liking to them, but if you like yours good and sturdy consider adding 1/4 cup fine cornmeal when you mix in the flour. that way you'll get more crunch.

in the garden

i've been spending a good amount of time weeding and planting lately. i'll never be a passionate gardener. those weeds grow too fast and do there really have to be so many worms and bugs in the ground?! fortunately, i like herbs more than i dislike bugs. and once i decided to grow herbs, the rest just followed. i planted onion, carrots, and parsley. i have heirloom tomatoes growing on the windowsill, and when it's warm enough i'll also put in green beans, cucumbers and bell peppers. perhaps corn, just two or three so we can boil it young and have it with herbed salted butter. i haven't photographed all of it, but here's a few...

Monday, April 26, 2010

cake poire belle helene

there is no such cake. this is simply what happens when you get crazy excited about a dessert and you must make a ton of it. the poire belle helene is a pear poached in syrup infused with vanilla bean, lemon zest and cinnamon stick. and then drenched in a ridiculous chocolate sauce. how could i resist? of course the whole thing was too much for two, so i decided to dress up the leftovers.

first i made the pears according to tyler florence's recipe. sadly, it's not one i recommend. the pears are magnificent, yes, but the chocolate recipe is off: it produces a much larger quantity than what is needed for 6 pears, and it's too thin for my taste. next time i will use the recipe on delia online.

the next day the sauce had hardened and so it was impossible to use as intended. i whipped it up, as you would a ganache, and used it to fill a red velvet cake, along with my go-to lemon whipped cream, and the perfumed pears atop. for the cake i followed paula deen's recipe. the only modification i made to it was to replace two tablespoons of the sugar quantity with cocoa. i like that it has a whole cup of buttermilk, it's a fluffy cake with a tender crumb. for the lemon whipped cream all you need is 2 cups heavy cream beaten stiff, then 2 tb confectioner's sugar, then 4 - 5 tb lemon curd mixed in, according to your taste. check out celia's microwave lemon curd, it's bound to make your life easier. to assemble the cake i doused it well and good with poaching syrup, then filled it. then i ploped the pears on top and so i stumbled unto a great dessert. it would have been even better to have more pears under the whipped cream. i think next time i'll skip the first scenario altogether and go for the cake straight away. the photos are half-assed because i didn't think i would actually use them. i honestly did not expect it to be so good, it was just leftover pears, for crying out loud. i love it when a shot in the dark pans out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

red wine red beet barley risotto

i have a bit of a fixation on beets. nothing dangerous, if you ask me, but if you met my husband, he'd tell you to run for your life. i do this thing, every now and then, where i get completely obsessed with an ingredient and then it'll show up in everything for the next two weeks. the polenta episode was most unfortunate for my husband, as he's not a fan. the goat cheese phase meant dozens of tartlets, mousses and salads. the caramel thing is ongoing, i never seem to forget about caramel. the beets, my husband doesn't dislike. he put up with it, until this dish, the last of the series. i thought it was the culmination, the crown jewel of the beet week. he said it was rubbish and refused to eat it. i ate it for three meals in a row. i loved it, but god! i'm done with beets for a while.

1 cup pearl barley
2 tb olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cups grated beets, 4 to 5 baby beets
1/4 cup red wine (or pomegranate juice)
5 cups stock
1/2 cup parmesan
6 oz baby spinach
salt, pepper
goat cheese or feta cheese, optional

heat the stock and keep it hot on low heat. in a saucepan, heat up 2 tb olive oil and saute the onion. when it's translucent, add the barley and toss to coat. cook for about 5 minutes to toast, then deglaze with the wine or juice. then ladle in about a cup of stock and stir. when it's absorbed, add another. when the second cup is absorbed, add the grated beets and cook a couple minutes. add all the remaining stock and simmer over low heat, covered, for about 40 minutes, until the barley is soft but still has a bit of bite. add the spinach and the parmesan and mix well. season to taste. remove from heat and serve immediately. top each serving with a few crumbles of goat cheese or feta, and a few chopped chives.

i had it both with goat cheese and feta, and i couldn't say which i liked best. the goat cheese melts on contact and when you stir it in it makes it impossibly creamy, like no other risotto i ever had. the feta melts well, too and provides an extra salty delicious undertone. try it both ways or without any cheese at all, it will still be creamy. as a bonus, it's quite decent reheated. most risottos don't fare well if not served immediately, but as i was the only taker i had to refrigerate it. on my next beet binge i'll try it cold, or room temp, with a handful of pomegranate seeds mixed in. just a hunch i'm having. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

hazelnut tart cherry tartelettes

pie dough is much blogged about, and very controversial. i side in the butter camp. i do have a bucket of lard in the house, and i'm not afraid to use it, especially in savory applications. when it comes to pie crusts, however, i don't like the aftertaste of lard in there. there's a greasy mouthfeel that joe pastry doesn't like either. have you met joe pastry? it's a great resource for any beginning baker. there's recipes for every dough on this earth, and detailed instructions for the techniques used in all of them. how's about pie dough in a ziploc bag? it's the first i've heard about it! of course, true to form, i remain faithful to my food processor, but go here to see this interesting approach. and even if i scorned the bag, i tried the recipe, which is lard-free and boasts a combo of butter and cream cheese, and it is very good.

for the crust:
12 tb unsalted butter, very cold, in 1/2 inch cubes
10 oz all-purpose flour
4.5 oz cream cheese
1/4 ts salt
1/4 ts baking powder
1 tb cider vinegar
2 to 3 tb ice water

either you do it in the bag like joe, or by hand like grandma, or in the food processor like me. i am very happy with the result, i see no reason to waste time, so i pulse it start to finish. first combine the flour, salt and baking powder in the bowl of your processor. then add the cream cheese to the flour and pulse a few times to get a coarse meal. then add the butter - very cold, frozen even - and pulse a few times more, until you have butter pieces the size of peas. then add the vinegar and ice water by the tablespoon and pulse just until it comes together. refrigerate for at least 2 hours to overnight.

when it's ready, split the dough in 2 equal pieces. while the second piece waits in the fridge, roll out the first one in a 10 inch circle. then you want to cut to size circles to fit the mini-muffin tin. none of my cookie cutters worked, so i've had to improvise. a circle of about 2 1/2 inches diameter is required. line all the muffin spaces with dough and refrigerate. proceed to the second one in the same manner, or make a tart using a removable bottom quiche pan. refrigerate that one, too.

for the filling:
a half recipe of hazelnut frangipane
1 1/2 lbs tart montmorency cherries/ 5 cups/ 680 gr
3/4 cups sugar
1/4 ts orange extract (almond extract works equally well)
3 tb cornstarch

i used frozen fruit. it is impossible to get fresh sour cherries in chicago. last summer i found some at trader joe's, but they were so puny looking i didn't even bother. anyhoo, if frozen defrost in a colander. if from compote, drain well. mix the sugar with the cornstarch. put the cherries in a pot, add the extract, then the sugar mixture, and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes. the filling will thicken as it cools.

for the pastry cream:
4 egg yolks
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 ts orange extract

heat up the milk, the heavy cream, the extract and the sugar. split the bean and scrape up the seeds. put everything in the milk to infuse. mix the yolks with the sifted cornstach until smooth and pale. when the milk is just below boiling fish out the bean and pour 1/4 of the mixture on the yolks, while whisking constantly. pour it back in the milk and stir like yout life depends on it. keep stirring until in thickens, about 5 minutes. set aside to cool.

to assemble, take out the muffin tins. put 1 ts hazelnuts in each, then top with a cherry and bake at 350F for about 20 minutes. let cool a few minutes and fill the remaining space with pastry cream.
the pastry is sufficient for two 10 inch tarts, or 48 tartelettes. i made one 10 inch tart and 24 little ones. the cherry filling fits those. if you want to make 48 tartelettes, probably half the recipe will be enough. those are great for little kids. they are a little labor intensive though, and i was short on time, hence the 10 inch shortcut. i do prefer the little ones, there's more crust, it's crispy and flaky and a great contrast to the creamy filling.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

gratinee lyonnaise

recipe from emeril

or, as it's known in our house: man, that's good onion soup! it has an interesting finish that further enriches an already excellent dish. there's no doubt you have to make your own stock to get the full experience, but it's completely worth it. you'll have sweet caramelised onions in a buttery, beefy broth, topped with croutons smothered in bubbly gruyere. if that's not a cure for a rainy day, i don't know what is.

first, to make beef stock, you'll need 3 pounds of neck bones and/or ox tails, and whatever scraps you have on hand. bring the meat to boil and remove foam. when no more foam is forming, add the veggies: 4 large carrots, 3 parsnips, 6 celery stalks and a few garlic cloves. i also have a large onion in there, because i make a big batch of stock, and only part of it will end up as onion soup. sometimes i'll add a bell pepper if i have it. you also need 2 bay leaves, 10 peppercorns, a bunch of thyme and 2 tb tomato paste. bring everything to boil, then simmer for 2 hours partially covered.

once you have the stock ready, finely slice 3 pounds of yellow onions. spanish onions also work well. this is one of the two modifications i made to this recipe: it calls for 4 tb unsalted butter to sautee the onions and i thought that is too little. i used up an entire stick, and i'm not sorry about it. also, 3 pounds of onion will not become golden in 15 minutes. closer to 30 will be needed. then you add the stock, and simmer for 45 minutes to one hour. i let it go to one hour, and it reduced some, it was a very rich broth. the egg yolk and port wine (or marsala wine) finish is an inspired twist, try it! i won't copy down the recipe, the link is right at the top. and the parting note: 1 pound of gruyere is a lot of cheese, especially considering my market charges $15 for it. i used half and it was entirely satisfactory. there, we made up for the extra butter.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

mushroom toast with shrimp and peas

these mushroom toasts are one of my favourite snacks. they're quickly made, but have a bit of fancy feel to them. this time i paired them with shrimp, but usually an egg, sunny side up or poached, takes first place. i made this for lunch today, deadly tired of pasta or rice or soup, which in zhara's book seem to be the only acceptable choices. she likes mushrooms, but for this meal she had soppy toast. that's right, i drew my line in the sand, and refused to negotiate with the little terrorist. [can you tell i'm hooked on 24?] no mushroom toast, no food at all. i made pasta for dinner. again.

1 french demi-baguette
6 oz mixed wild mushrooms, (shiitake, oyster, crimini)
4 slices gypsy bacon
2 tb butter
2 tb cream
12 shrimps
handful of peas
fresh parsley

gypsy bacon is a roulade. it's just bacon rolled up with herbes and red pepper flakes. you can substitute pancetta, and add some heat to it. start with an empty cold skillet -the widest one you have. line up the bacon, then place on medium heat. the bacon will curl less this way, you'll be left with crisp, beautiful slices. turn once, and when it's evenly browned remove to paper towel to blot excess fat and tent with foil to keep warm.

add 2 tb butter to same pan - you'll have almost no fat if using gypsy bacon; if using pancetta discard all but 1 tb. when the foaming subsides add the mushrooms, roughly sliced. give the pan a shake and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. you want a wide pan so that the mushrooms are well spaced out, so they can sear. shake the pan to turn them and cook 2 minutes more. add the cream, the parsley, and season with salt and pepper. within a minute the mushrooms will be moist, but no liquid is visible in the pan. remove to hot plate and tent to keep warm. in the same pan, add the shrimp in a single layer. these go very fast, 3-4 minutes on each side should do it. sprinkle the peas around them and cook over medium high heat. while the shrimp cook, split and halve the baguette to obtain four equal pieces. toast them in the toaster oven or under the broiler. put one slice bacon on each, then divide the mushrooms. place 3 shrimps on each toast, and sprinkle with peas. in our house my husband gets most of them, he's the only fan. i always want to cheat and give him less mushrooms, since he gets more peas, but i restrain myself. i'm a martyr, i know.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

cozonac, or hazelnut frangipane babka

cozonac is the romanian babka. it's traditionally made for all the big holidays. usually it's filled with walnuts, raisins, cubed turkish delight or cocoa. this past christmas i filled one with walnuts, and one with nutella and dried sour cherries. i wanted a new flavor for easter, and after some pondering i chose a hazelnut frangipane for one, and a drunken fig filling for the other. this was inspired by mark scarbrough's fig cookies. i used a mix of black mission figs, dried apricots and golden raisins. it's a great filling, but one that works best on a sturdy dough such as mark's biscotti, not on something that needs to rise and puff. it's a heavy mix, so i ended up with air pockets in the cozonac. not the most desirable effect, but still tasty. everybody loved the hazelnut frangipane, no flaws there.

this is not a spur-of-the-moment thing. you need to plan for it. it requires a half hour of furious kneading. (if your kid doesn't run in the kitchen all horror-stricken, you're not pounding hard enough). but once you got that part done, you can crack open a celebratory beer: prevailing wind is blowing. the recipe is here, and the only note is about the flour: the better the quality of it, the better your finished product will be. i typically use king arthur bread flour, even though some recipes call for plain flour.

i think the hazelnut frangipane recipe belongs to jacques pepin, but i'm not quite positive. i remember it was used in an apple tart, but where, i can't recall. you need one pound shelled hazelnuts, that's 454 gr. if you're lucky enough to find blanched ones, hooray for you, but if you don't it's really not a problem. toast the hazelnuts in a single layer, for 7-8 minutes at 375F. the skins will come off easily when you rub them with your fingers. it doesn't have to be perfect, you don't have to drive yourself crazy about it.

put the nuts in the food processor, with 3/4 cups sugar, 3 eggs, 3 tb butter and a ts vanilla. whizz until pulverized. i like a bit of texture, so i don't let it go to paste, i stop when it's still grainy. that's it. it's ready to be spread in the dough. i had a little bit left over, about 3/4 cup, but i promptly wrapped it up and put it in the freezer. it has aspirations of becoming the base lining in a sour cherry tart.

this is the fig filling. maybe it would have worked better had i used less, and i nearly wimped and did, but i had finished the celebratory beer by then, and i was feeling mucho macho.

the hazelnut one. very well balanced, the filling just a notch sweeter than the dough. this is exactly the kind of thing that pops into my mind when i hear the term 'home cooking'. it's comfort food, if not all desserts are comfort...
i love the crust. a lot of people sprinkle extra sugar or sesame seeds on top, but i like mine plain, with just the sheen given by the egg wash. what's more: cozonac makes a mean french toast or bread pudding when i have leftovers, which is rarely enough. not a bit goes to waste. i love food that permits a second shine.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

easter lollipops

i've been away for a week, but it feels more like a month! it's very difficult to catch up with everybody who stayed busy, i still have some reading to do, but i hope to get back on track soon. i wanted to do a quick how-to-dye-your-eggs-with-onion-leaf, but about half the bloggers i read already did, in one form or another, so instead i'll show you the candies i made last night for zhara. she still hasn't seen them, i can't wait for her reaction! happy easter everyone!