Sunday, June 27, 2010

daring bakers: chocolate pavlova

i had long wanted to try a chocolate pav, but as usual i procrastinate until the daring bakers make me do it. only one thing to say about it: if ever i make another pav, it'll be a chocolate one. i find it vastly superior to the original white one. once again, i will not transcribe a long story, when you can see it with a click.

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

the meringue part of the equation went without a hiccup. easy-peasy. cockyfied by the success, i take on the mascarpone mousse, only to wreck the chocolate. i honestly don't know what i did to it, but it separated and i had to toss the whole lot. this greatly diminished my modest chocolate stash. and obliterated the mascarpone supply. so i set to remake it, this time aiming for half the quantity - and even so i had left-over mousse! i have no clue how high it was expected to be piled on... anyhoo, i used fromage blanc instead of mascarpone, which i made myself, yay, and i'll tell you all about it tomorrow. it worked flawlessly, i think.

once that was done the mascarpone cream still loomed ahead, and while usually i think anything that lists one recipe creme anglaise as an ingredient is pure evil genius, i simply did not have it in me to add six egg yolks to this dessert. wimp, i know. instead i pooled strawberry coulis underneath. (or, as it was known in its former life, left-over cobbler sauce). to my taste, this was far better than the creme anglaise thing. before you tell me what an arogant prick i am, let me say i know on whose recipe i'm making notes. and i'm not, really - it was just incredibly hot today and the strawberry lent a tart finish that was refreshing, as did the fruit on top.

this was a great challenge. it got me very excited, and even with the mousse fiasco i enjoyed making it. i can't decide if i like the shell or i'm only eating it to get to the fluffy interior, but either way, this is a great recipe to have in my arsenal. and these individual pavs are very elegant, and don't require slicing, which may a considerable plus during a dinner party.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

strawberry cobbler

this past weekend we went strawberry picking at a small organic family farm. it was late in the season, already second pick, which means the fruit is not as big, and i was worried we wouldn't find enough. but there were plenty, and we were enchanted with the quality of it. it didn't look like much when you first looked at it, just rows of plants, not a spot of red in sight. strawberries like to hide, you have to wave your way between the leaves to find them. you couldn't smell them either, the way you can when you go to the market and a smart salesman has placed boxes of them right by the door, to entice you. you can't eat them in the field, either. so you start picking and the first thing you notice is just how much deeper the red of their juice is on your fingers. it stains, so right away you look like you're trying to get away with murder, squatting in some bushes to avoid detection. then you start to smell them. it's sweet but mild, more a memory than an actual olfactory sensation. that's until you load up the car and start back, and the perfume floats around you like thick ropes, forcing you to pull over to get some in the front. you bite, and there's a surprise. there's pure flavor in your mouth. a simple, unadulterated strawberry, becomes so difficult to describe. a lot of supermarket fruit makes me think green. or grass or watery sweet reminiscent of fruit. all i could think when eating these, was red, red all the way back to my fertilizer/pesticide-free childhood.

zhara had a lot of fun. she did some picking, too, and did not discriminate against under-ripe fruit. she got to feed the rotten ones to the chickens, and she was very proud of herself. i was proud of how seriously she took the whole thing, taking great care to not step on any plants, doing all that was asked of her immediately. she was very taken with the resident cats, more than any other animals. i think pretty soon we'll start hearing pleas around here to get a pet. the self-proclaimed strawberry superbaby ate a lot of fresh strawberries, strawberry pancakes, strawberry jam on coconut waffles, and strawberry ice cream - including on top of this cobbler.


i found the recipe for this on the whole foods website. it is delicious, the flavors very well balanced, with just the right amount of sweet. served with ice cream it is downright sinful. the only mandatory observation is this: the 13x9 dish you use better be a tall one, cause this will bubble over with the wrath of hades. and have the sense to put a baking sheet underneath, unlike this idiot here. also, i used turbinado sugar on top instead of brown, and that's the only thing i changed. it makes a lot, serves 10 easily, so you may want to halve it. i'll let you know how it freezes!

p.s.: do not get me started on the eggs we got at this farm. husband thought i lost my head, the way i was fawning over a raw egg in a pan. he said i spent half that time figuring out the new ice cream maker.
p.s.s.: we plan to go back next year.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

coconut ice cream

meet my newest bff. it's the first ice cream i made myself, and to have such success means only one thing: my ice cream maker is going to see a lot of action this summer. this is a very refreshing dessert, with a really nice mouthfeel that will never make you think it's homemade. my machine is not high-end by any means, and still it produced a lovely texture, very creamy with no ice crystals. i am a coconut fanatic. i love it in any shape or form, so this had to be the first thing to try in my brand new ice cream maker.
this recipe comes from bruce weinstein's the ultimate ice cream book, a wondeful collection that includes sorbets and granitas, drinks, toppings, homemade waffle cones and even some savory concoctions. it's one of my favorite cookbooks at the moment. you can also find more ice cream on mark and bruce's blog, real food has curves.

coconut ice cream
featured with permission

1/2 cup toasted shredded sweetened coconut flakes
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 ts cornstarch
1/4 ts salt
1 cup half and half
1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 ts vanilla extract

beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and thick. beat in the salt, cornstarch and vanilla. mix the half and half with the coconut milk and heat until just below boil. temper the eggs with half the mixture, then return everything to the pot and cook until it coats the back of the spoon. strain to get any cooked egg bits out. let cool 5 minutes, then add the cream and mix. add the coconut if using, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until cold, at least 5 hours or up to overnight. churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. [these are not bruce's instructions. i find retelling a recipe helps me memorate it, and i really like knowing the recipes i use so i don't always have to look them up. and i don't have the patience to copy something down word for word.]

i did not have shredded coconut on hand, so i added 1/2 ts coconut extract, fearing it wouldn't be coconutty enough. i did have some quality coconut milk, so it would have been okay without. cornstarch is in there to help the texture. if you have a performant machine you may omit it.
it's a great ice cream, i hope you'll all try it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

eat real food

it's not easy to buy food anymore. i remember having no choice at the market. there was one kind of sugar, one kind of eggs, and you could only find whatever fruit and vegetable were in season. not once during my childhood have i eaten strawberries in december. today i go to the grocer and there's seven kinds of eggs. conventional, organic, antibiotic-free, no added hormones, free range, and on it goes with everything until i feel like i'm recovering from a vertigo spell. then you hit the meat counter and the implications run deeper than i had imagined.
do you know where your meat comes from? in sweden they've added a second bar code, that brings up images of the farm where the animal was raised, genetic information, health history, what it was fed and other such details. chances are if this were done here you'd loose your appetite. i simply can't believe we've reached a stage when talking about the origins of our food has become inappropriate dinner conversation. salmon farmed like chickens, fed on grain, like chicken. cattle pumped full of antibiotics every day, as preventative measure. the corn they eat mixed with their own fat, which led to the outbreak of mad cow's disease, and has since been replaced with chicken and/or pork fat. add to that some nice feather meal. add to that chicken litter, growth hormones and antibiotics. this is what happens today in industrial cattle feedlots, and it's all deemed acceptable by the FDA and USDA. a cow grows from 80 pounds at birth to 1,100 pounds in 14 months. it used to be at least 3 years before they headed for the slaughterhouse. in 'the omnivore's dilemma' michael pollan recounts how during a visit on a feedlot he asked a manager why they don't liquefy the enormous quantity of manure to spray it on the neighbouring farms. it's because the farmers don't want it: it's so toxic the crops would die. there's more: of the cattle reaching the slaughterhouse, 30% to 70% have abcessed livers. this is the meat we eat, from animals with shot livers and toxic shit.
there's still more: ever give your kid a chicken nugget? me, too. but never again, and here's the many reasons why not: it's 54% corn. of the 38 ingredients, 13 can be derived from corn. on top of those, there's several completely synthetic ones, obtained not from chicken or corn, but from petroleum in a chemical plant. leavening agents, anti-foaming agents, and preservatives, including dimethylpolysiloxene, a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen and reproductive effector. worse still, 'to help preserve freshness' nuggets are sprayed directly with tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ. this is a form of butane, and according to FDA standards it can comprise up to 0.02% of the oil in a nugget. says pollan, 'which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation and collapse. ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill'.

what's with the junk in the picture? it's proof that not all processed food is junk. i bought the pizza dough at trader joe's, and it's done essentially as i would do it. the pizza sauce i got from a can. to those tomatoes only herbes were added, not high fructose corn syrup or thickeners and emulsifiers. the vegetables are organic, and they are local, which means they're as fresh as they come. the goat cheese is a processed food, but only contains goat milk, herbes, garlic and a cheese culture. no exotic molecules. and if you're wondering if it tasted better than its frozen/delivered counterpart, consider this: those veggies, fresh and crisp do not require much intervention. but i did toss them in a bit of cold-pressed olive oil, mixed with a bit of walnut oil, and a splash of toasted sesame seed oil. serve it on a bed of spicy, tender arugula, and this pizza is as far from junk as cake is from cauliflower.

this was brought on by mark's recent post on how to distinguish real food in the sea of processed food. my theory is this - since none of us carry mass spectrometers to the market to analyze the chemical signature of foods, simply and carefully read the ingredient list. do not be duped by flashy 'heart healthy', 'fat-free', 'all-natural' boasts. just look at all the ingredients, and if there's anything in there that your grandma would not recognize, find an alternative. it may be convenient to buy processed foods. but convenient for whom? i think it's more so for the food industry than it may for the consummer. food is my passion, and my absolute priority is my child. and i refuse to feed her stuff that will endanger her health. read 'the omnivore's dilemma' if you haven't already, and read 'real food has curves' by bruce weinstein and mark scarbrough, which is a practical seven step plan to get off processed foods. i can't commit to fully organic, i simply can't afford it. but i can avoid those products so laden with chemicals they can't be called food anymore. and i can look up a near-by farm and sign up for their CSA program, which will provide me with fresh veggies every week, and will at the same time support local agriculture. convenient. and healthy, too.

Friday, June 11, 2010

summer squash oreganata

this little dish has become a staple in my kitchen lately. it's very simple, but incredibly versatile. so far i've made a bed of it for a white, meaty fish. then i've used it as a spread - i was actually considering naming this squash jam/marmelade, it's so inspired as spread! if you add a bit of heat it can put a salsa to shame. it makes for a great base on pizza, under some goat cheese and olives. finally, i used it as garnish on pork chops, just as i would onion marmelade.
this is based on a traditional transylvanian dish i ate frequently growing up. though for some unexplained reason my mom didn't make it, i always found it at friends' houses. it's a delicious puree that uses either leeks or green onions, the squash, and some cream and thyme to finish it. i love it, but my daughter wouldn't go for it. i had to tweak it to make it more attractive for her, and as she likes tomato-based dishes, this is what resulted. she ate it twice already, it's a resounding success!

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, finely sliced
4 medium sized summer squashes, grated
3 tb butter
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 tb fresh basil, chiffonade
2 tb fresh oregano, minced
salt, white pepper to taste

first heat up the butter and saute the leeks over low heat until they are soft, about 10 minutes. grate the squash - i do it on the coarse grater, because i like some texture. add the squash and raise the heat to medium high. give it a stir and once everything is heated through lower the heat to medium low and cook it down until most squash juice is gone, about 15-20 minutes. add the tomato sauce (i like to simmer mine to make it thick and pulpy, and i take care to season it well) and cook a few minutes more. add the herbs, season, and done. good hot or room temp. try using half squash, half eggplant, or add mushrooms or beans. any way you take, it will lead someplace delicious.

Monday, June 7, 2010

how to make your own rose water

in a pinch i suppose you could pour hot water over petals, let it infuse, then strain it, and there. you will get rose water, but you'll also get a coloration ranging from pretty pink to murky yuck. it also goes bad very fast, within a few days. the alternative is a bit more elaborate, but totally doable. and it yields a clear liquid, perfumed with all the promise a rose carries, and a floral-sweet taste. while not shelf stable, it will keep in the fridge for about a month.
first get out the tallest stockpot you have. then put in a tall heatproof dish, like a ramekin or a souffle dish. put the rose petals all around it. you want 6-7 cups, they'll come higher up than the ramekin, so press them down gently. then start adding water, until the petals are loosely packed in it. you don't want them floating atop an ocean. the water must not be higher up than three quarters of the height of the ramekin. set the pot over medium heat. then get a glass bowl that will fit snugly on top of your stockpot, so you'll have a double boiler. no steam must escape. the bottom of the bowl must not touch the rim of the dish inside. fill the bowl halfway with ice. place it on top of the stockpot: you've created a still. bring the heat to medium high and watch how all the condensed rose water will drip back in the ramekin. don't remove bowl to see how much you have. don't let it boil more than 45 minutes to 1 hour, you'll only dilute the stuff. let cool, pour into clean bottles and refrigerate. if anyone knows of a non-chemical way to make it shelf stable, i'd appreciate the heads up.

if this post is alambicated, please leave a comment and i'll try to offer a clearer explanation.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

berry cherry rose crostata

these are my favorite fruits, all on one pie. maybe cherries would not be quite so special if they had a longer season. things being what they are, as soon as they appear i eat giant heaps, fresh, every day. only towards the end of the season i get around to cooking them. this year i finally beat the odds. though they're featured with strawberries and raspberries, it's a start. a very delicious, tart-sweet start. zhara, still in love with everything lemon, and very much into cherries and berries, was over the moon for this. this dessert just flies off the plate, so i always make two. for a single pie halve the ingredients, but the pastry freezes nicely, so you might as well.

first you make the pastry:
3 cups or 420 gr all-purpose flour
4 tb or 60 gr granulated sugar
2 1/2 sticks or 282 gr unsalted butter, very cold, cut in small pieces
5-6 tb rose water, recipe follows
1/2 ts salt 

mix the flour with the salt and sugar in your food processor. add the butter, a couple pieces at a time, and pulse until you have that wet sand look. add the rose water, one tb at a time. you may need less, depending on your butter and the weather. you want to stop when you have moist clumps forming. form a mass with your hands, divide it in two, gather each into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. it's best to be a bit compulsive about these things and weigh your pieces to make sure they're equal.

for the fruit you need:
4 cups/about 375 gr  fresh strawberries, cherries and raspberries
1 tb cornstarch
1/2 cup rose jam + 2 tb for glazing
4 tb lemon curd
egg wash

preheat the oven to 375F. wash, hull/pit and slice your fruit. sift the cornstarch over it and toss gently to combine. let sit while you roll out the dough. i recommend you do that directly on a sheet of parchment paper, as it's a delicate pastry and will most likely tear when you try to transfer it. if you roll it out directly on parchment it's easy to slide it on a cookie sheet. i use my biggest one, and a big sheet of parchment so i can bake both crostatas at the same time. once you have the dough rolled out into 10-inch circles, transfer them to the baking sheet and begin assembly: smear 2 tb lemon curd on each. then gently toss the fruit with the rose jam, taking care not to crush it. divide equally between the two crostatas. spread the fruit leaving a 1-inch border. turn the edges over the filling, pleating and pinching any cracks. paint the border with egg wash and bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is nicely golden. when it's almost done, take them out and paint a thin layer of jam over the fruit. only one is glazed in the second pic, see the difference?  let bake 2 minutes more. remove from heat and let cool on baking sheet.
this is a very fragrant dessert. it's floral, but with a pronounced lemon backbone, a nice play on the sweet/tart combo. you could always sprinkle some demerara sugar on top before baking. adding sugar to the fruit will only cause more juice that's likely to spill out.
as far as the rose water is concerned, i feel this post is long enough, so we'll talk about it in the next one. it's not that i don't want to tell you now, but i have one last piece of this crostata in the fridge, and i take that very seriously. seriously wrong. needs to be that reminds me: serve it with strawberry ice cream or lemon gelato. yum.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

candied rose petals

if you're anything like me, your cakes don't look exactly like those on tv. ok, nothing like those. when zhara turned two and asked for a spongebob cake i wanted to try a 3D thing, with figurines made out of fondant and all that glee, but what resulted was a flat sheet cake, covered in fondant, made into spongebob's face, with only his nose sticking up. i'm not saying candied rose petals would help us out of that lurch, but: those of you whose daughters are into the whole princess scene, you're golden. you can just smear pink frosting on a yellow cake, scatter a few of these, and done. high tea fancy.
you won't believe how easy it is. i always imagined making candied roses or violets is some painstaking horror trial. all you need is patience. the smaller the flower, the more patience you need. large petals are a breeze, but i wouldn't want them on a cupcake. smaller petals are required for such treats.
anyhoo, the process is the same no matter what type of flower you're setting out to crystallize. all you need is an egg white, some caster sugar, a pinch of food coloring and a small paint brush. you want to color the caster sugar to match as closely as possible the color of the flowers. you could use white sugar, but the finished petal will not look quite as pretty. beat the egg white a few times with a fork. you don't want foam. you just want the albumen to relax a bit. older eggs work better than very fresh ones. then you brush each petal with a very thin layer or egg white, and you dredge through the sugar, taking care to shake off any excess. lay the petals to dry on waxed paper. turn them a few times in the first three hours to ensure even drying on both sides. leave to dry for a couple days. keep air-tight forever. or until princess cakes are needed.