Friday, March 06, 2009

Salty sweetness.

There's not much I need to say about this tart other than it made the top ten list of things I've ever had in my mouth. I think the pictures can convey the rest.

The recipe originally appeared in The Last Course by Claudia Fleming but the version I used comes from the Diner Journal from the guys at Marlow and Sons' in NYC.

Salted Caramel Tart

For the dough:

4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. flour
1/4 unsweetened cocoa
pinch of salt

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg yolk and vanilla. Sift the flour and cocoa and add to butter mixture. Mix until just combined. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for about an hour. Roll the dough out and press into a 12 inch fluted removable bottom tart pan. (I found the dough hard to roll out but it's easy to press back together. Just do the best you can to make it look pretty!) Prick the dough with a fork and refrigerate again while preheating the oven to 325 degrees. The recipe says to blind bake the tart shell with pie weights but I did it without and the tart didn't really shrink at all. You choose... Bake until dry and set, about 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, make the caramel.

For the caramel:

1/2 c. water
2 c. sugar
1/4 c. corn syrup (optional-see below)
4 oz unsalted butter
1/2 heavy cream
2 Tbsp. crème fraîche or sour cream

You can get away with not using corn syrup- just up the sugar by 1/4 cup. Invert sugars help caramel from crystallizing as you cook it. If you don't have much experience making caramel, I suggest using the corn syrup because it's one less thing to worry about. Put the water, sugar and corn syrup in a large, light bottomed saucepan (I say this because some have a black coating and then you can't see the caramel color so be sure to use a silver pot). Cook on high heat until the sugar starts to brown, without stirring. Turn the heat down and watch carefully at this point until the caramel is dark brown. Adding the cream will stop the cooking of the cream so have it ready to go but add it in a slow stream because it will cause the sugar syrup to bubble and spit like crazy. Add the butter and sour cream and stir over low heat until smooth. Pour the caramel into the baked tart shell and cool in the fridge until set.

For the ganache:

1/2 c. cream
3 1/2 oz. high-quality bitterseet chocolate, chopped

Put the chocolate in a bowl. Scald the cream and pour over chocolate. Let sit a few minutes and then whisk until smooth. Pour over the tart when the caramel has set. I had some leftover ganache from another project that I used for this and looking at the quantities here, I think I used more than called for- you might want to double the ganache recipe. You could always roll a few truffles if you end up with too much.

The recipe in Diner Journal doesn't mention the salt but it's key to the whole experience. I think Maldon is the perfect salt for this because it's crunchy but won't break a tooth. You can use any course sea salt. Use more than you might think is prudent. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Have your cake and your sanity too.

If baking freaks you out, you might want to try my favorite alternative to a traditional cake- a crêpe stack! The traditional crêpe cake (or Mille Crêpes) has pastry cream between the layers and the top is gilded with sugar and torched like a Crème Brulèe. I don't know when I first heard about this dessert but I know when I first decided to give it a try. I used to have a food cart and on market Saturdays I would cook up breakfast for the hungry hordes. One option was crêpes with local mascarpone chese and seasonal berries. For some reason, the breakfast burrito always way outsold the crêpes and sometimes I'd come home with a vat of crêpe batter. Pastry cream has never been my favorite so I used to fill my stack with whipped cream and apple butter.
I recently made a batch of citrus curd with lemon, key lime, grapefruit and orange juice for a local restaurant. Left with an extra pint for me, I had to come up with something to do with it besides watching it disappear one spoonful at a time. Lucky for me my favorite local coffee roaster indulges my need to bake by trading treats for coffee. I knew they'd love a curd crêpe cake! If you already have some fillings on hand putting one of this together is a cinch. My favorite crêpe recipe is Julia Child's.
You can make the batter in the blender and it needs and hour to rest. You don't NEED a crepe pan but it sure makes things easier. I didn't even mess up the first crêpe this time! If you want a truly impressive stack, I recommend a double batch of crêpes. For a single batch, I went through less than a pint of curd and almost a pint of cream for the whipped cream.
My original intention was to stack the crêpes between parchment and then assemble the finished product after I made them all. Lacking parchment, I assembled as I went and it seemed not to cause problems. I just cleared a space in the fridge to cool the cake so the crêpes wouldn't melt the cream. Really, it's a piece of cake!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Snow Day for adults.

Yesterday was the first major accumulation of the season. Technically, we were both supposed to be working from home. We had good intentions and started with some laundry but mostly there was a lot of lazing around with extra coffee, multiple shoveling sessions, and a finished pair of knit socks while watching Fargo for the umpteenth time. But this brunch was the highlight of the day.
Homemade corned beef hash and fried eggs with my best loaf of no-knead bread yet, according to Sam. This is my second time making corned beef from scratch. It takes some planning, since you need to brine the beef for 8 days, but it is not difficult and well worth the effort because you can make boiled dinner, reuben sandwiches and hash for breakfast all from one piece of meat. Here's a link to my flickr set when I did exactly that back in March.

All these recipes are available on Epicurious (search corned beef, March 2008), which is my go to recipe source on the web. It has all the recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet and reading the reviews of the recipes is sometimes helpful and often hilarious.

I did venture out once the snow stopped for some tp (when you got to go, you got to go!) and took the opportunity to buy a tree.

Believe it or not, this is the first tree I've ever bought as an adult. I never had enough ornaments and I was usually not home on Christmas so I never bothered. I'm also not a fan of chopping down trees for short, one-time use. If you lived through winter in the mid-west last year, though, you might understand my desire to seek out ways to keep things cheery around here. As I dragged it in the house and that pine scent permeated, I instantly felt a lot more festive. I also ordered some bright red snow boots. Wheeee! I say, let the snow come. I'm not letting winter get me down!

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Monday, December 08, 2008

I finally gave wordle a whirl.

I love it! Now you try.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Buttery biscuits.

Nothin' says easy like Sunday morning like a batch of warm biscuits. Especially when your significant other is kind enough to make them for you. Yesterday, we were all up while it was still dark ready for a busy day of working market and selling my preserves at a holiday fair. "I'm sooooo tired!" Lili said when I tucked her in last night. "Well, at least you get to sleep in tomorrow. And Maybe we can get your Dad to make biscuits." She squealed and clapped her hands and this morning all she had to do was ask.

Look at those layers! I'm not giving the recipe for biscuits because I don't think there's anything special about it. Like a lot of baking, it just takes a little practice. Sam has gotten really good at it over the years so he's the official biscuit maker in this house. I just make the toppings.

Paradise Jelly

~This was kind of a hard sell at the holiday fair because even though its color is gorgeous (see photo at the top of the page), most people have never had quinces. They look like a mix of an apple and a pear and they are fuzzy like a peach. Oh, and they smell like pineapples. "But how do they taste?", you ask. Their flavor is hard to describe. A little flowery? Exotic? I don't know! You'll have to try it for yourself.

This was my first time making this jelly but having it on warm biscuits this morning convinced me it won't be the last. I ordered a case of quinces today.

10 pounds tart apples

5 pounds quinces

2 one-pound bags fresh cranberries

sugar (see instructions)

juice of 2 lemons

Quarter the apples and put in a large pot with the cranberries and just cover with water. Boil until apples are partially dissolved. In the meantime, quarter the quinces with a sharp knife (those suckers are hard!) and put in a second pot. Cover with water and boil. My quinces never dissolved and I kept adding more water and boiling until the juice looked viscous and tasted quince-like. Quinces are really high in natural pectin so you are just trying to extract that. Put them in another jelly bag and strain. It's best to do this the day before so you extract the maximum juice from the pulp.
Measure out the juice and put in a preserving pan. For ever cup of juice, you can add 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar, according to your taste. Boil to 221 degrees and pour into hot jars. Boil jars for 15 minutes.

Serve to your loved ones with hot, buttery biscuits and make them happy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Imperfect; not for everyone.

A few summers ago, I was lucky enough to live on an organic farm and cook lunch and snacks for the crew and dinner for the farmers and their family. It was a fantastic opportunity and it might always live on in my memory as the best job I ever had.
I knew I wanted some sort of record of the things that I cooked that summer so I made a journal and clipped or photocopied the recipes that I used.
This system was imperfect and time consuming but I stuck with it. As a result, I can flip through the pages and remember every meal I ate that summer. I had never heard of blogs back then but if I had, I'm sure I would have started one. When I pull out my journal today, though, I'm glad it's hand written. I just wish it had a search function!
Because of the journal, my memories are still so vivid. In April, I picked dandelions with my rubber boots on because there wasn't much growing in the fields. My job included feeding the cows and although sometimes I resented getting up early to take care of this task before heading into the kitchen, I'm grateful that I had the chance to raise an animal that I would consume. We traded veggies for eggs from the neighbors (who just happened to be the CEO of Organic Valley) and I'd walk around Saturday market with a bag of food to trade for honey, cheese and trout.
I tried many new things that summer and came away with some favorites: homemade rhubarb schnapps, whipped cream sweetened with strawberry syrup, elderflower ice cream, the best plum pie EVER. Hmm, can you tell I like dessert? I also made asparagus soup with Parmesan custards, learned to like rutabagas, fried up homemade root vegetable chips and on the 4th of July we had fried chicken from farm raised chicken that had never been frozen. So incredibly juicy!
Possibly my favorite discovery of the summer, however, was homemade ginger beer. As many times as I flip through my journal, though, I can't find any trace of a recipe or even a mention of when we drank it. I've searched the web in hopes of finding something that resembles this elixir but have had no luck. I remember it had A LOT of ginger in it and I think it sat at room temperature for a day or so and then went into the cooler for a week. I remember this part well because I could not wait to try it. But wait I did and I was well rewarded. It was unlike anything you could buy at the store. Perfectly sweet and so spicy that it warmed the stomach. Not everyone who tried it loved it, but I sure did.
This summer, I gave up on finding that illusive recipe and decided to work with what I had. I found a super easy recipe on Instructables and gave it a go last week. In less than 24 hours, I had a tasty beverage. It was not the drink of my dreams but as I drank glass after glass, I started to fantasize about how to make it better. My imagination really took off after I read Married with Dinner's post on the Gin Gin Cooler. I didn't have all of the necessary ingredients to make their cocktail so I ended up just mixing the ginger brew with Death's Door Gin (local gin, woohoo!) and added a slice of lemon.
I was so busy thinking about how to improve the ginger beer- more ginger for sure...hmmm, some vanilla? about lime instead of lemon juice- that I don't think it hit me until the next day that this method of quick brewing had far reaching applications. I've brewed beer and mead and made homemade liqueur out the wazoo and while they are all delicious, none of them are easy or quick. It can be weeks or months before you get to taste anything. But put a flavor agent in a two liter bottle with a smidge of yeast and some sugar and the next day you have a delicious, fizzy beverage to enjoy. The mind boggles at the potential. With a little nudge from Shuna, I decided to start with chocolate soda.
I used Dagoba Xocolatl cocoa powder, which is slightly sweetened and has a hint of cinnamon and chilies. I admit that my concoction smells a little weird. When you get past that, it has an interesting, complex flavor. In the ginger beer, there was no hint of the yeast but in the chocolate soda, the yeast and the chocolate are making friends. I haven't had the chance to share my latest creation with anyone yet but here's the recipe for you. It may be imperfect still and the finished product may not be for everyone, but I'm still excited about the potential for this method. Try your own homemade soda and let me know what you come up with. I'm gonna try coffee soda next.

Homemade Chocolate Soda

1 empty 2 liter bottle
1/4 c. Dagoba Xocolatl cocoa powder
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. wine yeast

Put the cocoa, yeast and sugar in the bottle. Add water to within an inch of the top. Shake to distribute ingredients. Put on top of fridge. Approximately 24 hours later feel the bottle. If it feels like it's going to explode, put in the fridge. When its cold, drink it. If it doesn't feel like it's going to explode, let it sit at room temp until it does. DO NOT forget about it or it will explode all over your kitchen and make you very, very sad.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Beets for dessert?!

Even though I have not been buying much produce lately, our fridge was starting to seem uncomfortably full. Friends who left on vacation told us to pick up their CSA box, I was the willing recipient of gifted veggies from farmers who brought too much to market, and my back porch herb garden is overflowing. I have a lot of guilt about wasting produce so I decided not to wait another day to eat some of this bounty.
What I created was an unexpected treat. I will preface this by saying this is for beet lovers only but I will add that if you try this, you might find you are a beet lover after all.

My favorite way to prepare beets is to roast them. Boiling only seems to dilute the flavors, while roasting makes them more intense. Put your unpeeled beets in an glass baking dish with a little water, oil, salt, a few bay leaves and a sprinkle of black peppercorns. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until they are easily pierced with a fork. This could take up to an hour if you beets are big. Let them cool and their skins should slide right off. Be careful not to get any juices on you or your countertop You are now ready to use your beets in all manner of dishes.

Yesterday, I was in a hurry to make dinner and short on ingredients so I used whatever I had on hand. Luckily, I have a well-stocked pantry. I chopped the beets in bite-sized chunks,added a splash of cassis vinegar, clementine olive oil, a drizzle of honey, salt and pepper and topped it with tiny lemon verbena leaves. Oh, and while I was out picking those, I noticed that my gooseberries were ripe and since they are similar in color to the beets and I was creating a kind of fruity salad, I threw those in too. Trust me, I was a little skeptical about the results. It could have been really weird with all those different flavors. I was pleasantly surprised. It seemed more like a dessert fruit salad than anything but that's okay. I figure we are supposed to eat so many fruits and veggies that the more courses we include them in the better right?

You may not have these exact ingredients lying around and although this salad was delicious, I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you go out and buy them to make it. I would encourage you to play with your food though. Try new things. Be bold in the kitchen. The worst that could happen is that you spit something out and you never have to try it again.

I was inspired to share this after months of ignoring my blog because I was so surprised and delighted by these new flavor combinations. I have recently started selling preserves at a local farmers' market and I give out samples. It is discouraging the number of people who will turn down a free taste because of an unfamiliar ingredient or one they haven't liked in the past.

"Passion fruit. What's that like?"
"Would you like a taste?"

It could be your new favorite thing but now you'll never know...