Friday, October 31, 2008
First, a little word of advice: this is not for light eaters, so consider yourself warned!
I had made these pot de creme a while back with bittersweet chocolate, but had always wanted to jazz them up a little. Yesterday seemed like the perfect day: it was cold outside and an ideal day to watch chocolate slowly melt. I had bought really good quality milk chocolate, you know the kind that you get in big uneven chunks from specialty stores? The kind that come by weight without any fancy packaging but that tastes like an intense version of chocolate.. and smells like it too? Still in my fleur de sel mood, I added a tad of saltiness to the mix and it added a nice hint of caramel-y flavor.
This really is a rich dessert though - and it can't be eaten in very large quantities. Although, the one I made for Oliver yesterday was eaten at a steady rate throughout the evening...and the once full little ramekin was found empty by midnight.
Recipe: (for 4)
4 oz good quality milk chocolate, chopped in small pieces
2 egg yolks, beaten lightly with 2 teaspoons of light brown sugar
3/4 cup of whipping cream
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon of Fleur de Sel
In a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Once it has fully melted, add the cream and whisk so that the mixture become a uniform color of brown. Add a small ladle of the chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs and stir to temper the eggs. This ensures that the egg slowly heats up before being added to the heat so it doesn't curdle. Slowly add the egg mixture to the chocolate and cream mixture and stir with a whisk. Add the vanilla, salt and Grand Marnier. Cook on the double boiler for 3-4 minutes, whisking gently. Once the mixture has thickened, remove from the heat and stain to remove any egg lumps. Transfer to small ramekins or espresso cups and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or until set. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and some chocolate shavings. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Pizza was this month's Daring Bakers' challenge and it couldn't make me happier. Oliver and I have tested quite a few pizza dough recipes and we were glad to try out this one and compare it with the others. We found the dough quite easy to work with (although also quite delicate) and the end result great. We pre-cooked the dough until it started to slightly bubble, and then added our toppings. A simple homemade tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil was our pick - simple, bold flavors.. delicious.
You can find the recipe on Rosa's blog who kindly put together this challenge.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Growing up in Paris, I have fond memories of macarons, croissants and fresh baguettes as regular morning treats. Paris is filled with bakeries, or 'boulangeries' where bread is freshly made and can often be bought still warm from the oven. Certain things, however haven't yet made it to our tables...and cupcakes are of those things. Sure, France has some of the most elaborate pastries around, but no authentic cupcakes to be found. There's just something about a moist cakey cupcake with luscious sweet icing. It's surely hard to beat. While I was living in New York last year, my near-obsession with cupcakes compelled me to wander into any cupcake store I could find. I always felt the slight irony of me wanting a simple heart-warming cupcake when I had spent the day making intricate meat dishes, homemade pasta or puff pastry from scratch at school.
All to say that posting a cupcake recipe was long overdue! I made a simple chocolate buttercream with a cocoa base this weekend and it turned out well. Next on my list is making orange-flavored buttercream. Mistake to be avoided would be: adding orange juice to buttercream as the acidity in the orange makes the icing curdle (I speak from experience here!).. so I will be making it with Grand Marnier and orange zest only. For now though, these all-chocolate cupcakes did the trick.
Recipe (batter adapted from the Barefoot Contessa)
Makes about 15 cupcakes
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup of buttermilk, shaken, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick of butter
1 3/4 cups of confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and sour cream. In another bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. On low speed, add the buttermilk mixture and the flour mixture alternately in thirds to the mixer bowl, beginning with the buttermilk mixture and ending with the flour mixture. Mix only until blended. Fold the batter with a rubber spatula to be sure it's completely blended.
Divide the batter among the cupcake pans (1 rounded standard ice cream scoop per cup is the right amount). Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from the pans, and allow to cool completely before frosting.
Cream the butter with an electric mixer. Add the confectioners' sugar little by little. Mix for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture is smooth. Add the cooled chocolate and vanilla extract and mix well until the chocolate is entirely incorporated. Ice the cupcakes as you please. Enjoy!
Once you have iced the cupcakes, it is best not to store them in the fridge to maintain the icing's texture.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
First, before the food, a food news! I have the honor to announce that I am now one of the online editors at www.tastespotting.com. As most of you know, tastepostting is a great outlet for all of us food blog owners, and I have been using it for months. I cannot overstate how happy I am to be a part of the project. I have already discovered dozens of wonderful blogs through all the photographs submitted to the site and it's been great to be a part of the approval process. I look forward to discovering more of the blogs out there!
Now.. for this little dessert. There are those days when you're just not in the mood to make a real, rustic tart dough. Yesterday was one of those days. Let's face it, no matter how much you like to cook, there will be days when you want to take the easy way out. For some it might be take-out or running to the closest pastry shop, but for me it's going for a quick substitute. Clafoutis is possibly one of the easiest ways to make a fruit tart without worrying about making dough. It's as simple as cutting fresh fruit and pouring a sweet custard mixture over top.
I have also been meaning to try out this simple caramel recipe we used to make at culinary school and to tweak it a little at home. It's the easiest caramel sauce, and we would use it to decorate our dessert plates. I decided to add a touch of 'fleur de sel'- a gourmet hand-harvested salt - which added a nice hint of salty goodness. Fleur de sel is quite a pricey ingredient, but I've really grown to love what it adds to meals. In this case, it turned a simple caramel sauce into a burst of different flavors.
Recipe (makes 6 individual clafoutis)
1/3 cup of sugar, and extra for your molds
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
3 firm but ripe Bartlett pears
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Butter each mold lightly, sprinkle some sugar and tap off excess.
Beat the eggs and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Lower the speed and the flour, cream, vanilla extract, lemon zest, salt, and Grand Marnier. Reserve
Meanwhile, peel,core and cut the pears into thin slices. Using about half a pear per mold, gently arrange the slices so as to cover the bottom of each mold. Pour the batter over the pears. Bake until the top is golden brown and the custard is set. This will take about 40 minutes.
1 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of water
1/2 cup of cream
1/2 teaspoon of fleur de sel
In a pan on medium heat, add the sugar and water. Without stirring, let the sugar dissolve in the water (until the mixture looks like water only). Once it has, let the mixture come to a simmer. At this point, you can gently swirl the pan around. Be extremely gently (and stay concentrated) because the mixture is extremely hot. Keep a watchful eye on the mixture, and wait for it to turn a nice mahogany color. It will take about 6-7 minutes to change colors, but once it has started it will go very quickly. The sugar also burns very fast once the color changes, so be careful. Once the caramel has reached the right color, remove from the heat and slowly add the cream. If the sugar starts to harden, place back on low heat for a couple minutes and let the sugar melt down. Once the mixture is homogeneous, set aside and leave to cool. The caramel sauce can be stored in the fridge, and gently re-heated before using. Enjoy!
Sunday, October 19, 2008
I've always loved entertaining, but especially love easy entertaining. I've learned from trial and error to always make something fresh and simple, and something you've made before! These bacon-wrapped scallops make for great finger food. you can make them ahead of time and reheat them at the last minute and switch the ingredients around. You can use pancetta in place of the bacon and dates or figues instead of the scallops. Any crispy and salty cured meat will pair wonderfully with, in this case tender scallops, or fruity and soft fruit.
The only thing about this recipe is that because it is simple, the ingredients have to be really good .. so try to get the bacon from a good deli, and the scallops as fresh as can be.
Recipe: (for 12 scallops)
12 thin slices of bacon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
12 wooden toothpicks, soaked in water for 20 minutes
Set your oven on broil. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Season the scallops with salt and pepper. Tightly wrap them with a piece of bacon and seal by inserting a toothpick to hold the bacon together. Place on a bacon sheet and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 6-10 minutes, depending on the size of the scallops. Remove when cooked through. If the toothpicks burn a little while in the oven, gently remove them once out of the oven, and replace with new ones.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I think I would have a lot of trouble cooking without herbs. Some things can be altered or replaced, but there is nothing like the nutty, fresh, at time lemony and peppery flavor of herbs. They can turn any meal into something special and I find it bland to cook without them.
Funny enough, I used to absolutely hate them as a child. Like most children, I had a few strong dislikes for certain foods, but none greater than the fear of herbs, or 'bouts verts', as I used to call them in French. I would drive my mom crazy and pick them out one by one in tomato sauces, salads or any other sauce where I knew my mom had probably tried to conceal them. I also used to be difficult with soup.. and would only accept to eat it if I was promised it was 'potage', and not soup. This makes me seem like quite the difficult child but those were the two things I really took issue with. This herbed-filled mushroom soup is thus a little wink to my childhood years and to how things can change for the better.
Recipe (for 4), adapted from the Soup Bible
2 ounces of smoked bacon
1 onion, finely chopped
12 ounces of combined portobello and cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 cups of good meat stock
1 small wine glass of dry sherry wine
2 tablespoons of combined rosemary, thyme and marjoram - stems removed
1 teaspoon of dried italian seasoning
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A couple spoonfulls of thick yogurt or sour cream
Roughly chop the bacon and place in a large saucepan. Cook slowly until the fat renders from the bacon. Add the onions and saute gently until the onions become translucent and soft. Add the mushrooms to the pan. Cover and sweat until their liquid has run out and they have reduced in size. Add the sherry, stock, as well as the fresh and dry herbs. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Process the soup in a food processor or blender until smooth but still a little chunky. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and transfer to the saucepan to heat through. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and garnish with a parsley leaf. Enjoy!
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Who says pesto can only be made with basil and pine nuts? Certainly not me! I have been testing different ways of making pesto - using different types of herbs and nuts to see how the flavors changes. I tried this cilantro (or coriander) pesto a couple nights ago and was pleasantly surprised by the result. Cilantro can be a little overpowering at times, so I used a handful of peas in the mixture to soften its taste and it worked well with mild Italian sausage.
The point is.. I might be a bit of a rebel (but certainly not a maverick!) and don't really like following recipes too closely. I do when I bake - doughs can turn out seriously wrong if you don't follow ratios - but when I cook savory foods, I tend to let my imagination go. Pesto is one of those things I tend to have a sudden craving for, so it helps to be able to tweak the original recipe and make it with what I have on hand that day.
Recipe (for 4)
One bunch of cilantro
2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted if possible
1/4 cup of frozen peas, thawed
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and freshly ground pepper
450 g spaghetti (for 4 people)
2 good quality mild Italian sausages from your Deli
2 tablespoons of bread crumbs
To make the pesto: In a blender place the cilantro, garlic and pine nuts. Pulse. Slowly add the olive oil while blending. Once half of the oil is added, add the peas. Pulse again. Add the lemon juice. Once the mixture is smooth (but still a little chunky) add the Parmesan and pulse again. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Reserve.
Boil the water for the pasta. Salt generously and cook the spaghetti for the indicated time on the package until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, heat a pan to medium high heat with a good drizzle of olive oil. Slice the sausage and add to the hot pan in a single layer. Do not move the sausage for about 3 minutes. Turn on the oven side once the sausage is nicely browned. Add the breadcrumbs to the pan. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Make sure the breadcrumbs are nicely toasted and coat the sausage. Once the sausage is cooked through, remove and place on a paper towel to soak up excess fat.
Once the pasta is cooked, add a small ladle of the pasta water to your reserved pesto to loosen the sauce. Drain the pasta and transfer to the pan with the sausage. Add the sausage, the pesto and mix in. Serve. Enjoy!
Monday, October 6, 2008
Thursday, October 2, 2008
There's just something about risotto. I don't know if it's the way you see the strands of rice start binding together gently or if it is its velvety and creamy texture once done, but it gets me every time. In fact, this is one of the meals I find myself making the most because it's so easy. I remember reading about how tedious it was to make and how you had to be behind your stove carefully making sure the rice didn't burn. The reality is that risotto is very quick to make (about 20 minutes) and can usually be made with ingredients most of us already have on hand. A few things, however, can turn a risotto from a simple weeknight supper to an amazing meal. First, using good quality stock really does make a difference, and in the case of risotto it makes the whole dish take on a richer and more intense flavor. You can obviously make it with store bought stock if that's all you have, but if you want to make this a real treat, homemade stock is definitely the way to go.
For having made stock over and over again at culinary school, I can assure you that chicken stock is pretty easy to make. Veal and beef stocks are more tedious to master, take a long time and require ingredients the regular cook does not have at home (like veal bones!). Chicken stock, however, uses the simplest ingredients. It does take about 2 hours to make, but you just need to skim off the fat from time to time once it's on the stove, so you really just need to be home and you can be doing something else while your stock is slowly simmering away. Chicken stock also freezes very well, so you can make a big batch every couple months and freeze them in individual ziploc bags that you can then take out as needed.
Once you have good stock, it's almost impossible to end up with a bad risotto, as long as you let it gently simmer away to get the rice to slowly release its starch and allow the strands to slowly meld together. I treat risotto much as I do pizza: as long as you have ingredients that complement one another, you really don't have to follow a recipe, and the possibilities are endless.
Recipe (for 4)
1 1/2 cup of arborio rice
4 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of thawed frozen peas
1/2 lemon, juice and zest
3 shallots, diced finely
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 glass of good quality white wine
2 tablespoons of butter
A large handful of cremini mushrooms
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan, and extra for serving
In a pot, bring the stock to a boil, reduce to a low simmer.
In a saucepan, add the butter and a good drizzle of olive oil on medium low heat. Once the butter is melted, add the shallots, the garlic, 2 sprigs of thyme and the oregano. Once the shallots have softened (about 2 minutes), add the rice and coat with the butter, stirring until the rice looks lightly toasted. Add the wine and gently stir. Once the wine has almost evaporated, add the stock, ladle by ladle. Keep adding stock once it has almost evaporated in the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
In the meantime, heat some olive oil on medium high heat in a separate pan. Add the 2 remaining sprigs of thyme. Add the chopped mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Reserve.
In a mortar, add the peas, lemon juice and zest, a good drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper. Crush with the pestle until the mixture binds together but is still chunky. Reserve.
While you are making the pea puree and cooking the mushrooms, keep a constant eye on the rice, keep adding stock and stirring gently. After about 12 minutes, taste and adjust seasoning (do not put too much salt because the Parmesan is quite salty). Once the rice is cooked, add the mushrooms and Parmesan. Fold them in gently. Add the pea puree just long enough for it to be cooked through. Serve immediately, with shaved Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy!