Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I struck gold in The New York Times!

Mark Bittman wrote about three of my favorite foods in last Friday's New York Times. Figs, Brussels Sprouts (only cooked with something else!) and bacon. His Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Figs is an ingenious and simple combination of sweet yet savory flavors, contrasting crunch with chew.

This is a must try fall side dish -- or even light lunch!

A Remedy for a Cold...and Rainy Day

I awoke early this morning with a smidgen of a sore throat. Was I too dehydrated from the kitchen and a long run yesterday? Or did my lack of sleep and running in the rain with a sleeveless top catch up with me? Not sure. All I knew is that my throat needed some cooling comfort and TLC.

It was another utterly rainy day. I didn't mind being inside in class all day one bit, secretly hoping skies would clear by 3pm. But, no. The rain was still coming down. Kind of one of those days you want to curl up with a good book in front of a fireplace with a big bowl of soup.

Of course, I came home from school ravenously hungry, and craving some warm comfort -- and some nutrients with the hopes of kicking this sore throat. Of course, I didn't really want to run to the grocery store, not did I want to spend 2 hours in front of the stove. I wanted some instant, okay, well maybe not INSTANT, gratification. Scrounging around the fridge, I found half of a butternut squash, and had lots of apples...mmm...I knew just what to make!!!

One of my favorite soups of all time is Eli Zabar's Pumpkin Butternut soup. It's rich and delicious, but living in CT, I didn't have access to it. Another favorite is Ina Garten's Butternut Apple Soup - with some brioche croutons, this is delish!

Now, I didn't have a full squash, nor apple juice nor brioche, but I was confident I could use the ingredients I had on hand to create a wonderful soup, full of healthy vitamins and minerals (Butternut squash is full of Vitamin A (Beta Carotene), Vitamin C and Potassium) and fiber - filling (even my labs liked it!).

My Curried Apple Butternut Squash Soup - serves 2-3

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, 1/2" dice
1 /2 - 1 tablespoon curry (I like more - use as much as you wish)
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2" chunks
2 small or 1 large apple (I like Cortland or yellow delicious for this), peeled and diced into 1/2" chunks
2 cups water
1/2 cup applesauce
Optional: dash of cream and/or tablespoon of butter

1. Saute onions in olive oil until translucent. Add curry powder and cook on low for 5-10 minutes.

2. Add diced squash and apple. Saute a bit to warm and then add water and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook until apples and squash are tender through.

3. Add applesauce and stir. Use a blender or an immersion blender to blend to smooth. Season with salt to taste. Optional: add cream, milk, and/or butter to taste. I was going to try calvados
to bring out the apple sweetness but didn't have any on hand. I decided for a bit of butter and a dash of maple syrup. You can even try a garnish of creme fraiche!

Serve with crusty toast, or as I did - with oat crackers!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A little autumnal celebration

This past weekend, various descendants of my great grandmother's family (she was one of four girls!) gathered upstate in CT for a little reunion. I have never met most of my great-grandmother's sister's children (and their children, grandchildren) so it was a wonderful treat to meet all of these warm, friendly people!

Somehow my father's aunt, who was organizing the day, deemed that I was "creative" and a perfect person to coordinate table decoration for the dinner for 50 on Saturday night. Gulp! There was ample possibility for it to be tons of fun, but on a budget and with little time? A challenge for sure. Yet, the possibilities were endless!

I turned to my tearsheets from my Martha Stewart Living days, and wanted something with leaves, acorns, and fruit. I had heard that there was a mean sale at Smith and Hawken and immediately decided to stop by. Of course, they had some beautifully colored fruit shaped (apples and pears) candles made in Poland. I purchased quite a few, and decided that they would be the focal point of my tables. I purchased some dried gourds from Earth Garden in Wilton, and glued on some wood wrapped wire to make the most adorable placecards!

At one of my friend's weddings this summer, I was so struck by the collection of various sizes of small vases filled with different flowers and herbs. Some low succulents, tall, skinny vases of mint, fatter vases of roses and astilbe. This arrangement would be perfect for the tables -- using a colorful flower in an array of different Juliska vases? Perfect!

I visited Juliska's South Norwalk outlet store, and found four sets of three petite vases in glear glass, as well as five each of two different short green glass vases. As for flowers, I worried about frosts hampering my search for local dahlias. Luckily, Eva's Garden, tended by Eva
Sommaripa, still had the most exquisite (and huge!) pinky orange, pinky purple, yellow, orange and white dahlias I have EVER seen! And we picked the flowers just before they were going to turn the year's flowers over. I supplemented these with some white dahlias I found at my local Whole Foods from New Jersey. The reds, pinks, light and deep greens of the candles were the perfect complement to the salmony flowers.

Warm, dark fall nights call for lots of light, so I knew that I had to supplement these candles with the flickering glow of many little votives, too. To add a touch of glitter, I collected some acorns from the tree outside the house, and spray painted them a muted gold. A couple of gold acorns scattered across the table added a beautiful accent against the white tablecloth. Of course, when I arrived for dinner, I expected to see all of the candles lit -- at the last minute, the caterer said she was unable to light the fruit candles, in the event they would drip or tip over. Argh. At least I can use them again at home for another dinner party!

Here are some pictures from the evening...

Friday, October 23, 2009

An easy and fancy weekend dessert

On the last day of our pastry "bonanza," our class focused on egg white foams -- mousses and souffles. What is a mousse, you ask? It is simply a flavored base (like chocolate...or grand marnier, fruit, etc - usually a meringue or pate a bombe base) lightened by both whipped cream and egg whites, and then chilled. It is similar to a souffle, in that both are lightened by egg whites, but a souffle is baked, further aerating the dessert, and served hot, while a mousse relies on the addition of whipped cream for further lightening and is served cold.

I have a complete weakness for chocolate souffle, with vanilla ice cream. But, I've never really fallen in love with chocolate mousse. Of course, that isn't to say I haven't met a real chocolate dessert I haven't liked (unadulterated chocolate - no raspberry chocolate, no orange chocolate, etc. Real dark chocolate).

In class that day, we were assigned to whip up chocolate mousse first thing in the morning. Although it was a bit early for chocolate, I was immediately smitten. Luck be it, Chef decided that afternoon to challenge us: he listed the ingredients for a mystery dish. We had to figure out the technique and then make it. What was it? White chocolate mousse!!!

These are perfect twirled in a champagne flute lined with chocolate swirls (get a small cornet of melted chocolate, an twirl the flute on its side, swirling chocolate. Chill) - just pipe each flavor into separate pastry bags, or swirl in one together. Enjoy!

Chocolate Mousse - 4 servings

150 g (5 oz) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
400 ml (13 oz) heavy cream
3 egg whites
30 g (1 oz) granulated sugar
flavorings (optional)

1. Chop chocolate and place in a bowl. Melt in double boiler over simmering water. Stir til melted. Remove from heat.
2. Beat cream over ice to soft peaks. Set aside
3. Make French meringue: Whip egg whites til frothy, and add 1/2 of the sugar. Whip until soft peaks, and add the rest of the sugar. Whip on high until stiff peaks.
4. Pour warm chocolate into clean bowl. Lighten with 1/4 of the meringue. Fold in the rest of the meringue, making sure to clean the bottom of the bowl. Fold in the whipped cream.
5. Cover and chill in fridge, at least 3 hours, until ready to serve.

White Chocolate Mousse - 4 servings

225 g white chocolate, chopped
2 gelatin leaves
375 ml heavy cream
75 g granulated sugar
25 ml water
1 egg
1 egg yolk

1. Melt chocolate in double boiler over boiling water until halfway melted. Remove from heat and let sit til fully melted.
2. Bloom 2 gelatin leaves in cold water
3. Bring sugar and a bit of water to a boil and cook to softball stage (235-240) as egg yolk and whole egg is stirred in a mixer til combined. Once hot sugar is ready, add to egg yolks while stirring to make a pate a bombe, and whip until it gains volume and cools to just a bit warmer than skin temperature.
4. Add gelatin to warm pate a bombe and whip til blended. Run through a sieve to remove particles, and then fold in warm chocolate (fold quickly and avoid clumping).
5. Whip heavy cream over ice and fold into chocolate mixture.
6. Chill, covered, in fridge until ready to use, at least 3 hours.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Apple of my Eye

So, last week I mentioned how I had been working on pastry recipes in school. On my birthday, we worked on tarts -- Tarte aux Pommes (Apple Tart), Tarte aux Poires et Frangipane (Pear Tart with Almond Cream), and then Quiche Lorraine and Onion Tart.

One of my favorite foods is an apple - the fact that it was my first word makes this funny! It is no surprise that I love apple tarts (and crisp. And pies). There is a bakery near my hometown that til now won my heart for delicious, not too sweet, but apple-y classic French Apple Tarts. Well, no longer. I can make a meaner tart!!!!

Once this tart won my heart, I knew that this was something I had to play with -- I later made a free form crostata for my friend Amanda's Chili Party.

Without further a do, I present you the recipe for Tarte Aux Pommes, The French Culinary Institute way!

Tart Aux Pommes
1 recipe pate sucree (see below)
Butter for flan ring an bottom

Apple Compote
4 medium-large apples
1/2 lemon
30 ml (2 tbsp) water
50 g (2 oz) granulated sugar

2-3 med-large apples
1/2 lemon
50 g (2 oz) butter, melted

100 g (3.5 oz) apricot glaze (jam)
20 ml (1 tbsp) water

1. Butter flan ring. Roll out dough 1/8" thick. Roll dough onto rolling pin and place on flan ring so that there are 2" dough around ring. Press dough firmly against edge to form border.

2. Press 1/2" overlapping dough over edge of ring. Roll pin over top to remove excess. Pinch border around sides with fingers so that it rises just above ring. Chill shell.

3. Make apple compote -- peel apples and cut in half. Remove cores and rub with lemon to prevent browning. Cut into cubes and put them in small saucepan with water and sugar. Cover with parchment lid and cook over medium heat until mushy/tender, and no color (careful!). Let cool.

4. Prep garnish -- peel garnish apples and cut in half lengthwise and core them. Rub with lemon and slice horizontally VERY thinly (so you have a vertical slice of apple with top and bottom), no more than 1/8" thick.

5. Fill pastry shell with apple compote. Layer apples, moving around the tart counterclockwise, in a tight overlap. Brush with melted butter. Fill center with a rosette.

6. Bake at 425 on bottom rack for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 350 and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until shell is nicely colored and apples are taking on a bit of color. Remove tart ring, place tart back in oven for 10 minutes so sides can take on color, then remove and cool.

7. Combine apricot glaze (jam) with water, bring to simmer, and stir til melted. Brush onto tart.

Pate Sucree a la FCI
200 g flour
100 g butter
30 g granulated sugar
5 g salt
60 ml water or (for a richer dough) 1 whole egg and 10 ml water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Add butter (diced and VERY cold). Rub until pea sized or blend in food processor. Add water in little bits until dough JUST comes together. Wrap and let rest 1 hr in fridge.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Serious sweetness

I can't believe I'm about to post what I'm about to post. Last two weeks, I have spent 10 days perfecting my pastry skills. Okay, not bad. I mean, I do have a sweet tooth, but it makes me feel quite ill.

So, right in the middle of pastry fell my birthday. Quite fitting! Tarts, custards and crepes in lieu of a birthday cake? No complaints. On top of that, I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous chef demo the day after my birthday - with Master Chef, and FCI Dean of Pastry Jacques Torres!

I've been a fan of Chef Jacques for awhile, and was incredibly excited when he opened his Upper West Side shop a couple of years ago near by apartment. And an unfortunate presence that would be open those cold mornings walking to the subway when I'd be craving a cocoa.

The topic of Chef Jacques' demo was tarts and choux - fitting for us culinary students having just worked on tarts, and about to start choux. He made two tasty treats with us - eclairs filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate, and a delightful strawberry tart. I love eclairs, but more outstanding was the strawberry tart. A thin, crisp tart shell that wasn't too overwhelming, with a bit of cream, and of course, big, fat ripe strawberries. Yum!

Pate a Choux
1 kg water
500g butter
Good pinch salt
Good pinch sugar
700g flour

Bring water, butter, salt and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan. Add flour and stir well over the heat, cooking the raw flavor out and evaporating the moisture. It should come together as a ball, but leave the bottom of the pot clean. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a stand mixer. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until the mixture is ribbony and forms a hook when lifted from a spoon (you may need about 12, but it depends on the moisture level of the dough and environment).

Transfer dough to a piping bag and pipe eclairs and cream puff shapes onto a silpat or parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 400 until golden, then turn down to 350 for 5-10 minutes, then finally turn down t0 300 until the choux are light, crisp on the outside and hollow on the inside. You can leave the door open a bit to allow the steam to escape.

When finished, you can pipe in pastry cream or whipped cream, or even chocolate cream inside the choux, and top with chocolate or fondant.

Strawberry Tart
300g butter - COLD
560g cake flour
60g almond flour
180g powdered sugar
10-12g salt
2 eggs

Mix flours and butter on low in stand mixer until sandy. Add in powdered sugar and salt until just blended. Add eggs, one at a time, until the mixture comes together. Remove from a bowl and form into a disc. Let rest 30 min, chilled in fridge.

When ready, remove dough from fridge. Generously flour a counter (I like marble and granite -- or a pastry cloth!) and a wood rolling pin. Make sure the dough is warm enough to roll without cracking. Gently roll out into a circle, lifting and rotating the dough every two turns, making sure it is well floured and not sticking. Transfer to a buttered and chilled tart shell, forming a edge by pinching. Dock the dough (stab it with forks!) so that steam can escape, and blind bake the shell at 400 til slightly golden. Set aside.

While the shell cools, prepare your pastry cream and sliced strawberries. You can also seal the shell with melted chocolate, an egg wash (but this has to be added before the shell is blind baked), cocoa butter, or melted jam.

Spread a thin layer of melted chocolate on the cooled shell. Then spread on a layer of pastry cream, and top with strawberries -- you can lay them on their sides, or, as I prefer, remove just their tops and stand them on end. Brush with apricot glaze (3 parts jam to one part water, heated til melted). Enjoy!

Ps. I apologize that I have not shared a recipe for pastry cream yet. The ones we have been using at school have cornstarch in them, which leaves me with a crippling stomach ache. I need to test a couple of other recipes that work with flour in lieu of cornstarch.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tasty Sunday Dinner

A couple of weeks ago, I had to practice trussing and quartering a chicken for homework. I dutifully bought an organic chicken from the store and did my homework...however, had already had dinner and no time to cook it. So, off it went, carefully wrapped, into the freezer.

I remembered yesterday that the chicken was still in the freezer. I was wandering the aisles of my local Whole Foods, thinking about what to make for dinner, and craving mushrooms, and that chicken popped into my thoughts. I picked up some button mushrooms, some local black trumpets, and some dried porcinis. You can really choose whatever mushrooms are fresh at the market. Simple, yet delicious, with a side of arugula salad.

I didn't really use a recipe, so I document my steps below. You can't really mess this up, just keep tasting along the way!

1. Preheat oven to 350. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Reconstitute dried porcini with hot water and let sit. Heat canola or grapeseed oil in oven-proof sautepan til quite hot. Brown chicken pieces (2 breasts, 2 thighs - bone-in, skin on), skin side down. Place pan in oven and cook til breast meat is approx 160-165/juices run clear.

2. Remove chicken from pan and let rest. Pour off fat (save the juices - use a gravy measuring cup if need be). Add a bit of fat and the juices back into pan. Add in a minced shallot and saute til tender and juices evaporate.

3. Add mushrooms, sliced, and saute til tender. Season. Squeeze porcini, slice (save juices!) and add to mushrooms. Once all mushrooms are tender, deglaze with sherry (1/4 c or so) and porcini juice (be careful of silt at bottom).

4. Cook til evaporated by 1/2, then add 1/2-1 c milk (I used more milk, as I used 2%. You could use simply a dash of cream if you'd like). Bring to a boil and cook down until sauce covers back of spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper to your liking.

5. Slice the chicken (I had removed the thigh bones and ribcage) and serve with sauce on top.

Harvest special!

Having just finished a week and a half intensive on pastry in culinary school (everything from tarts, genoise, buttercream, crepes, pate a choux, custards and cremes, ice creams, souffles, and mousses), I really don't want to see another sweet for a long while (neither does my waistline!). However, when my friend Amanda invited me to her new place this past Saturday for chili and good company, I knew I needed to bring a fall treat that was not too sweet, but was a cooling complement to the spicy dinner.

One of the many benefits, I think, to fall is that there are lots and lots of apples! One of my most favorite is the Cortland apple, soft flesh, sweet and juicy, and just a hint of tartness. Plus, they break down perfectly in a dessert. A pie has too much dough, while I didn't want to make a formal French-style apple tart. I love Al Forno's rustic crostatas, and decided to create a variation inspired by the tarts I've eaten at the restaurant, and the recipe for the crostata dough by Ina Garten, with a touch of almond paste for sweetness.

Though I was a bit frustrated by the juciness of the apples, and the sheer weight of the tarts (I couldn't move them without breaking the shell. Maybe not roll the dough 1/8" next time. Oops!), the finished products were beautiful -- AND delicious!

Allie's Almond Apple Rustic Tarts (makes 2)

2 sticks butter
2 cups flour
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Almond paste
6 apples (I used 3 Empire, 3 Cortland), peeled and thinly sliced
Bench flour, for rolling

1. Make the dough: combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. Add the very cold butter, in chunks, and pulse til sandy. Add 1-2 tbsp water and pulse until the dough just comes together. Chill at least 1 hr to rest.

2. Preheat the oven to 450 (I used convection). Remove dough from fridge til soft enough to roll out. Peel and thinly slice the apples (I used a mandoline). Add a touch of lemon, so as to avoid browning, and season generously with cinnamon to your liking.

3. Divide dough into two pieces. Generously flour counter and roll out into a circle, 1/4" thick or so. Transfer, on rolling pin, to a silpat lined baking sheet. Grate almond paste to your liking on bottom, then pile on apples, leaving 1 1/2-2" space around edge. Fold edges in over apple pile, letting folds overlap.

4. Bake at 450 until shell browns nicely and fruit cooks, approx 20 minutes. If the tart colors too fast, you can lower the heat after it goldens. Let cool.

A sweet treat for your inner chocoholic

Oh, I've been so bad! It's been a long while since I've posted last! This fall has gotten the better of me, between culinary school, travelling over the weekends, packing and cleaning house. Sigh.

So, to kick off some new postings, I'm going to share one of my new favorite desserts with you!

I've always been a brownie girl. Growing up, I was the designated brownie baker in the family, and I've tried all sorts of recipes: using bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, adding more chocolate. Many are all quite good, but none ever really blow my mind away. You see, I'm a fan of a not-too-sweet, but quite chocolate-y flavor, with a "underdone" consistency, and a thin crisp top. I've come quite close, but never hit the nail on the head (note: there is one more recipe I want to test).

So, when planning the menu for an impromtu dinner party last Sunday, a quick, easy and chocolate-y dessert was in order - a variation on Ina Garten's Brownie Pudding!

I've learned to modify most of Ina's recipes, cutting back on salt and/or butter. Here, I've cut back the sugar, and the baking technique. It results in a less-tooth-hurting sweetness, with the same fudgy goodness in half the time.

(if you don't have a convection oven, don't fret - just watch the pudding. It might take a little longer)

My version of Ina's Brownie Pudding

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
4 large eggs, room temp
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I like Ghiradelli)
1/2 cup flour
Seeds from one vanilla bean

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2 qt (9x12") oval baking pan. Melt the 2 sticks of butter and set aside to cool. Bring 2 qts water to a boil and remove from heat, set aside.

Beat eggs and sugar on medium-high for 5-10 minutes, until thick and light yellow. Meanwhile, sift together the cocoa and flour in separate bowl.

When the egg and sugar mixture is ready, reduce speed to low, and add vanilla seeds, then cocoa and flour. Mix just til combined. With mixer on low, slowly pour in cooled butter and mix to just combine.

Pour batter into into prepared dish and place in larger baking pan. Bring boiled water to a boil again, and carefully pour into larger dish, so that it comes halfway up the side of the oval dish, to make a water bath. Bake the pudding in the convection oven for approx 20-30 minutes, when a tester placed in 1 1/2-2" in from side comes out clean. Center will be very underbaked, as the texture is between a brownie and a pudding. Cool and serve with creme anglaise, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.