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Archive for March, 2009

When it comes to the presentation of dessert, I tend to love cute, individual servings a little more. That is why I’ve had my eye on ramekins for awhile now, but couldn’t justify accumulating dishes that I don’t necessarily need, or have the space for. “But just think of all the possibilities,” the other little voice in my head would say. “Custards! Crisps! Souffles! Oh my!”

Two weeks ago, the little voice succeeded in winning me over. When I had an urge to make apple crisp for dessert, I went out and bought myself some ramekins. Armed with eight ramekins — I am obviously daydreaming about all the dinner parties (that or all the desserts) we’ll have in the future — I was prepared to make eight servings of apple crisp, each in its own little dish. Sure, I could have made an apple crisp in a Pyrex baking dish, but it just wouldn’t have been the same.

I bought Pink Lady apples for the crisp. As far as tart apples go, I consider these my favorite. Pink Lady Apples are crisp, sweet, and tart, but not as tart as pucker-inducing green apples.

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These apple crisps can be made hours ahead of time. All they need is a bit of reheating in the oven. Serve ramekins of piping hot Pink Lady crisp (be careful if they are coming straight out of the oven – an additional holding plate is advisable) with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Melting vanilla ice cream meeting baked cinnamon and sugar-coated apples, with a touch of crisp…I still have dreams about this dessert. Let’s just say that I made sure we had enough leftover apple crisp to keep us giddy for a few days.

apple crisp

Apple Crisp (adapted from here)

3 pounds tart apples (I used Pink Lady apples)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup rolled oats
4 tablespoons cold butter (1/2 stick)

Peel, core and chop the apples (I sliced each apple into 12 wedges, and then sliced those wedges into halves). Throw them in a bowl and add the lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine the nutmeg, cinnamon, and brown sugar; add to the apples and stir. In another bowl combine the oats, flour, and sugar. Cut the butter into eight small pieces; mix the butter and flour with a pastry blender, or by using two forks until the mixture is crumbly. Butter a 9 inch square baking dish (I used 8 – 6 oz ramekins). Spread apple mixture in the bottom of baking dish (pile the apples high if using ramekins) and sprinkle flour mixture on top. Bake at 375° for 30 – 45 minutes, or until apples are tender and topping is lightly browned. Serve warm to hot. Can be served with vanilla ice cream or a little heavy cream, if desired. (Ice cream, of course!)

apple crispapple crisp with vanilla ice cream

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What started out as a pursuit of artichokes for an attractive recipe of braised baby artichokes unexpectedly led to something else.

While thinking to myself that it was way too early for artichoke season (except perhaps in California), I insisted on replicating the recipe and tried my luck at the supermarket. I searched high and low in the produce aisles; no artichokes in sight. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a netted bag of brussels sprouts. Bearing the resemblance of mini dark green cabbages, they seemed at least appropriate in size compared to trimmed baby artichokes. Braised brussels sprouts it was.

Brussels sprouts. I have marveled at them at the supermarket and read about them, but ne’er a single brussels sprout had crossed the threshold of my lips until only a couple of weeks ago. A bane to most children and even adults in its overcooked, odiferous form, brussels sprouts seem to be a familiar offering in all-American households. In my ethnic-American upbringing, my dad loved to cook and serve the family American food on occasion (i.e. fried chicken, french fries), but he never ventured into the realm of non-Asian vegetables. Hence, my lack of familiarity with brussels sprouts. Given the stories I’ve heard of traumatic experiences with the vegetable, I’ve also been guilty of being prejudiced towards these poor brussels sprouts, and avoided trying them out for myself. That is, until now.

I loosely followed the recipe for braised baby artichokes in the March issue of Cook’s Illustrated, and in the end decided to roast the brussels sprouts instead. In this recipe, brussel sprouts are tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper in a baking dish. Water is added, and herbs tucked in, along with several slices of lemon. More lemon slices are added to the top. The dish is then roasted for twenty minutes, covered, and then for another ten minutes, uncovered.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon

about 30 brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
olive oil
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lemon, sliced
1 cup water
3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle enough olive oil over brussels sprouts to lightly coat; season with salt and pepper and toss around in a large baking dish. Pour 1 cup water into baking dish, and tuck fresh thyme, bay leaves, and several slices of lemon underneath brussels sprouts. Scatter the rest of the lemon slices on top of the brussels sprouts. Seal baking dish with foil and place in 450 degree oven for 20 minutes. Uncover baking dish, and roast for another 10 minutes.

roasted brussel sprouts with lemon

I am happy that I finally gave brussels sprouts a chance, and I have the absence of spring artichokes to thank for putting an end to my unfounded assumptions. I can now say for myself that brussels sprouts are quite tasty roasted. Firm, yet tender. Sweet and sharp. And since they were only lightly cooked, they did not stink at all!*

*Personal communication. I have not experienced stinky brussels sprouts myself, but I hear that the longer you cook them, the more they stink.

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vancouver, bc

Last week, we took a little road trip.
We ate a lot.
We walked a lot.
It was fun.

We walked across the Granville Street bridge, and watched the little aquabuses go by.
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We had the best-tasting fish n’ chips and oyster po’ boy. Ever.
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We walked around Granville Island. There was a lot of art, and a lot of food.
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We walked around Stanley Park,
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took a detour to see the beautiful Lions Gate bridge,
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and watched the sun set.
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We had ramen for dinner.
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The next day, we had brunch.
I had eggs and soldiers for the first time. I loved it so much! I love eggs…
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J had a sandwich of prosciutto, blue brie, pears, and toasted walnuts on a baguette (pictured below).

Inspired, the Sandwich Man made these for us after we got back.
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We then went on a hike. There was a suspension bridge and waterfalls.

The water was turquoise blue in some places.
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Vancouver was lovely.
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More pictures here.

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Silly as it seems, my favorite dessert at this Seattle chocolate cafe is their banana coconut cake. My first time there I ordered a hot chocolate and got their banana coconut cake so I wouldn’t overdose on chocolate. (Is there even such a thing as overdosing on chocolate?) Every visit thereafter, this cake would scream out to me from the menu, “Pick me! Pick me!” And I always obeyed. Try as I might, I could not resist the dreamy layers of genoise cake, filled with airy chantilly cream and sliced bananas, and draped with more chantilly cream and flaked coconut.

banana coconut cake
Since I had the opportunity to create a celebration cake last week (a birthday!), it did not take long for me to choose a cake to bake. I found a recipe for a soft, light cake by baking guru, Dorie Greenspan, on this blog (I am in awe of this blogger — she has gone through a crazy number of Dorie Greenspan’s recipes and more), and I pounced on it. It isn’t quite a genoise, but is something closer to angel food cake. Something that would go very well with chantilly cream, I thought.

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The cake is baked in two round pans. After they cool, they are split in half horizontally to make four layers of cake. The heck is beaten out of the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla to form the chantilly cream. A layer of cake is then topped with chantilly cream, sliced bananas (I used about three ripe bananas in all), some more chantilly cream, and a drizzle of flaked, sweetened coconut, before another layer of cake is plopped on. This is repeated until the top layer is set into place, and then the whole cake is covered in chantilly cream. Because the cake will be covered in flaked coconut, the final assembly of this cake is very forgiving, in terms of presentation. You do not have to achieve a perfect, smooth coat of chantilly cream before packing coconut onto the top and sides of the cake. It will look beautiful no matter what. Coconut is wonderful like that.

Nom nom nom.

banana coconut cake

Perfect Party Cake (from here)
From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

Makes 12 to 14 servings

For the Cake

* 2 1/4 cups cake flour
* 1 tablespoon baking powder
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
* 4 large egg whites
* 1 1/2 cups sugar
* 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
* 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-x-2-inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To Make The Cake: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the butter and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the tough – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Vanilla Chantilly Cream (from here)

2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, beat the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla extract together on high speed until soft peaks form in the mixture. Chill any unused Chantilly cream.
Makes enough cream for one average-size cake or pastry recipe.

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A meal without meat can often leave me feeling unsated. It’s not that I enjoy a caveman diet. Actually, only a relatively small portion of my meals consist of meat. (Well, maybe not when we’re talking about pork shoulders or barbeque.) Yet were that beef/pork/poultry/seafood absent from a meal, you’ll be sure to find me soon afterwards searching through the cupboards for something else to munch on. I’ve been slowly learning, though, that this doesn’t have to be the case — meat does not have to equal satisfaction. This may not be the most astounding revelation to you, but I have found that the addition of legumes or nuts (sources of protein and fat) can do wonders in giving a dish a sense of “fullness.” Come to think of it, that beans, lentils, nuts and whole grains are critical components of a healthful and nutritious vegetarian diet is nothing new to me either, but I never truly understood the concept until recently. Vegetarian dishes can be hearty, and they can be satisfying. And just plain good.

Like this dish of mushroom bundles, which made its appearance in last November’s issue of Gourmet in a vegetarian Thanksgiving menu. Neat packages of sauteed mushrooms, wrapped in collard greens. As a lover of mushrooms and pretty, tidy packages, I mentally cached away these mushroom bundles as a to-make dish.

And make them I did. They’re perfect for a dinner party because they have a sophisticated air about them, which is a bit deceiving since they’re so easy to prepare. You start by boiling the collard leaves for about six minutes, and then you run them under cold water to stop the cooking process. Then you remove the tough parts of the leaves (the stems) and lay them out to dry a bit. In the meantime, saute thick slices of mushrooms with some white wine, butter, garlic, shallots, salt, and black pepper. The recipe calls for a medley of wild mushrooms, but the only “wild” mushrooms I used were creminis, which I happen to find quite flavorful on their own. After 12 minutes, when the mushrooms are juicy and plump, and their aroma fills your kitchen, they are ready to be bundled up. After straining the mushroom juices into a baking dish, heap a large spoonful of mushrooms into the center of each leaf, and wrap into whatever shape you wish. Place the bundles into a baking dish, and let the bundles braise in a puddle of mushroom juice. This is a key step where the mushroom juices infuse the collard greens with an intense mushroom flavor. I wouldn’t skip this step if I were you.
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Yes, they are just fungus and greens. No beans, nuts or whole grains this time, but boy, were they filling. J described them as “meaty,” and I would concur. Together, the collard leaves and mushrooms made a hearty little bundle in both texture and taste. The folds of collards were nice and tender, and especially toothsome next to the fragrant mushrooms. These mushroom bundles could make an omnivore cry.

Now this doesn’t mean that I’ll be going vegetarian anytime soon. I’m only beginning to appreciate that good food does not necessarily have to contain meat. Vegetables no longer only have to be side dishes. They can be the main course.
mushroom bundles
Mushroom Bundles (adapted from here)
I scaled up the recipe by increasing the number of collard leaves and the amount of mushrooms used.

12 large collard leaves, stems and thick portion of center ribs removed
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp minced shallot
1 tsp minced garlic
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1-1/2 pound cremini, thickly sliced

Cook collards in a large pot of boiling water with 1 tablespoon salt until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes, then drain. Transfer to a bowl of cold water, then spread leaves, undersides up, on paper towels, overlapping cut edges slightly, and pat dry.
Bring wine to a boil with shallot, garlic, 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a heavy medium saucepan. Add mushrooms and cook, covered, over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 12 minutes. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish, then strain mushroom juices into baking dish, reserving mushrooms.
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in lower third.
Mound about 1/4 cup mushrooms in center of each collard leaf. Fold leaves to enclose filling and arrange bundles, seam sides down, in 1 layer in baking dish. Heat in oven until bundles are hot and juices are bubbling, about 20 minutes.

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carrot risotto

Last summer, J and I celebrated a special occasion by having dinner at Tilth, a much talked about Seattle restaurant which focuses on local, organic ingredients, and sustainability. After several friends recommended Tilth to us, we decided to give it a go. We were pretty happy with the overall experience. Everything was cooked and seasoned well, and its intimate setting was homey and lovely. While all the dishes we had were excellent, the one dish that really, I mean REALLY, swept me off my feet was the baby carrot carnaroli risotto (carnaroli is similar to arborio rice). Risotto! I know that seems a bit boring, but trust me, I have had a fair share of restaurant risottos. But none so memorable as this. After dinner that night, the nerd in me typed out all the dishes we had at Tilth into Word, just so that I wouldn’t forget the ingredients that went into each dish, especially the risotto. I have photos of the food we ate, too, but I won’t bore you with all the low-quality pictures taken in poor lighting. Okay, maybe just one.

Baby Carrot Risotto at Tilth (July 2008)

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In this risotto, the baby carrots were cooked sous vide so that their raw flavor was preserved nicely, and it had little shreds of escarole, pine nuts, and an infusion of truffle oil. My guess was that it was cooked in a broth of carrot puree and vegetable broth, as well as something that lent some acid to it. The carnaroli was also cooked well — thoroughly, but just a bit al dente.

I made it a goal of mine to reproduce this risotto, and when I finally did, I gave myself some flexibility. I had no means to cook the carrots sous vide, and I didn’t want to spend a pretty penny on truffle oil. Though truffle oil does add a lot to a dish, I was sure that the remaining ingredients would speak nicely for themselves. And so they did. The sweet carrots and buttery pinenuts partnered well with the bitter kale and lemon, creating a perfect harmony of flavors.

Of course, this version of carrot risotto did not mirror the original, but it was good. I mean, REALLY good.

Carrot Risotto with Kale and Pinenuts
serves 4-5

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp shallots, minced
1-1/2 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 quart vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 cups carrots, chopped (I used regular, not baby carrots, here)
2 cups kale, thinly slivered and roughly chopped (Again, I used kale in place of escarole.)
1 cup pinenuts, toasted
juice and zest of 1/2 large lemon
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (or use shaved parmesan to top risotto)

Bring broth and water to a simmer. In a separate pan, toast pinenuts in a bit of olive oil over medium-high heat.
toasting pinenuts
In a pot, melt butter with oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots and saute until tender. Add rice and stir for about a minute. Add chopped carrots and kale and cook for a minute more. Add wine and cook until liquid is absorbed. Add 1 cup of hot broth and simmer until liquid is absorbed, stirring often. Continue to cook until rice is just tender and mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 30 minutes. Stir in lemon zest and juice during this time. Take risotto off heat when rice is cooked through and there is still some liquid left. Stir in toasted pinenuts and grated Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

carrot risotto

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J used to live a mere block away from Grand Central Bakery. One of his favorite things to get from Grand Central Bakery is the berry jammer. Jammers are basically “thumbprint” buttermilk biscuits, filled with a generous amount of jam. Any kind of jam would do, according to your liking. What makes jammers good, J says, is that they are not as cloyingly sweet as other breakfast pastries. The plainness of the buttery biscuit really allows the flavor of the jam to stand out.

I happily found a recipe for the jammers on Grand Central Bakery’s website. As the recipe says, “the better the jam, the better the jammer.” I took this advice seriously and proceeded to make some raspberry jam, as I had some frozen raspberries handy. Making jam is so easy, and it’s even easier when the fruit has a high pectin content so that the jam thickens on its own without the addition of commercial pectin. Pectin is a complex sugar concentrated in the skins and cores of fruit, and in jam-making, helps to thicken the jam when combined with heat, sugar, and the right amount of acid (either from the fruit itself, or by the addition of acid, such as lemon juice).

Raspberry Jam (adapted from here)
makes twice as much as you need for the jammers (below)

2 cups frozen raspberries
1-1/2 cup sugar (jam recipes usually call for a 1:1 ratio of fruit:sugar, but I don’t like my jams too sweet)
1 squeeze of lemon juice (although you can probably skip this, as I already reduced the sugar content)

1. Place sugar in an ovenproof shallow pan and warm in a 250°F (120°C) oven for 15 minutes. (Warm sugar dissolves better.)
2. Place berries in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a full boil over high heat, mashing berries as they heat. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
3. Add warm sugar, return to a boil, and boil until mixture will form a gel (see tips, below), about 5 minutes.

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Grand Central Bakery’s “At Home” Jammers
recipe halved to make (9) 1/3 cup-sized jammers

2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 lb butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup buttermilk
½ cup jam (the better the jam the better the jammer)

Cut cold butter into dry ingredients with pastry blender, fingers, or pulse with food processor. Flour should begin to take on the characteristic of corn meal, however up to 1/2-inch diameter chunks of butter should remain. Mix in buttermilk just until dough will hold together. Pat out on floured surface to 2 inch high and cut out with biscuit cutter (Lacking specific tools, I used a 1/3-cup measuring cup to do this — this gave me a total of 9 biscuits). Use thumb to make hole in the middle while you gently hold on to the outside with the other fingers (think pinch pot). Fill with 1 tbsp jam and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until golden brown.

raspberry jammers

These jammers were jammin’, to say the least. The baked raspberry jam, nestled within bites of buttermilk biscuit, sang on our tongues and made us dance in our seats.

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