February 6, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

It's been many months since I've paid attention to my poor little blog. Unfortunately, I have experienced some personal circumstances recently that have left me unable to cook or bake, and therefore blog. It looks like things are settling down now and I am happy to be back, and ready to give my blog some TLC.

If you've been patiently waiting, I thank you. If you are new to my blog, stay tuned. I'm no master chef, but I have been told that I am one wicked home cook... I'll take that.

October 5, 2008

Dare to Eclair!

I was out of commission for the past month—and subsequently out of the kitchen—because I tore some ligaments in my foot at the very beginning of September. It's a very stupid story, so let's just pretend I fell while skiing in Vail or something exciting like that.

With time and some physical therapy under my belt, I'm on the mend now. That's all fine and good, but I've barely been in the kitchen this month and really only out of necessity to keep my family fed. (Shhhh, don't tell, but we ordered more than our share of take-out pizza this past month.) Not only have I not been in the kitchen, my poor little blog has bore the brunt of my injuries and has been postless for too long.

So, I am playing a little catch-up with the Daring Bakers, who baked some gorgeous eclairs back at the end of August. I actually baked mine back then too, but wasn't able to post on time and then had my spill, and well ... you know. So, better late than never, here are the fruits of my eclair labor.

First, a big thank you (albeit very belated) to Meeta K of What's for Lunch, Honey? and Tony from Olive Juice for hosting the August challenge. The very premise of Daring Bakers is to challenge yourself to try something new and out of your comfort zone. I definitely would not have tried to make eclairs had it not been for their selection, so I was pleased to try something new.
Eclairs consist of three elements:

  • Pâte à choux, also known as choux pastry or cream puff dough
  • Pastry cream
  • Chocolate glaze
Unlike many past challenges, Meeta and Tony gave us quite a bit of culinary freedom. The guidelines simply stated that we were required to use the pâte à choux recipe provided for the eclair dough and we had to keep at least one chocolate element provided: chocolate glaze or chocolate pastry cream. Umm, yes please. I'll take both. And because I wanted to make the project my own, I piped some peanut butter down the center as well. It didn't pipe as well as I would have liked and was a little flat compared to the full-bodied pastry cream, but it tasted just like a peanut butter cup.For the complete recipe, visit Meeta's blog.

August 1, 2008

Fennel Gets its Due

One vegetable that all to often gets the proverbial diss is fennel.

People are always asking me what they can possibly do with it and how they can mask the strong taste.

If you're unfamiliar with fennel, it is a type of plant with an edible bulb, which resembles pale celery—only shorter and fatter. The taste is similar to a very mild black licorice. Rich in fiber and antioxidants, fennel is a versatile addition to cooking often found in soups and salads.

As a fan of fennel, I prefer to make it the star of a dish, rather than try to cover it up with other flavors. With just a handful of ingrendients, most of which I have onhand at any given time, I threw together some quick pan-fried fennel a la Martha Stewart. I had saved a recipe for Green Garlic Dip a while ago and have been trying to figure out how I could include it in or with a dish.

The two went together great and made a perfect summer appetizer. Everyone tried some and I didn't get one complaint (and my group doesn't mince words). The fennel had a nice crunch that paired nicely with the bread crumb coating and the fresh, subtle flavor of the green garlic.

Pan-Fried Fennel
from Martha Stewart

2 medium fennel bulbs
1 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs, for dredging
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more for seasoning
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, just enough to yield about 1/4 inch in the pan
2 lemons, cut into wedges One recipe Green Garlic Dip

Remove tops and fronds from fennel bulbs. Slice each bulb in half widthwise. Cut each half into slices about 1/8 inch thick.

Pour flour into a medium bowl and bread crumbs into another. Season with the salt and pepper. Crack eggs into a third bowl; whisk until frothy. Season with salt and pepper. Dredge fennel lightly in flour, then in egg, and then in bread crumbs, shaking off excess after each step.

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Check to make sure the oil is hot enough by tossing a pinch of flour into the pan. If the flour sizzles, the oil is ready.

Fry fennel slices until golden brown on each side, about 30 seconds per side, working in batches so as not to crowd pan. Drain on paper towels; season with salt. Serve hot with Green Garlic Dip (recipe follows).

Green Garlic Dip
from Daniel Patterson, chef and owner of Coi in San Francisco

¾ cup minced green garlic, white and light green parts only
1 egg
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar
6 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pure olive oil

In a blender, purée the egg, vinegars and cooled green garlic on medium-high. With the blender running, add the oils in a slow, steady stream to emulsify. Season with salt.

July 30, 2008

Praline Dreams

Hang on to your knickers! Today is posting day for the month of July for the Daring Bakers.

Get ready for some serious sinful eating with more Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream than your mouth can handle.

Chris from Mele Cotte, selected this month's challenge. At first blush, this one seemed like it would be time-consuming than challenging. Oh, how naive of this particular Daring Baker. For the most part, things went well. But, that was short-lived when it came time to glaze with the chocolate. I knew the layers had to be pretty even in order to create a smooth finished product. I thought I would even out my slightly uneven layers by smoothing some leftover buttercream into the seams on the sides. "How clever am I?" I thought. What I didn't take into consideration is that hot chocolate glaze poured over buttercream would melt the buttercream. Duh!? It seems so obvious now, but I had to act quickly and patch up my mess. For the most part, I was able to save the cake, but there were some obvious patches of tan where the buttercream and chocolate melted together. Not too big of a disaster, but a lesson learned on my part.

Daring Baker challenge turned birthday cake

The recipe calls for a large amount of skinned and toasted hazelnuts. All I could find were hazelnuts in the skin, so I wondered how the heck I was going to skin all these little buggers. Neha from The Literate and Liberal Foodie came across this great tip for removing hazelnut skins and shared it with the rest of the group. If you follow the tip, make sure you use a very large stock pot. I used my smaller one at first and the baking soda bubbled up and over the sides all over my stove. I quickly poured everything into my big-daddy stock pot and had a heck of a mess on my stove to clean after.

For the most part, I followed the recipe as written. However, I did make a few minor modifications just to use up some ingredients I happened to already have in the house:

  • Chambord (black raspberry liqueur) everywhere the recipe called for rum or Grand Marnier
  • Raspberry preserves in the glaze instead of apricot

And I did overlook accidentally the requirement that said we had to use buttercream as part of the garnish. I thought it was optional and I like drama, so made these candied hazelnuts instead.

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

For the Filbert Genoise
Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.
For the Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur
In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.
For the Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ - 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)
Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.
For the Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla
Place the egg whites in a large bowl of a electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.
Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.
*On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.
Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.
Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.
Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.
For the Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.
Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.
For the Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake
2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water
In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.
Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.
For the Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake
**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.
6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup) heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed
Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.
Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.
Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ - 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!
Assembling the Cake
Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.
Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.
Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-inch blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.
Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.
To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.
Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.
Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

What's-in-the-box Wednesday 7/30/08

I'm back with my weekly update on what's in my CSA box. I skipped a couple weeks because a few weeks ago, my box went missing and last week, I totally spaced on taking pictures before the week got away from me. This week's harvest box is probably my favorite so far this season, as I love everything in it. It's probably not too ambitious to say that I think most of it will be gone by the weekend.

This week we found the following in our box:
  • Chard
  • Bell peppers

  • Tomatoes

  • Yukon Gold potatoes

  • Cucumbers
  • Red onions

  • Sweet corn

Now, I know you're not supposed to play with your food, but I was fooling around with all the produce and this just made me laugh. It's my own personal produce man.