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Archive for the ‘dairy’ Category

I’ve let you down. I made a tart and never shared it.

I’m generally a good sharer. My Montessori school teacher put sharing right up there with polishing silver and learning French, and I was an overachiever. But this one tart just slipped through my fingers and out of my mind and into a folder of photos that got lost between a handful of trips and Passover.

Until now.

Apologies aside, let’s talk about the tart.  It’s made with frangipane – an almond custard.

Have you ever tried frangipane? You’ve probably found it tucked neatly between a sweet tart crust and spiral of fresh fruit. Or nestled among the buttery layers of a flaky croissant. Good frangipanes don’t use almond extract. They don’t need it. Because they’re pure sweetened-but-otherwise-unadulterated almond  seduction.

Want to taste some excellent frangipane? If you’re in Boston, head straight to Harvard Square to Crema Cafe for their almond croissants. Make sure to get there early — as in well before noon, especially on a Sunday — because these house-made freshly-baked almond-only filled pastries go quickly.

But back to today’s tart (or rather, six months ago’s tart). I like to bake my fruit right into the almond layer. The juices from the fruit melt into the frangipane. The almond cream puffs up as it bakes and nearly buries the fruit under a crispy, caramelized crust that crackles with the first dip of the fork.

By this point, you’ve probably noticed that this tart has pears in it. On boy, you’re thinking, this girl is evil. Because pear season was months ago. Even worse, it’s months away. But let’s think about it this way: when the days start getting shorter and the leaves start falling off the trees, and the coats come out of storage, you’ll have something to look forward to along with the first snow of the season and a new pair of boots.

And I’m not entirely evil. Though, perhaps a bit of a tease. Next week (if the baking gods smile down on me), there will be a summer fruit frangipane tart to follow. I’ll share that one post-haste because then you’ll be able to go out and grab a few pints of berries or plums and make your own tart to bring to a barbecue.

Until then, happy drooling!

Pear frangipane tart

I have unfortunately lost the source of this recipe. I’ve looked through my usual cookbook suspects and online, and can only find  recipes that use either almond paste or blanched almonds.  I will keep searching, but in the interim, check out this other pear and almond tart.

Frangipane is an almond custard filling for tarts (or other amazing baked goods). The first time I made this tart, I used my stand mixer for the frangipane. The second time, I found it easier to just mix it up by hand. 

Instead of vanilla, I always use orange blossom water as a nice complement to the almond. You can make the pâte sucrée (sweet tart dough) from scratch or use store-bought pie crust dough or even puff pastry in a pinch. Whenever I have extra egg yolks, I quickly whip together a pâte sucrée batch or two in my mini food processor and freeze them until I need them.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here – make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also grind up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t orange blossom water

- 1 T orange liqueur (e.g., Cointreau)

- 2 eggs

- 3 pears – I use Bosc, but Anjou or Bartlett work well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes. Start checking the dough after 15 minutes – it’s ready when light brown. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Brown. While the crust is in the oven, melt butter in a small pan until it browns. The butter will sputter and foam as little brown bits collect on the bottom. When the butter turns to liquid gold and starts to smell nutty, take it off the heat. This takes about 5-7 minutes. Let the butter cool.

Mix. In a bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, orange blossom water, and liqueur. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled golden butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Peel the pears, slice them in half, and core them, making sure to also remove the fibers from the seeds to the stem. Carefully slice each pear from tip to end – you want thin slices (I get about 20 slices out of each pear). I say “carefully”  because you want to keep the slices together in the shape of the pear.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about 2/3 of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the pears. (If you have any leftover, use it to make a mini tart or two). Transport the pears on a chef’s knife or dough scraper and gently lay then, tip side in, on the frangipane in a circle. Lightly press the pears towards the outside of the pan to fan the slices out. Smooth out the frangipane and  move it around to even it out if necessary.

Bake. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Check the tart after 35 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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I’d like to tell you the tale of my week in San Francisco. It was intrinsically tied to a book. No, not a cook book, but a book book.

The book is Ruth Reichl‘s Comfort Me with Apples. This is the second of her memoirs, and the third of her books that I’ve read.

Before we can fly out West, though, there’s a little history we need to get through.

Reichl and I met in 2001, the year I returned to medical school after a several year hiatus in the “real world,” also known as corporate America (I’m not sure that that’s the real world, but anything felt more real than my 17th year sitting in classrooms). We were introduced by my boyfriend at the time – he bought me a subscription to the now sadly out of print Gourmet magazine and inspired my purchase of a stand mixer (Kitchenaid, just like his). The mixer lasted until last year, its life much longer than the relationship, but its end no less tragic.

For eight years, I awaited Reichl’s monthly arrival in my mailbox, her letter from the editor the start to a cozy night or two, snuggled up under the covers and cradling my Gourmet by the light of my bedside lamp, folding over page after page of recipes to try. She wrote (well, still writes) with an ease that reminded me that with good food, everything would turn out all right. In an effort to rid my apartment of clutter (an ongoing battle), I purged all my food magazines. Only one Gourmet survived – April 2009 — and as I wrote this, I reread her letter to see what Reichl had to say almost exactly three years ago.

“Because that is what spring is all about: hope, possibility, and our endless capacity to rejoice in what nature has given us.”

A nice sentiment as the weather warms and I am in the very (very) early stages of contemplating a big change.

On a particularly sunny Sunday in March, I found myself sifting through cardboard boxes of books lining the sidewalk in front of the post office mere steps from my apartment. Wedged between a carpentry manual and Chemistry text in the last  box, I saw a blue book with Reichl’s name peeking out at me. Three dollars and it was mine.

As night fell, I curled up with Garlic and Sapphires, glad for a reunion. I devoured Reichl’s pre-Gourmet tales of visiting and reviewing the full spectrum of New York restaurants for the Times. In anticipation of this rising star Bay Area critic arriving in New York, chefs pasted pictures of Reichl in their kitchens so that staff could recognize and alert the team to her wielding  pen. As a result, Reichl often dressed in disguise amd adopted different personas to avoid special treatment.

Two nights later,  I ordered Tender at the Bone, Reichl’s first memoir. At some point — between stories of her childhood, stories of her move to Berkeley where she cooked for everyone from housemates to the now defunct Swallow Restaurant Collective, and stories of her early days as a restaurant critic — we became friends and I called her Ruth.

She flew out to San Francisco with me. We shared a cramped middle seat. I forced myself to watch a movie destined for a captive audience so that we wouldn’t have to part ways at wheels down.

Once in the Bay Area, I savored my time with Ruth, only allowing myself to read one or two chapters per day.

We spent the whole week together.

She accompanied me from Oakland to San Francisco to Half Moon Bay to Berkeley. She sat with me in cafes in between meetings. She joined me at the bar for dinner. She was the last person to speak to me before I fell asleep.

In between meetings, I thought of little other than food. Where would I eat next? Where might Ruth go? What disguise might she have worn and persona might she have assumed? What would she think of the food the atmosphere the service? How does the staff treat someone eating solo? Do they give you looks when its crowded and you alone linger at a table meant for two?

I wanted to taste everything. At dinner, I always started with a glass of wine and ended with a desssert and coffee. And there were one or two courses in between. One morning at breakfast, I sat down with a coffee (of course!), a tartine with butter, a croissant, and an orange-flecked breakfast bun. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

But what I had hoped would be the highlight of our time together didn’t go quite as planned. My Berkeley food crawl with my friend and expert eater, Joanne, was almost cancelled when she and her kids got sick. But Ruth and I soldiered on. We crossed the Bay Bridge, just the two of us, intent on exploring her old haunts. We drove past Channing Way where Ruth reminded me she had lived in a communal house (more like a commune) in the 70s. We arrived at Shattuck Avenue — “gourmet ghetto” central — and quickly found parking. I knew that Chez Panisse would be closed on Sunday, but didn’t expect its across-the-street neighbor, The Cheese Board Collective, to be closed as well. I saw the two landmarks, peered in from the outside, left fingerprints on the windows, and then sought out food (and, of course, coffee). A few frantic text messages to Joanne and a charming little cupcake was in my hand. Another hour or two and we headed back.

The next day, Ruth and I said goodbye at the airport on my way back to Boston.

It was a great week.

It was a hard week.

It was a long week.

It was a coffee-filled week.

It was a delicious week.

Fettuccine with asparagus, lemon, mascarpone, and almonds

I would never have come up with this dish had I not been traveling in San Francisco with Ruth. It was inspired by “Danny’s Lemon Pasta” – fresh fettuccine with a cream and lemon sauce – published in Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples, the book I carried around with me from cafe to restaurant to cafe . Having just read the recipe, and dining alone perched on a stool at the bar at A16, I pounced on the restaurant’s fregula with asparagus, mascarpone, meyer lemon, toasted almonds and pecorino riserva. With this ingredient list and Reichl’s directions, I developed this fresh, summery, nutty pasta. The sauce just barely coats the pasta, so if you like more sauce, adjust accordingly. Before draining the pasta, scoop out a cup of pasta water in case you want to thin the sauce. It’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and on hand because the recipe goes by pretty quickly and can be on your table within 15 minutes. This recipe serves 2 hungry people.

- 1/4 C sliced almonds

- 3/4 lb fresh fettuccine (or other shape)

- 1 large bunch of asparagus; thick or thin stalks work fine, but a thicker stalk will require an extra mintue or two of cooking.

- 2 T butter

- One lemon (for zest and juice)

- 1/3 C mascarpone

- salt and pepper

Toast. In a skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, shaking the pan to avoid burning. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Once you start to smell the almonds, they’re done. It’s best to stay nearby because nuts can turn from golden to black in just a few seconds.

Slice. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and then slice in 1 – 1 1/2 inch the remaining stalks.

Boil. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and bring back to a boil. If you are using fresh pasta, drop in the pasta and asparagus together at the same time. This should talk about 3-4 minutes to cook through. If you are going to use dried pasta, follow the cooking directions and then 3-4 minutes before you plan to remove the pasta, drop the asparagus into the pot. When both the pasta and asparagus are ready, scoop out a cup or so of pasta water, and then drain everything in a colander.

Whisk. While the pasta and asparagus is boiling, melt butter in a large pan (that will fit all of the pasta). Zest the lemon into the hot butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in mascarpone until smooth. If you’d like a richer sauce, whisk in extra mascarpone. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss. Pour the drained pasta and asparagus into the pan and toss everything to coat the pasta with sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to get it to your desired consistency.

Squeeze. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the pasta.

Sprinkle. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the pasta.

***

PS – Here’s where I ate.

Oakland and Berkeley:

Bocanova
Jack London Square
55 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Happy hour menu before 6 pm (great when you’ve just arrived from the East Coast)

Miette (additional locations in San Francisco)
85 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Try the chocolate sables, shortbread (lemon and lavender are my favorites), and pot de crème

Caffe 817
817 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Get anything with a poached egg

Love at First Bite Bakery
1510 Walnut Street, Suite G
Berkeley, CA 94709
The “pretty in pink” cupcake has just the right ratio of strawberry buttercream to not-too-sweet strawberry cake

San Francisco

La Boulange Bakery
All over San Francisco and the Bay area
This small chain has great pastries and breakfast (think egg on a croissant), and people were lined up outside the Marina location when it opened at 7 am
 

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Skip the tartine – thick toasted slabs of levain soudough – and go straight for the croissants: buttery and extra flakey, leaving a trail of shattered crumbs all  over the table and down your shirt

780 Cafe
780 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Huge space, great coffee, free wifi, tons of outlets, well-worn sofas; if you don’t have an Apple, you will be out of place

A16
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, California 94123
Ask for a few extra pieces of salted hazelnut brittle with your coffee (I thought it was better than my actual dessert)

Zaré at Fly Trap
606 Folsom St. (at Second Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
If they have it, get the pistachio crepes with pistachio ice cream; the owner will probably stop by your table to say hi

tacolicious
3 locations in San Francisco
Try the albacore tuna tostadas

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that wasn’t that

A few weeks ago, a friend dropped by for dinner. Having no set plans for what to make, we scrounged around my apartment but, to borrow a line from Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboard was bare. Well, not entirely bare. (This is my kitchen we’re talking about here.) There were eggs in the fridge and onions in the basket.  And then we found 2 slices of good old American cheese. An omelette was on the agenda. More correctly, it was on the menu. Even more correctly, it was the menu.

We sautéed the onions, then let them brown even more. We cracked a handful of eggs (literally, one for each finger) into a bowl, whisked them up with a bit of milk, and poured them in the pan. They bubbled a bit  and we lowered the heat  and pushed the mix around , scraping up the cooking edges and letting the raw egg flow underneath. We salted and peppered and dropped down the cheese. A few more minutes and we folded the omelette onto a large plate and dug in with two forks.

One taste and the omelette reminded me of something. Another taste. And another. And then it came to me. The omelette tasted like Passover. The holiday when dietary restrictions can make life difficult for a week. Especially when one likes to eat as much as I do. Especially when one refuses to eat matzah or matzah meal (finely ground matzah crumbs used like flour) after the seder. Save for the occasional matzah ball.

So we finished the omelette and enjoyed the evening. And that was that.

But that wasn’t that. I had to get that omelette out of my mind. Denial about the upcoming Passover holiday (it’s now in 2 days!) can be a powerful motivator.

And so the next morning, I awoke with a craving for another omelette. I know, I know, that’s a lot of eggs in less than 24 hours. But I was determined to redeem the omelette with another that bore nary a resemblance to traditional Passover food.

So I scrounged a bit more and I found some arugula. Bingo! The peppery, slightly bitter green holds up quite nicely in an omelette, developing a delicate, not-mushy wilt. To keep with the Passover theme, some of my Sephardi friends place arugula on their seder plates in lieu of the Ashkenazi horseradish. A tour of my spice rack turned up some cumin. And then there was a handful of shredded mozzarella lurking in the back of my fridge.

Breakfast eaten, I hopped in the car to buy groceries.

Arugula and cumin omelette

Turn burner to medium-high and add a pat or two of butter to a nonstick pan.  While the pan is heating and the butter is melting, whisk together 2 eggs and a splash of milk. Chop up some angula (or fresh herbs – parsley, chives) and whisk into the eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pan and swirl so that it covers the entire bottom. With a spatula, start to drag the cooking edges into the center, tilting the pan to help the runnier egg in the center move to the edges. Lower the heat a bit and work your way around the entire pan like this a few times. Don’t let the eggs firm up yet. Sprinkle with a handful of shredded mozzarella (or other mild cheese), a few grinds of pepper, a nice pinch of salt, and a really nice pinch of ground cumin. Bonus points if you first toast cumin seeds and then grind them really fine with a mortar and pestle, but I can’t imagine quite that much work in the morning while my coffee is brewing. Give the cheese a minute or two to melt. When the eggs are still a little runny, fold over one edge of the omelette towards the center. Loosen the rest of the egg, and then slide it onto a plate, flipping the folded edge over. Sprinkle with  a few more grinds of pepper and some extra arugula/herbs.

** PS, Ever wonder where the word omelette comes from? Well, for all  you etymology buffs out there, I did a little research and the history is a bit convoluted.  Start with the Old French (that’s old with a capital O) word “la lemelle” which means a small thin pan. Then pronounce it just a tiny bit differently to get “l’alemelle.” Now misspell it a bit for “alemette.” And then perform a metathesis — switch a few letters to get “amalette.” Voilà, omelette! For those of you really into etymology and linguistics, matethesis is used in French (and other languages) to develop slang. Verlan, a French slang, transposes letters and syllables. Its name itself is verlan for the word l’envers — the inverse.  A woman, une femme, becomes une meuf.  A guy, un mec, becomes un keum or un quèm. Cool (in English) becomes looc. French, francais, becomes céfran. Looc, no? But don’t go to Paris and use verlan as a foreigner — you will not get good service in a cafe, and that’s not a risk anyone should take.**

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our handiwork

For the past two Tuesdays, I’ve left the office early, made a mad dash through  Harvard Square and up Mass Ave, searched for a parking spot, and stood at a long table in a hot room with a bunch of strangers. It’s an exhausting end to a full day at work, but after the first week, I was ready. I brought a pair of ballet flats to change into. I wore a short sleeve dress. I mentally prepared myself to be patient.

Week two was tarts and pies. We skipped the food processor in favor of our hands.

There was squishing cold butter and flour between fingers and crumbling it into little pieces. There was scooping and tossing sandy dough with fingertips to mix it with water. There was pushing dough with heels of hands and smearing it across the counter.

I let my mind wander. I let my hands feel. I let my day slip away.

There was banter as my neighbors and I got to know each other while working the dough and making sure not to overwork it. We checked out each other’s progress, comparing doughs as they just  barely came together. We wrapped up dough and piled parcels into the refrigerator.

There was slicing and stirring and whipping and melting and tasting while doughs chilled and we made fillings.

There was pushing and pulling of French rolling pins, sliding of palms over tapered ends as dough flattened and thinned across the floured counter.

There was divvying up of tart pans and cutting up of dough. There was light pressing of dough into the slides of pans. There was rolling of pins across edges of pans and trimming of excess dough.

There were rogue pie weights to chase as they spun out of reach.

There were tart crusts to check in the hot oven. There were fillings to fill and filled tarts to bake.

We admired our handiwork.

Then I got a parking ticket.

Pâte brisée (short pastry) by hand

The key to makng a flaky crust is to start with very cold ingredients, to not overwork the dough, and to not add too much liquid. I love all the French terminology, so you may find a few quick French lessons thrown into the recipe.

This recipe makes one tart/pie crust. If you are making a double crust pie, you’ll need to double this recipe.

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1/8 t salt

- 4 ounces (8 T) unsalted butter

- 3-4 T ice water

Combine. Combine the flour and salt on the countertop.

Cut. Weigh or measure the very cold butter. Cut it into 1-inch cubes.

Pinch. Place the butter on the counter and cover it with the flour-salt mix. Pinch and gently smush the butter into the flour until you get pea-sized pieces. 

Sabler. Sabler means to reduce into sand. (Sable is sand and French sables are crumbly cookies such as pecan sandies.) Cut into the butter flour mixture with a bench scraper until it resembles sand.

Papillon. A papillon is a butterfly. Spread the sandy mixture into a long rectangle and form a trough down the center. Drip a tablespoon of water all along the trough, and then with your fingers spread, fluff and flutter the sand into the center to gently incorporate it into the water. Using a bench scraper, gather the forming dough and repeat the papillon step a tablespoon of water at a time. The dough will start to come together in shaggy pieces. The dough is ready when you squeeze it and it sticks together. Don’t add too much water, or when you bake the dough, it will shrink down and away from the tart pan sides and your tart will be too shallow. Weather will affect the dough – if it’s humid, add less water.

Fraisage. Gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. The etymology of  fraisage is a little complicated, but here’s my best attempt. The non-cooking definition of fraisage is the act of drilling. The verb fraiser means to sheer. Though it’s spelled differently, I’m convinced that fraiser (and therefore fraisage)) s related to the shear forces of physics. Remember your physics? I remembered just  barely enough to look up the phrase. Essentially shearing is the deformation of a material in which parallel surfaces slide past each other. So, you push the pâte with the heel of your hand, and the flour and butter slide past each other. When I did this, I could imagine the layers of  flakiness starting to form. Check out the second picture – you can see distinct flaky layers on the front left edge of the tart.

Chill. Gather the dough together and press it into a disc (about an inch thick). Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Roll. Lightly flour the counter. Place the disc of cold dough on the counter and using a large rolling-pin, push the dough away from you, pull it towards you, and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat the push-pull-turn combo until you’ve rolled the dough out into a circle 1/8-inch thick.

Cut. Place a tart or pie pan on the rolled-out dough and use a sharp knife to cut out a circle (or whatever shape your pan is) an inch from the pan edge for a tart or two inches for a deep-dish pie. You want to make sure that the dough will be large enough to go up the sides of the pan.

Press. Lift the dough and place it on top of the pan. Gently press it into the corners and up the edges. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the pan to trim off the excess dough.

Chill. Chill the pan in the refrigerator for 1 hour or the freezer for 15 minutes.

Blind bake. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Prick the chilled dough all over with a fork, cover it with parchment paper and then fill the pan with pie weights. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the hot pie weights and parchment, and continue to bake for another 5 minutes until the crust is light golden.

Reduce heat. Lower the oven to 350ºF.

Fill. Fill the crust with whatever filling you’re using.

Bake. Bake for 30-45 minutes (will vary from filling to filling).

 Pear and dried cherry tart

After blind-baking a pâte brisée crust, fill it with this pear and dried tart cherry combination. This tart is not particularly sweet and the addition of rosemary provides a savory note. A friend of mine called it a  sophisticated, subtle, and grown-up  tart.

- 6 firm ripe Bosc pears

- 1 1/2 C dried tart cherries

- 1/2 C light brown sugar

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary (1 t chopped)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 1 T cornstarch

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Cut. Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Chop the rosemary leaves very finely.

Cook. Cook the pears, cherries, brown sugar, and rosemary in a pot over moderate heat, stirring frequently. It should take about 20 minutes until the pears are tender.

Thicken. Whisk together the lemon juice and cornstarch in a small cup. Then stir into the cooked pear mixture and bring to a boil for about 1 minute until the mix thickens.

Cool. Let the fruit cool before adding to the tart crust.

Prepare tart crust. Make, roll, and blind bake a tart at 425ºF for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and bake for another 5 minutes.

Fill. Fill the tart crust with the cooled fruit.

Bake. Lower the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart for 30-40 minutes.

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the draw of the oven

You’ll never guess what I did.

No, really. Guess.

I threw a Superbowl party last weekend.

Correction. I offered up my apartment and TV to a few friends who were throwing a Superbowl party. If you want to throw a party, this is the way to do it. The original hosts organized. They brought salad and quesedillas and guacamole and vegetables and dip and beer and rice krispies treats. They brought paper plates. They told me not to make anything.

I tried. I really tried not to make anything.

But I couldn’t resist the draw of the oven and the promise of chocolate chips. So a few minutes before everyone showed up, I started whipping together a dessert.

Correction, whipping is an exaggeration. I did indeed start the recipe with an whisk, but quickly switched over to a spoon. This is a one pot, one bowl deal. The pot is for browned butter. The bowl is for whipping up, I mean mixing up, the blondies. You could even keep your pot hung up on its rack and melt the butter in the microwave instead of browning it. But I’d advise against it. And if I’m telling you to clean an extra pot, you know I’m serious.

Everyone arrived to the nutty scent of browning butter.

As the coats were hung and the table was set, the butter cooled and the oven pre-heated.

During kickoff, I held the glass bowl against my stomach and whisked the butter and sugar together. Then I set the bowl down to watch the first few plays.

In stolen moments between the game and the start of the first commercial, I snuck into the kitchen to switch to a wooden spoon and drop in the vanilla and egg.

A few more plays, a few more turns of the spoon, a few more seconds before a few more commercials, and I added the rest of the dry ingredients.

Back to the living room, I sat on the sofa and continued to stir, watching the game unfold. A fine layer of flour settled on my guests and sofa.

Back to the kitchen, a few handfuls of chocolate chips, a few more stirs, and into the pan and into the oven.

Out of the oven, the blondies stayed in the kitchen during the halftime show.

They made their appearance during the second half. They made their disappearance during the second half.

It was a sad day for the Pats, especially for the fans at a party that was half inhabited by Giants. It was all very civil, no brawls to break up.

When the game was over, we gathered the trash and packed up the leftovers and wiped down the remaining blondie crumbs spread across the table.

Brown butter blondies

I believe I have found the best blondie recipe in the world. And then, risking hubris, I bested it just a touch by browning the butter. The original recipe is from Garrett McCord’s blog Vanilla Garlic. I discovered it in a roundabout way when looking for an easy lemon dessert. I took a lemon mascarpone blondie recipe, contributed by Garrett to Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes, cheated by using bottled lemon juice instead of freshly squeezed, and baked it in a tart pan. While looking at that recipe, I clicked on a link to Garrett’s base blondie recipe and flagged it for future reference. I’ve been making the blondies ever since, and got the idea to brown the butter from the only brownies worth making from scratch.

Makes 16 blondies.

- 1/2 C butter

- 1 C tightly packed dark brown sugar

- 1 egg

- 2 t vanilla

- 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/8 t baking soda

- pinch of salt

- 1 C flour

- 1/2 C milk chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8X8 pan.

Brown. Heat the butter in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. After it has melted, it will froth and the solids will start to brown. You’ll be able to scrape up the brown  bits with a spoon. Once the butter starts to smell nutty and the liquid butter turns a dark golden brown, it’s ready. This takes about 10 minutes. Cool the butter to room temperature.

Whisk. Whisk the cooled brown butter and sugar in a bowl. Add the egg and vanilla extract and keep whisking.

Stir. Stir in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt until incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips. The batter will be quite thick.

Bake. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cut. When the brownies are cool, flip them out onto a cutting  board. Using a big chef’s knife or a pizza wheel, cut the blondies into 16 2X2 squares.

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here we go

I’m taking another course! Last time was six weeks of cooking. This time, we’re baking.

I can fairly confidently call myself a cooker. But a baker? Not so much.

Sure, I bake. But serious baking takes patience. I take shortcuts. Baking needs precision. I need to taste and modify as I go. Baking requires a scale. I require … oh wait, I do indeed have a scale.

Well then, I guess I shall try to be a serious baker.

Here we go … let’s talk about serious baking.

Our first class was on pâte à choux.

What? You don’t know what that is? Let me give you a hint.

Need another hint? You fill them with crème pâtissière.

Then you cover them with chocolate.

Éclairs. Éclairs! We made éclairs!

Need another look?

I thought so.

Pictures aside, let’s get down to business.

Pâte à choux is cream puff dough which is the base for cream puffs (duh), éclairs, profiteroles (cream puffs that you fill with ice cream instead of pastry cream and drizzle with chocolate), and gougères (savory cheese puffs).

The main leavening agent in pâte à choux is steam, created by the high moisture content in the dough. You bring a water and butter mixture to a boil before adding flour – boiling ensures that the flour expands to accept all the liquid. But quick, you don’t want the water to boil for too long or you’ll lose some of that moisture, so you have to whip it off the stove the moment it starts to boil. You stir and beat the flour into the dough to strengthen the gluten structure which gives the dough a lot of elasticity. You bake the pâte in a very hot oven so that the steam puffs up the pastry, and then lower the temperature to let the puffs dry out a bit (you don’t want a wet center). When you take the puffs out, you poke a few holes in them to let steam escape and to help them keep drying out as they cool.

The attention to detail here made my head spin.

Here are a few mistakes that you don’t want to make:

- Don’t forget to stir the dough continuously on the stove top.

- Don’t add warm half-and-half to the pâte à choux dough instead of to the pastry cream.

- Don’t scare your baking partners by adding a large pinch of salt instead of a half teaspoon. (They gasped!)

- Don’t get air in your pastry bag.

Oy. Can you tell it was a long night?

By the way, do you know why the dough is called choux? Choux means cabbage  (plural) in French and that’s what my baking partners’ little cream puffs looked like. Want to know something else about choux? A French mother might call her child “mon petit chou” – my little cabbage – when he’s behaving and cute as a button. Probably when he’s asleep like a doll and she’s showing him off to her neighbors.

Look at all mes petits choux!

Pâte à choux master recipe

We made the pâte à choux by hand, but you can cheat and use your mixer if you have one. If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a ziplock bag snipped at a corner to pipe the pastry dough onto a cookie sheet and then a turkey baster to fill the pastries with crème pâtissière.

Makes about 16 small éclairs or 3 dozen small cream puffs.

- 1 C cold water

- 8 T unsalted butter – at room temperature

- 1/2 t salt

- 1 C flour

- 4 eggs

- Optional: 1 egg for eggwash

Boil. Add water, butter, and salt to a large saucepan (you’ll be adding flour to it) and heat over moderate heat until the water comes to a boil. Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat quickly.  At this point, the butter should be just melted. If the water boils before the butter melts and there are lumps of butter, take the pan off the heat and wait for the butter to melt.  Essentially, you don’t want to lose too much moisture by leaving the pan on the heat longer than necessary.

Mix. When you’ve removed the pan from the heat, add all of the flour at once. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it has the consistency of mashed potatoes. Then return the pan to medium heat and stir vigorously to dry out the pastry. This takes about 5 minutes. When you stir, be sure to scape the bottom and sides of the pot. When it has dried out enough, the dough will be a shiny mass that small beads of butter will be on the surface of the pan (the pan will look like it’s sweating). When you stick a finger into the dough, a tiny bit of butter will pool in the depression.  At this point, remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly.

Keep mixing. Transfer the dough to a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer) and beat in eggs one at a time. The texture will change dramatically. After the first egg, it will separate into strands. Continue adding each eggs and the dough will start to become more cohesive. With the last egg, the dough will sling to the sides of the pan or bowl and whatever you’re using to mix. If it’s not,  you might need to add a little more egg.

Store. You can pipe the dough immediately (see  below) or cover the surface closely with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t form a skin like pudding. You can keep it at room temperature for a few  hours, in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months. If you are going to freeze the dough, pipe the dough into whatever shape you want, freeze, and then store in a ziplock bag.

Pipe. Line a cookie sheet with parchment (spray the pan with a tiny bit of oil so the parchment sticks. Fit a pastry bag with a large round tip (#9 or 3/4-inch) and then fill it with pâte à choux dough. Hold the tip very close to the parchment, twist the end of the bag, grip the twisted part between your thumb and forefinger, and then use your other fingers to squeeze gently from the end (sort of like toothpaste) to form strips 2-4 inches long for éclairs or round puffs for cream puffs. Use a little water on your fingers to smooth out any mistakes.

Optional: brush. If you are not going to cover your puffs with anything (chocolate, glaze, etc.), use a pastry brush to lightly coat the tops of the pastry with a beaten egg. Don’t let the egg pool around the edges of the dough or it will stick and make it more difficulty for the pastry to puff.

Bake. Preheat the oven to 475º. Place the pan in the oven and immediately drop the heat down to 375ºF. Bake pastries until puffed by double, golden brown, and firm to the touch: 20-25 minutes for éclairs 0r 30-35 minutes for cream puffs. Then drop the temperature again to 300ºF and bake until the pastries completely dry out: another 20 minutes for the éclairs or 10-15 minutes for cream puffs. Remove the pan from the oven and use a toothpick to poke a hole in each end of the éclairs or at the bottom of the cream puffs, move it around a bit to expand the opening,  and cool completely on a rack. Poking the holes helps the pastries to completely dry out.

Fill. Fit a pastry bag with a small tip and fill the bag with pastry cream (recipe below). Twist the end of the bag and, like with piping, squeeze gently from the end to fill the éclairs or cream puffs in the holes you made earlier.

Enrobe. Dip the filled éclairs or cream puffs into the chocolate glaze (recipe below).

Crème pâtissière (pastry cream)

Makes 2 ½ cups

- 1 ¾ C half-and-half

- 1 t vanilla

- 4 egg yolks

- 1/2  sugar

- 1/3 C flour

- pinch of salt

- 1 C cream

Heat. Warm up the half-and-half in a saucepan over low heat (don’t let it bubble or boil). Remove pan from heat.

Mix. Whip the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until very thick and pale yellow. This can easily take up to 10 minutes! Stir in the flour and salt. Very gradually, add the warm half-and-half to the yolk mixture, stirring with a whisk.

Cook. Transfer the mix into a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. When the mixture starts to bubble, lower heat slightly and continue stirring for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Strain. Using a single mesh strainer, strain the cream into a bowl.

Cool. Cover the cream with plastic wrap, placing the plastic right up against the surface of the  cream to avoid the cream forming a skin. Poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to allow steam to escape. refrigerate until cold — this takes about 30 minutes.

Whip. Whip the cream. Fold it into the pastry cream.

Chocolate glaze.

- 4 oz sem-sweet (~55%) or bittersweet (~70%) chocolate

- 1 t vegetable shortening (we used Crisco)

- 1 T corn syrup

Melt. Using a serrated knife, shave the chocolate and put it into a bowl. Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and put over medium heat. Place the bowl on top of the pot, making sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Once about half of the chocolate has melted, remove the bowl from the pot.

Stir. Stir the chocolate until it has completely melted. Add the shortening and corn syrup and continue to stir. Let the chocolate cool until it reaches the desired consistency. I found it easiest to dip the puffs into the chocolate when it was lukewarm.

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grill? yes I will!

In the months before Christmas, I started a class
of chopping and stirring and cooking with gas.

I dragged myself up every Sunday at eight.
Luck’ly they set out strong coffee to wait.

Knife skills and techniques were taught on week one,
but at home were dull knives that weren’t much fun.

Week two was eggs that we poached, whipped, and scrambled.
We made a soufflé even I could have handled.

On week three, we learned that a good stock should jiggle,
but without salt and acid, soup surely will fizzle.

The fourth week was braising, keep temperatures low,
to make cabbage and short ribs and osso bucco.

When week six was sauces, I made béchamel;
I took home a pear so the recipe I could tell.

But wait! You’ve just noticed — where’s the fifth week?
Oh you smart readers, nothing past you can I sneak!

Week five as you know, was on hot hot hot heat.
For my part, I set forth with grilling some meat.

Other types of dry heat, we also did try,
from broiling to roasting to deep deep fat fry.

You may not have realized, but until that day,
I’d never tried frying or grilling, no way!

I faced deep fat frying just earlier this week,
with sufganiyot – fancy doughnuts, so to speak.

But I think grill cooking and taking out trash
are jobs for a man, and I’ll flutter my lash.

Though I’m planning to try – only grilling, of course -
with a grill pan I own, or another resource.

I’ll start this “man’s task” with a feminine flair,
with fruit and with teacake and other sweet fare.

And, in case you are wondering, although I will grill,
the trash taking out will remain my worst skill.

 

Grilled fruit

A lot of different fruits can apparently be grilled. While my cooking partner and I were waiting for our meat to marinate, we scrounged around the kitchen for other things to grill. We found pears and grapefruits and set to work. We cut the fruit into good sized chunks that wouldn’t fall down the grill grates. For the pears, we made 4 cuts around the core. For the grapefruit, we made about 4 slices perpendicular to the fruit segments. We then brushed all surfaces with a little olive oil (I’m sure melted butter would be great too), a nice sprinkle or two of sugar, and a small pinch of salt (if you want). Fire up the grill. Or, if you are like me and only have indoor cookery, put your grill pan on medium heat. When your grill (pan) is hot, place the fruit on the grill. Let it cook for about 5 minutes on each side for harder fruit (apples, pears) or 2-3 mintues per side for citrus. Just like with meat, the fruit is ready when it releases itself from the grill (pan) – if you have to tug at it, leave it be for a minute more.

Grilled cranberry-orange zinfadel bread with orange mascarpone cream

We made these “breads” as tea cakes in mini loaf pans. They would obviously work just as well in 2 large loaf pans. I think the cake is great as is, but excellent with the extra texture and flavor from the grill. When you make the dough – think of it  like pancake batter – you don’t want to over mix. Instead you want the ingredients to just barely come together.

For the cranberry-orange zinfandel bread:

- 1/4 C oil

- 2 eggs, slightly beaten

- 4 C flour

- 1 1/2 C sugar

- 1 t salt

- 1 T baking powder

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 C walnuts or pecans

- 3 C whole raw cranberries

- 2/3 C fresh orange juice

- 1/2 C white zinfancel

- 2 oz melted butter

For the orange mascarpone cream:

- 1 C (8 oz) mascarpone

- 1 t orange zest

- 3 T fresh orange juice

- 1 T orange liqueur (Cointreau, triple sec, Grand Marnier)

- 1 T confectioner’s sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter/oil and flour 2 loaf pans, 6 mini loaf pans, or 2 dozen muffin tins. Toast nuts in the heated oven for 10-15 minutes – the second you start smelling the nuts, grab them from the oven. Check them at about 7 minutes. When the cool a bit, chop them up into medium sized chunks.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix oil and eggs well. Then add the dry ingredients – flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir this all together until it just barely combines — the mix will be a bit crumbly. Fold in nuts and cranberries. Then add juice and zinfancel and stir until just blended.

Bake. Pour batter into the greased and floured pans. Bake for approximately 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out dry.

Grill. Turn on  your grill (or get your grill pan ready). When the bread is cool, slice it into 3/4-inch slices. Brush with melted butter and grill slices 3-4 minutes on each side.

Make mascarpone cream. In a bowl, whisk mascarpone until smooth. Add zest, orange juice, orange liqueur, and sugar and whisk until well blended.

Eat. Top a grilled cake slice (or two) with a big blob of mascarpone cream.

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between mouthfuls

Happy Hanukkah everyone!

This year, I started celebrating the night before the first night. I didn’t light any candles, but I could have said a shehecheyanu — the blessing traditionally recited on the first night of Hanukkah (and other holidays) and special occasions. This was a special occasion alright. Because I fried.

And fried.

And fried.

An Israeli friend, well-versed in the intricacies of baking and frying, emailed me his recipe for sufganiyot, and I left work a little early to pick up what we needed. A bag of flour. A bag of sugar. A dozen eggs. Yeast. And two gallons of oil.

That’s right. Two gallons.

And then I rushed home to mix and knead the dough so it could rise.

My friend arrived an hour later to check on the rising dough. It needed another half hour.

So we turned on the football game. He watched. I poured the wine and heated up soup. We ate on the floor in front of the fireplace.


One glass of wine in, I checked the dough and we were ready to roll. Literally. I sprinkled flour on the counter. He grabbed the rolling pin and set to work. The slightly soft dough yielded to the pressure, spreading out across the granite. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet and cut circles out of the dough. He gathered the scraps and re-rolled them. I cut out the circles again.

He floured a pair of cookie sheets and gently lifted the rounds from the counter and slid them on to the sheets.

An hour later, the flat rounds had become nice and plump, with a slight jiggle when I reached out to touch their smooth skin.

The oil started to bubble in my new cocotte (thanks, mom and dad!). We dropped the first scrap in. It browned up fast with a flood of bubbles. We lowered the heat. The second and third scraps quickly browned too. We lowered the heat again. And then lowered in another scrap. It floated on the oil, staying pale and wan. We turned up the heat. With the fifth scrap came a flurry of teeny tiny bubbles and slow trickle of larger ones. The triangular scrap puffed up even more, turning golden and then coffee-with-a-touch-of-milk brown.

A quick taste and we knew we were ready for the real deal.

My friend scooched the first doughnut towards the edge of the cookie sheet, helping it along the way with a spatula, and slid it into the oil. A quick bob in the oil and then a float, turning golden to brown, and it was ready to be flipped. A few more minutes and it landed on the paper towel-lined countertop. Four more quickly joined. Four more and then the last few.

Armed with a syringe (that a medical resident friend of mine snatched from the hospital), I pierced the side of one of the surganiyot, gently nudged the tip into the center and slowly depressed the plunger, drawing the tip backwards to the edge, leaving a trail of jam.

We tore open this first sufganiya and, between mouthfuls, filled the rest with jam.

I showered the chubby beauties with powdered sugar.

As we plucked up the sufganiyot, they left outlines behind.

Sufganiyot

These doughnuts are traditionally filled with bright reddish-pink jelly though in Israel they come in all flavors. I used raspberry jam. Next time I’ll try dulce de leche. Using a drinking glass to cut the dough, we were able to make about a dozen doughnuts (but only eight made it to the office with me this morning).

- 2 packets dry yeast (or 2 T)

- 3/4 C warm water (body temperature…I take it from the tap)

- 1 C whole milk (you can make with water if you’d like to keep the sufganiyot non-dairy)

- 3/4 C sugar

- 6 T shortening or margarine (Crisco works great here)

- 1 t salt

- 2 eggs

- 5 C flour (or more)

- 1 gallon (or more) vegetable oil (vegetable or  peanut oil is best; canola oil works ok too)

- confectioner’s sugar

 Proof. Mix yeast with warm water and a pinch of sugar. After about 5 minutes,  it will foam up.

Heat. Warm milk in a pan over low heat until it reaches body temperature.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix sugar, shortening, and salt until creamy (I used my barely-functional waiting-for-the-new-one-to-arrive mixer on low speed and it hobbled along, so you could probably do just as well the old-fashioned way). Add eggs and mix. Add yeast mixture and milk and continue to mix. Add 2 cups of the flour. Beat in the remaining flour a half-cup at a time until the dough is very elastic and no longer sticks to the bowl. I had to add a total of 6 cups.

Knead. Knead dough for 5-10 minutes. I started kneading in my mixer and then finished up the last few minutes by hand on a floured counter.

Rise. Put dough in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk – at least an hour. I heat my oven to the lowest temperature possible (170ºF) and then turn it off and leave the covered bowl inside to rise.

Knead. Once dough has doubled, knead it again briefly.

Roll. Roll the dough out on a floured counter until it is about 1/2 thick.

Cut. Using a drinking glass to cut the dough into rounds. Re-roll the scraps and cut the rest of the rounds. These (the rounds from the re-rolled dough) will need to rise a little bit longer than the others. Keep the remaining scraps to test the oil.

Rise again. Place the rounds on a well-floured cookie sheet (ideally the kind without edges) so the dough is easier to slide right off into the oil. Let rise again until double, at least another hour. The rounds will get nice and round.

Heat. Fill a really wide pot with high sides with oil and heat over low to medium heat. Remember those scraps left over? Gently slide one into the oil. If one side browns in 1-2 minutes, the oil is too hot. If it takes more than 5 minutes, the oil is not hot enough. You’ll probably need to test and adjust the temperature a few times. The oil is perfect when you it forms a lot of teeny tiny rolling bubbles around the dropped dough.  I checked the oil temperature with a meat thermometer – it was 310ºF.

Fry! Once you’ve go the oil at the right temperature, lower the cookie sheet close to the surface of the oil and scootch your first roly-poly round into the oil. Tiny bubbles should surround the doughnut. When the first side puffs up and reaches a nice brown (a bit darker than “golden”), flip it over. It took us about 3-4 minutes per side. And we made about 3-4 per batch.

Drain. Cover your counter or a few plates with several layers with paper towels. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sufganiyot from the oil onto the paper towels and drain off excess oil.

Fill. Load a turkey baster (or 60cc syring if you happen to have a friend who works in a hospital and can snag one) with whatever filling you want to use. Poke it into the side of a doughnut as far as it will go. Slowly and steadily squeeze/inject the filling into the sufganiyah while gently pulling back to the edge of the doughnut.

Dust. Sift confectioners sugar over the top of the sufganiyot.

Eat. The sufganiyot are best fresh, but they will last about 24 hours if well wrapped.

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belle of the ball

Today was the sixth and final class of my cooking techniques course.

But wait, you might be asking yourself, isn’t it a six-week course? And then you’ll calculate, haven’t you only posted four classes? Finally you’ll wonder, what happened to class number five?

I can’t put anything past you guys.

Turns out that one of the recipes that we made today in sauces class was just too good to not share immediately.

I hope you don’t mind that I’ve gone out of order. I’m almost done writing up recipes from our fifth class on dry heat — grilling, broiling, roasting, frying. And eventually I’ll share more about the sauces that we made today — the five “mother” (base) sauces and several “small” (derived) sauces). But for now, let’s just get on with it.

But wait, you might be asking yourself as you scroll past all this text, where are the pictures? Why is there only one?

Turns out, I left my camera at home today. Ironically, as I struggled this morning to wake up, snoozing for 4 minutes and 59 seconds at a time, I dreamt  (nightmared?) about driving to class, left hand on the wheel, right rifling through my purse. Two phones. Two sets of keys. One pair of sunglasses. One wallet. One lip balm. One lipstick. One eyeliner. Zero camera.

Seven snoozes later, I jumped in the shower, threw on some semblance of an outfit, and swung my purse onto the passenger seat of my car. Halfway to class, I glanced over at my purse. No rifling necessary, I knew my camera was sitting alone on my desk. Both hands on the wheel, I sighed.

In class, my partner and I worked on a béchamel sauce that served as the base for potato and zucchini noodle-less “lasagna.”

As the class drew to a close, we filled the center of the table a with a parade of platters. Fashionably late to the table came the belle of the ball: red-tinged pears floating on a lake of vanilla-flecked crème anglaise and drizzled with caramel.

I had been watching this dish come together all morning. Peeking under the parchment at the pears. Sliding a spoon into the crème anglaise. Scraping up the last bits of caramel coating the nearly-empty pan. You know how much I love pears with red wine and caramel.

The table finally set, everyone turned to me. This would make a great picture. Can you photograph my dish? Oh, how about catching it at this angle.

Empty-handed, I shrugged. I forgot my camera at home, I said. I shrugged again. But maybe I can take one or two things home to photograph. If there’s anything left.

I counted as one-by-one my classmates moved towards the pears. One, two, three pears onto plates. Another split between a couple. Four into little bowls. Five more onto plates. Three more swimming on the platter.

Does anyone mind if I take the last few pears home? I just want to take a few pictures. Because I left my camera at home.

What a good excuse.

No one minded.

~~~~~

Before I keep you from the recipe any longer, I did want to thank all of you who have voted for Kosher Camembert as the 2011 Best Kosher Food Blog.I was nominated alongside some of my favorite kosher blogs and websites and you should definitely check out the competition. Of course, if you do like my blog, please do vote, share my blog, and spread the word.

~~~~~

Pears poached in red wine with crème anglaise and caramel

This recipe can be as simple or as complex as you want it.  In a healthy mood? Make only the poached pears. Red wine give you a headache? Use white wine or tea or even water instead of the red wine and adding some cinnamon (or your favorite spice) to the poaching liquid for extra flavor. Want to add a little more sweetness? Freeze the poaching liquid and make sorbet. Love vanilla? Make the crème anglaise. Love ice cream? Double the crème anglaise recipe and freeze it. Hosting a fancy dinner? Make the caramel and crème anglaise.

And then invite me to dinner.

A quick note on making all three recipes in parallel. I’d start by preparing the pears and while they’re poaching, start the crème anglaise. While the vanilla is steeping in the milk for the crème anglaise, finish up the pears. I wouldn’t do anything while making the caramel.

For poached pears: These are generally served chilled and can actually be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

- 1 2-inch vanilla bean

- 2 C light red wine

- 1 C sugar

- 1 C water

- 2 strips orange zest

- 1 strip lemon zest

- 4 small Bosc pears (~1 1/4 lbs.)

Simmer. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into a saucepan (large enough to fit all the pears). Add vanilla pod, wine, sugar, water, and zests and  bring to a simmer.

Peel. Peel, halve, and core the pears (or keep them whole). We used a melon baller to core the pears.

Keep simmering. Add the pears to the simmering liquid (they should be mostly submerged in the poaching liquid), cover with parchment paper, and cook over medium-high heat until just tender – this can take anywhere from 15-45 minutes, depending on the type, ripeness, and thickness of the pears. Our Boscs were pretty firm and cut in half, and they took about 30 minutes.

Chill. Chill the pears for up to a day or two in their poaching liquid.

Optional: Freeze. Taste the poaching liquid – you want it to be really sweet, almost too sweet, for sorbet. Add some sugar if you want. Strain out the citrus and vanilla bean, and throw it in an ice cream maker. Or, freeze the liquid on a flat pan and then use an immersion blender to aerate. Or, do the same with crème anglaise and you’ve got vanilla ice cream.

Optional: Reduce. If you want, reduce the liquid down to a syrup and strain out the citrus and vanilla bean.

For caramel sauce: You do have to watch caramel very closely because it can burn. More importantly, it can burn you. When you add the butter and cream, it will bubble up violently and can splatter. So use a long whisk. Very long. Also, you can use different liquids; for example, you can replace the water with red wine or lavender water. To make lavender water, heat water with dried lavender buds and let infuse for a few hours (or longer) and strain before using.

- 1 C sugar

- 1/2 C water

- a few sprinkles of lemon juice

- 6 T butter, cut into chunks

- 1/2 C heavy cream

- salt

Heat and stir. In a large (2-3 quart, with high sides) heavy bottomed saucepan, heat sugar, water and a few drops of lemon juice over medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved (a “simple syrup“).

Stop stirring. Once sugar mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring.

Boil. Boil mixture, swirling pan as needed until a caramel forms – should be a dark golden brown. Remember, don’t stir.

Be careful.  Immediately add the butter to the pan and whisk until melted. The mix will foam up. Once the butter is melted, take the pan off the heat, pause for a few seconds, and then add cream, whisking until smooth. The mix will foam up now too. Once everything is whisked together, you’re done. Add a few pinches of salt. Keep warm over very low heat until you’re ready to serve.

For crème anglaise: Crème anglaise is a cold sauce that’s the base for ice cream. It’s also called English or stirred custard.

- 1 vanilla bean

- 1 C milk

- 4 egg yolks

- 1/3 C sugar

- pinch of salt

- ice

Scald. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into a saucepan with milk, and add vanilla bean pod as well. Scald the milk. The milk is scalded when you put your finger in it and it’s hot (not burning).

Steep. Take the milk off the heat and let the vanilla bean steep for 30-60 hours.

Whisk.  Lightly whisk the egg yolks. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of salt, and keep whisking until you get a pale yellow sauce that forms ribbons when dropped from a spoon.

Pour and stir. Remove vanilla pod from the cooled milk and slowly pour it in a steady stream into the egg yolks and sugar, while stirring.

Heat and stir. Place the mixture over medium  heat and keep stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth and coats the back of the wooden spoon. DO NOT BOIL – temperature should not exceed 180ºF.

Strain. Strain through a fine mesh seive into a bowl set over an ice water bath.

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but first

Today was stocks and soups day in my cooking class. There will be much more on that later, but first, a quick post and recipe.

Last night was closet cleaning out time.

Actually, it’s always closet cleaning out time at my place. This time, the cleaning extended to the fridge and pantry. I used up 4 cans of black beans, a can of crushed tomatoes, a bunch of onions and garlic, and some labne from the fridge.

Voilà – soup.

Black bean soup with cumin labne

The inspiration for this soup came from Smitten Kitchen’s own black bean soup with toasted cumin crema. I ditched the peppers, used canned beans instead of dried, added tomatoes, and substituted labne for the crème fraîche. My soup is thinner and more  brown in color (due to the tomatoes).

- olive oil

- 2 onions

- 3T chopped garlic (3-4 cloves)

- 1 T chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (this was about a single chipotle pepper plus adobo sauce)

- 1 T (or more) cumin

- 1 C crushed canned tomatoes

- 4 15.5 oz cans black beans (I used Goya)

- 5-6 C water

- lime juice

- labne (thick middle eastern yogurt – similar to sour cream)

Prep. Chop onions and garlic. Finely chop chipotle. Drain beans and sprinkle with some baking soda (helps make them more digestible).

Cook. Saute onion in oil until brown, about 8-10 mins. Add garlic, chipotle (and all that adobo sauce), and spices. Cook over low-medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and water. Simmer about 15 minutes. Rinse the baking soda off the black beans, and dump them into the soup. After another 10 minutes, whizz with an immersion blender and add salt and lime juice to taste.

Top. Thin labne with some warm water and mix with cumin. Add a dollop of labne to the soup and sprinkle a little cumin on top.

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