Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Papaya Glazed Creme Brulee - Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day!  I'm going out for dinner with my husband for Valentine's Day tonight, but first wanted to share our dessert from last night's home cooked dinner.  I've been doing a lot of creme brulee torching lately, and as you can see, I am not quite ready to be done yet.  It occurred to me that in addition to flavoring the creme brulee custard, like I have done with my other brulees, I could create a fruit sugar glaze on top of the creme brulee and caramelize the glaze, as long as it had a sufficient sugar content.  Thus, I decided to create some fruit glazed creme brulee desserts.  

This dessert is perfect for a simple Valentine's Day dessert, as long as you have a creme brulee torch.  If you want to be especially romantic, you could even use heart shaped creme brulee dishes like these.  I don't have the heart shaped dishes, so I made mine using my regular creme brulee ramekins.  It's been so cold and snowy here on the east coast, that I wanted to create a Valentine's Day dessert with a taste of the tropics, so I went for a papaya glaze using fresh diced papaya from my local market.  I also flavored the creme brulee with my homemade amaretto, rather than vanilla.  I made such a large quantity of amaretto that I expect to continue to find new and fun uses for it in my desserts.

Sasha's Valentine's Day Papaya Glazed Amaretto Creme Brulee (Makes 4)

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar (for custard)
1/2 cup fresh papaya (or the fresh fruit of your choice - strawberries would be great too)
1/4 cup sugar (for the fruit glaze)

First, prepare the custard by mixing the sugar and the heavy cream over medium heat until all of the sugar is dissolved and bubbles form around the edge of the saucepan.  Take off the heat and beat in the egg yolks and the amaretto.  Place in ramekins.  Put the ramekins in a broiling pan surrounded with hot/boiling water going up halfway on the sides of the ramekins.  Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes until just firm in the tops (you can test with a toothpick).  Chill for several hours.

To make the fruit glaze, puree the papaya and mix with a quarter cup of sugar.  Heat for about five minutes on medium heat until the sugar melts and it thickens to a jam-like consistency.  Coat the chilled custard in the ramekins with a layer of the glaze (don't make it too thick or you will have to brulee forever) and sprinkle the tops with fresh sugar.  Use your creme brulee torch on the tops until caramelized.  This will take a bit longer than with a conventional creme brulee, but is totally worth it.  Enjoy this taste of the tropics while you cope with the snow this Valentine's Day.

Other Fun Creme Brulee Dishes on A Kitchen In Brooklyn


Sasha's Kitchen: Crab Cakes With Green Apple & Beets With a Spicy-Sweet Green Apple Chutney

For our dinner last night, I experimented with a new crab cake recipe that turned out to be quite delicious.  For the crab cakes, I used a number of fruits in the actual crab cake that I feel go well with crabs.  The idea was to have the crab be one of many flavors, and not necessarily a dominating flavor.  The fruits that I selected to incorporate into the crab cakes were mango, green apple and beet.  However,

I was not looking to create an overpoweringly sweet dish, so I incorporated a fusion of Indian spices and a little bit of smokiness into the crab cakes to temper the heat from the mango and green apple.  It worked - the crab cakes were flavorful, but not particularly sweet, though they did have little pockets of sweetness here and there (mostly when you bit into an apple), but as a whole, they were not sweet.   The chipotle puree adds a smokiness that tempers the sweetness, but does not add any heat.  The crab cakes also had a beautiful magenta color, thanks to the beets.

Every time I cook with beets (which isn't all that often, to be honest), I forget the reason I do not normally cook with beets.  They turn everything in their path magenta.  This is something to keep in mind when you make this recipe, for sure.  Even one beet has its way with turning everything in your kitchen magenta if you are not careful.  

I decided to serve these crab cakes with a sweet, but also spicy chutney.  In the past, I have made Tabla's green apple chutney, using the recipe from the New York Indian-American fusion restaurant in the cookbook, One Spice, Two Spice.  For tonight's recipe, I used Tabla's chutney as a reference, but modified the recipe (also using a variety of indian spices) to create my own green apple chutney.

I actually don't eat a lot of Indian food.  I generally find the dishes too heavy.  However, I love cooking with Indian spices in my own cuisine, for a fusion of Indian and American traditions.  My approach to American cooking often incorporates this fusion approach with other ethnic cusines.  I actually consider this to be true American cooking since America really is a melting pot of its cultural influences; so is American cooking.

Sasha's Green Apple & Beet Crabcakes

2/3 pound of Lump Crabmeat
1/2 cup diced green apple
1/2 cup diced mango
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced beet (cooked first, by boiling)
1/2 tsp curry
3 tsps chipotle puree 
2 eggs
2  tsp pistachio oil
2 tsp canola oil, plus more for frying
1/2 tsp cumin
1 T diced chives
About 2 cups panko bread crubs

To prepare the crabcakes, saute the apples, mango, onions beets (which need to be cooked by boiling in a pot of water for about 25 minutes first), pistachio oil and spices in a tablespoon or two of canola oil, until all of the fruits and onions are soft.  Take off the heat and beat in two eggs.  Mix in the crab meat.   Then dredge and coat the crab cakes in the panko bread crumbs.  The next step is to cook the crab cakes by frying them with canola oil.  Cook them for long enough on both sides so that they are cooked through.

Sasha's Green Apple Chutney (Adapted From Tabla's Original Recipe)

3 green apples, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cup apple cider
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
cinnamon stick,  1 T dried pomegranate seeds, and 1 star anise (put in a tea bag or cheesecloth sachet)
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/8 tsp black salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp lemon juice

I love making chutneys, ever since I discovered tropical chutneys as a kid (my first was jerk chicken with a mango chutney).  They always have a jam-like consistency and every chutney that you will make includes the basic ingredients of a fruit, a sugar and vinegar.  To prepare this chutney, simply combine the apples, apple cider and vinegar.  Add a sachet bag with the additional spices and bring to a boil.  Then add the other ingredients and simmer for abut 30 minutes until the chutney has a jam-like thickened consistency.  Add the lemon juice at the end when you take it off the heat, as this helps balance the flavors.  

Black salt is an Indian salt (you can find it at an Indian Market) called Kala Namak that was a carry-over from the Tabla recipe in this dish.  It is actually pale pink in color.  It is often used in chutneys and other Indian condiments to balance out the flavors, even though it has a pungent oder prior to incorporating it into the dish.  Dried pomegranate seeds are also available at most Indian markets.

Serve the crab cakes with the chutney on the side, with diced chives.  This dish paired nicely with a beer called Domaine DuPage from the Two Brothers Brewing Company, a Chicago-based brewery, that we picked up at Bierkraft.   This beer is a French-style country amber ale with hints of caramel and a light floral finish.

Crab is one of the ingredients of the month on A Kitchen In Brooklyn.  For another crab cake recipe, click here.  For my crab couscous, click here.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Roasted Garlic Rosemary Potatoes and Spicy Salmon En Papillote with Squash and Carrot Base

Seriously, en papillote is one of my favorite ways to make fish. And it's so, so easy. Much easier than it sounds.

Tonight, before the fiance and I leave for Valentine's Day to his cabin in central Idaho (near Salmon), where there is no internet and no cell service, I made something that I knew would appeal to both him and me. This is a bit on the complicated side, but the gist of it is using a technique you're comfortable with (or getting comfortable with), with whatever ingredients you have on hand.

I started with about five medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into approximately 1-inch cubes. I later decided that I should have cut the potatoes into smaller pieces; it would have created a better mixture of crispy edges and soft centers.
Into a small Cuisinart blender went two large sprigs of rosemary, stripped off their stems, with almost an entire head of roasted garlic. I added about half a cup of olive oil, and 1/3 to 1/2 cup of white wine. I pureed that all together until the rosemary was less than half a centimeter long in its largest pieces. I used about half this sauce on the potatoes, and the rest went into reserve for a future dish.

Once the sauce was blended, I tossed the potatoes in it, and set those aside in a large baking pan -- large enough that each piece of potato was touching the bottom of the pan. This went into a 425 oven for about 20-30 minutes until I was finished preparing the fish (and watching parts of the Olympic opening ceremonies). I turned the potatoes about halfway between placing them in the oven and adding the fish to the oven.

Separately, I added to the small Cuisinart blender the two halves of a medium-sized acorn squash from Idaho's Bounty that I cooked almost a week ago. That had been merely halved, filled with butter, brown sugar and a little salt, pepper and chili powder, and baked until soft. In addition to the squash filling, I added about one canned chipotle pepper (hard to tell, since once they're canned they break apart). This is important -- it gave the final product much of its bite.

I bought two pieces of salmon that were cut from about 2/3 down the length of the fish towards its tail. By buying two pieces that were approximately the same width (2-3 inches) and same thickness, I ensured that the fish would cook approximately evenly throughout the en papillote process. I believe they were previously frozen Atlantic salmon. Certainly not my favorite, but what's available in the middle of February in Idaho, and better than some of the alternatives.

Using my madeline (a really, really fun tool, and not too expensive -- I'd recommend the investment if you have the space), I julienned two smallish sweet carrots from Idaho's Bounty, and then hand-julienned two red jalapeno peppers from Albertson's. I'd never seen red jalapenos before, which is why I sprang for them instead of some other hot pepper.

Cutting the parchment paper into hearts, per Epicurious, I began with a layer of the squash-chipotle mixture, then topped that with the julienned carrot-jalapeno mixture, and placed the fish on top of all that. I sprinkled the fish with fresh-ground black pepper, fresh-ground sea salt, and drizzles of a red wine reduction (half a bottle of red wine simmered until it was about half a cup). Winding the parchment paper into packets, I put them on a baking sheet and popped them in the oven.
(And yes, I realize that in the middle picture up there, my drizzling of the red wine reduction created something halfway between a Roswell-esque alien and a cartoon character. Totally unintentional, I assure you).

Until they came out of the oven after 15 minutes, I didn't realize that I hadn't boosted the oven from 425 to 475, which I should have. Good thing I tested my piece of salmon, and put the packets back in the oven for another 10 minutes, because when I took them out first, they were underdone. Properly, the re-ovening should have been closer to 6 minutes, because by the time the packets were done, the thinnest ends of the pieces of fish were rather too dry. Still good though, and the middles were beautifully self-steamed.

My favorite bits of the finished dish were the potatoes, which despite being too thick had some gorgeous crispiness on the edges, and the underbase of the salmon (the squash/carrot/jalepeno). It verged on being too spicy, but only *just* not too much for my palate (which was tragically blanded by four years at boarding school).
For an accompanying beverage, I went with a Moscatto (a cheap one, to be sure, as I cannot afford luxury sparkling wines), which was beautifully sweet and bubbly atop the spicy thickness of the main dish. Highly recommended pairing.

Sasha's Kitchen: Tea Eggs For The Chinese New Year

To commemorate the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Tiger, I prepared a simple, traditional Chinese New Year Food, called the Chinese Tea Egg.  Fragrant and flavorful tea eggs are a typical Chinese treat.  The recipe involves soaking the eggs in a mixture of soy sauce, dark tea, orange peels and a variety of spices.  The beautiful fragrant smell during the lengthy seeping process filled my Park Slope condo with a lovely aroma.  The end result is eggs that have a lovely, quaint marbled appearance due to cracks in the hard boiled eggs where the fragrant tea-soy mixture absorbs into the albumin of the egg.  Smaller, more intricate cracks result in more detailed marbling when the egg is peeled.  For best results, the eggs should be allowed to be seeped for two days.  I wasn't that patient, so I seeped for about five hours, which resulted in a beautifully marbled egg, but only a hint of the fragrant flavor.

Chinese tea eggs have a symbolic significance in China, and are often made for the Chinese New Year.  Not surprisingly, the egg is a symbol of fertility in Chinese culture, as it is in many other cultures.  In addition, the tea egg is also considered a symbol of prosperity and wealth.  Sounds good to me.  I figured that this would be a nice fragrant and simple recipe to try out.  

Chinese Tea Eggs (recipe derived from Appetite For China Website)

3 eggs
2 T dark tea
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 medium sized pieces of orange peel

First, cover the eggs with water and bring to a boil.  Then simmer for three minutes.  Then remove the eggs and allow to cool a bit before cracking the eggs evenly around the surface with a spoon.  Put eggs back in the water, and add the spices, soy sauce and tea.  Simmer on low for three hours.  If you want a stronger flavor and have more patience for this project than I had, allow to seep overnight (you would certainly need to do this off the stove though, as I don't know anyone crazy enough to leave their burner on overnight!)

I made some other delicious recipes for dinner tonight - a new crab cake recipe and a very special fruit glazed creme brulee.  I'll post on them tomorrow during the day, since I plan to have a Valentine's Day Eve night out tomorrow night with my husband.

For some more complete and filling Chinese recipes from Michelle, check out her exploration of Fuschia Dunlop's cooking with Fragrant Fish Eggplants and Dan Dan Noodles.

Back to watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, the Olympics-junkie that I am.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Margie’s Kitchen in Boston: Walking and Eating on Boston’s Freedom Trail

Photos by Graham, Lena and Margie
There are 16 official sites on the Boston’s Freedom Trail. Many years ago there was a red line that you just followed, but after the Big Dig all you will find are many dead ends. So, look at the links provided and city of Boston website maps and start with what I think is the most important location on the Freedom Trail, the Old State House or the command center of the British military during the occupation of Boston. The most significant events in the establishment of our independence from British rule took place here, among them the Boston Massacre and the public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Today this structure lies in the shadows of skyscrapers and our 21st century world. But within this block there are still little alleys and corridors that on a quiet day, especially this week deserted of humans by the incoming storm, which still makes one pause to respect the spirits still haunting these grounds. For those who haven’t seen the HBO John Adams series, I strongly recommend viewing, at least the beginning episodes. Although filmed near Williamsburg, Virginia, the Boston scenes are quite realistic in giving a sense of the events that took place in this small little section of Boston during the buildup to the Revolutionary War.
From the Old State House there you could go either one of two ways: toward the famous Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market area or head up toward the Old Corner Bookstore.
Let’s start over to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, the center of colonial commerce. You could sample the little food booths (chowda and all) in Quincy Hall or try out Durgin Park, accessed on the outside of Faneuil Hall. This restaurant, along with Anthony Pier 4 (on the harbor,) are Boston institutions that should be experienced, not so much for the food, but for a glimpse of a Boston that is long gone. Durgin Park has long been known for traditional New England food, especially Indian Pudding. The recipe is published in a tiny little pamphlet called Famous New England Recipes (Colourpicture Publishers, Boston):

1 cup yellow granulated corn meal
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup butter
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
3 cups of hot milk (I modified; the original called for 6 cups)

Preheat oven to very hot temp (450°).
Stir all ingredients and half hot milk. Place in hot oven for 10 minutes or until mixture starts to boil. Then add remaining hot milk. Lower temperature to a “slow oven heat”. I used 225° for 5 hours then lowered to 180° until ready to serve.

If you want another type of dining experience, head to the North End by heading east past Faneuil Hall (could do a side trip first to the Black Rose Irish Bar). Find your way to the lower part of Hanover Street. (see maps marked above for Freedom Trail). You could enjoy an Italian pastry at Mike’s pastry OR a nice meal at Antico Forno (small; a bit cramped; good ambiance) (cross over to Salem Street at Parmenter Street (runs parallel to Hanover) and turn left). I’ve included photos of some other digs in the North End.
After meal or pastry head back up Salem Street to the second most famous spot on the Freedom Trail, the Old North Church where legend (not necessarily all true) was created from Longfellow poem about Paul Revere and this famous church.

If you prefer you could start your walk at the Old State House go past the Visitors center to a little alley, walk up and you will find the famous Corner Bookstore, then walk up School Street to the site of the first public school in the U.S. past Kings Chapel, the Granary Burying Ground (among notables lying there are Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, several others who signed of the Declaration of Independence, and Benjamin Franklins parents), onto the Boston Common, then finish the tour at the Old South Church where the “real” tea party congregation met before heading to the harbor. Just down the street from the church you could have a meal (except Sunday) at the Milk Street CafĂ©, great Kosher, and vegetarian cuisine.

Note: John Adams and John Quincy Adam are buried in Quincy, Massachusetts. I would strongly suggest a visit to the Adams national park as well, but you will need more time (a 30 minute subway ride).

Sasha's Kitchen: S-C-R-A-B-B-L-E Tile Cookies

I've long been a fan of the game Scrabble, and have played it to such a level that my family and friends often accuse my husband and I of making up words (all of which can always be found in the dictionary, I might add). I've even played versions of Scrabble (like Lexulous) on Facebook.  So, as a bit of a spoof, I decided to make royal icing cookies that looked like scrabble tiles, and taste like, well - cookies.  Part of the fun here was thinking of the words to use for the cookies.

Creating scrabble tile cookies, which are perfect for your next game night or scrabble party,  is actually quite simple.  I used the same cookie dough recipe that I used when I made purse and shoe cookies a few months ago (a project which I plan to repeat, now that my cookie-decorating skills have improved).  This is nothing fancy, just an ordinary butter cookie recipe.

Scrabble Tile Cookie Recipe

4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups sugar

Beat the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla.  Then mix in the dry ingredients.  To make a good dough, you should do this using an artisan mixer.  You next need to chill the dough for a couple of hours before rolling out the dough.  I always used to dismiss this step, since I can be a bit lacking on the patience side.  On a prior baking adventure, I learned the hard way that this is a good step to avoid having your dough stick to the counter top when you roll it out.  You can also add some loose flour when you roll out the dough.

To make scrabble tile cookies, the process is as simple as cutting with a three-inch square shaped cookie cutter, which I bought at N.Y. Cake (my favorite baking supply store on the planet).  To frost the cookies, I used royal icing, which I was able to purchase in bag form (and just added water and a bit of food coloring).  I'm all about the do-it-from-scratch type of coking with most things, but purchasing the royal icing mix in this case just makes too much sense.

Bake the cookies on a baking sheet sprayed with PAM for about 15 to 20 minutes at 350 F,  They should come out just before the start browning.  If you wait until they are lightly browned, that is too late, as the bottoms will be slightly burnt by this point, which will impact the taste.

I frosted all of the cookies brown in various shades (I experimented with two shades of brown as you can see from the photos) using a spatula, trying to frost the royal icing as even as possible. Then, I let the icing dry for about an hour, and used a food coloring marker from my new gourmet writers set to draw the letters and point values on the tiles.

Scrabble challenge anyone?  I'd like to remind you that the word "Kitchen" is a Bingo, so that will add 50 points to my score.

Charlene's Kitchen in Philadelphia: Kitchen Appliances

In a departure from Akitcheninbrooklyn's normal recipe and restaurant related content, I thought I'd write a piece about some of the home cook's most important tools -- the stove and the oven. Inspired by my recent move into a new, i.e. new construction, home I wanted to share my experiences using an induction cooktop and electric oven.

My new kitchen (which I love!) includes the LG ceramic-glass induction cooktop. Prior to purchasing the home, I had no idea what an induction cooktop was, so for those of you who have never heard of it, my briefest explanation is that it uses magnets to efficiently heat metal pots and pans. To quote directly, bold emphasis and all, from my user's guide: "An induction coil is beneath the ceramic glass cooking surface. This generates magnetic fields, which act directly on the base of the pots and pans as compared to methods that first heat the ceramic glass. This means that the base of the pan is immediately heated up, saving time and energy." This method of cooking was completely foreign to me, having always used a gas range with heavy burners to help conduct heat. But after using it the first time I realized how much faster pans and their contents heat up. After my first big cooking mess, I also realized how much faster it is to clean up. No burners to scrub, just glass to wipe down. The only caveat: pots and pans must be magnetic. Imagine my horror, then, when I unpacked my box of hand-me-down pots and pans (and much adored double-burner griddle) and discovered that they were all aluminum. Drat! Guess I had to splurge on that 10-piece set of All-Clad d5 cookware, lest I starve or take up microwave dining. (I could have bought used cookware, but the beautiful shine of new ones was irresistible. Cast iron also works, and I happily added a pair of 6-inch cast iron fry pans and a cute Le Creuset 2.75-quart pot to my shelves.)

Several weeks into using my new induction cooktop with my new, amazing All-Clad pots and pans, I have to say that I love both. Looking back on my gas range days, I never really knew what a rolling boil was. Now I get it. And an evenly heated pan, with evenly browned food? Got it. Some of the adjustments I have had to make include not letting butter or oil heat up for too long (they easily burn or smoke) and learning how to cook with numbers, rather than a flame, as a guide. I've also had to place renewed importance on mise en place, as the induction cooktop is very efficient and once it starts cooking there are few occasions to wait and finish preparing ingredients.

For additional information about induction cooking, visit Epicurious or watch this 2 1/2 minute Fagor-sponsored YouTube clip.

The second appliance I've been learning to use is my electric convection built-in oven, also by LG. This oven is chock-full 'o features, such as
  • touch pad controls
  • settings for bake, roast, convection bake, crisp convection, proof/warm, healthy roast, and more
  • a recipe bank that includes pre-programmed temperatures and cooking times (i.e. put your ingredients in a pan and press start)
  • timed bake to prevent overcooking
  • a brilliant blue interior

My partner's favorite feature is the meat probe, visible in the photo above. A handy device, indeed, all you do is insert the probe into your meat, place the meat in the oven, plug the other end of the probe into the socket on the side of the oven wall, then set the oven to cook at x-degrees until y-temperature registers on the probe. When y-temp is reached, the oven turns off and, voilá, your roast is cooked to the perfect internal temperature! It's cool, and it works. I might miss the days of poking around chicken breasts/thighs and looking for signs of doneness, but probably not. However, I am a more hands-on kind of cook and I probably won't use many of the pre-programmed features because they would take the fun out of cooking.

While roasting in this oven has been a pleasure, baking has been a different story. Breads and muffins have been satisfactory, but cookies have consistently baked up less-than-brown at the edges and underdone in the middle. I've experimented with different cookie sheets. I've tried increasing the temperature. I've even increased the baking time to almost twice as long as they should be in there. After several disappointing attempts, I finally purchased a thermometer to measure the actual temperature in the oven. Low and behold, it was heating 15 degrees cooler than I set it to. After a simple temperature adjustment it seems to be running more accurately. Perhaps now is a good time to test another batch of cookies...

If readers have any feedback or tips on induction cooking or baking with an electric oven, Akitcheninbrooklyn would be happy to read your comments!

Michelle's Kitchen in Toronto: Zucchini Patties

This recipe was a total fluke one day last summer when I was still in Vancouver. I had been shopping at the Granville Island Market. In the summertime, they have the most amazing local organic farmers who come and set up in front of the market proper on certain days. Anyway, one of them had the most delicious-looking zucchinis, and I bought way too many for just myself to eat. That week, everything I cooked had zucchini in it, and this was one of the superstars that emerged!

Michelle's Easy Zucchini Patties

1/3 c flour
1 egg
1/2 - 1 c milk (depending on how liquid you like your batter; pancake, or crepe)
2-3 tbsp parmesan cheese (I used fresh shredded, but as you like)
1 1/2 - 2 c zucchini, grated
salt to taste
olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan

chutney for dipping (My favorite is Mrs. Ball's Chutney, either Original or Peach)

Mix salt, eggs and flour together in a bowl. Add milk until the batter is the consistency you want it; I like mine like slightly loose pancake batter. Add the parmesan and zucchini. Heat the oil in the pan at medium heat. Add batter by the tablespoon or two, as you like the size. Fry each side until golden brown on the outside and cooked through. You may need to add more oil as the cooking progresses. Makes about 12 patties, depending on size.

Serve with chutney for dipping.

This is one of the most versatile, fridge-cleaning recipes I make. You can add almost anything to it, as per your tastes. I like to add onions, garlic or chopped spinach as well. I also it mix up with spices like cumin or coriander.

Sasha's Kitchen: French Onion Soup

Last night's snowy day dinner consisted of French Onion Soup, made the traditional French way.  Yes, Julia Child would be happy to know that I prepared the onions in plenty of butter, and was rewarded accordingly with the perfect French Onion Soup.  If you are interested in French Cooking, making a good French Onion Soup, or a perfect Julia Child Omelet is a much better place to start than testing out your luck on Boeuf Bourguignon.  This recipe make the perfect French Onion Soup for two and is a great beginner recipe as you begin to delve into French cooking.

French Onion Soup (Serves 2 to 3)
5 T butter
1 T flour
4 medium onions, diced
1 quart of organic beef broth
10-12 slices of French Bread, each topped with 1T of grated Gruyere cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the onions in a dutch oven over medium heat in the butter, for about 30 minutes, until the onions are soft and lightly browned.  Don't cut this process short, as it is essential to allow the onions to brown naturally using the buttery goodness.  Don't use Canola Oil (or, margarine) as a substitute - this is a recipe where the taste of the butter is really essential.

Next, add a tablespoon of flour and mix into the onions.  Add the beef broth and bring to a boil.  Then reduce the heat to simmer, and simmer for about 20 minutes, with the lid of the dutch oven covering the soup, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Next, put in a small Le Creuset Dutch Oven, or better yet, broiler proof soup bowls.  Fill with the soup and top with the French Bread with the grated Gruyere Cheese pressed into the bread (so it doesn't fall off at this point).  Gruyere is the cheese that the French traditionally use to make their French Onion soup, and also their fondue (along with Emmental, according to my 9th grade French teacher who made us memorize all the traditional French/Swiss Cheeses).  Actually, according to the Wikipedia entry linked to above, there is some controversy over whether Gruyere is actually of either French or Swiss origin.  Regardless,  this is the cheese that is required to make a traditional French Onion soup, not your run of the mill deli Swiss.

Heat your broiler to 400 F and put the broiler proof soup bowls or mini Dutch Oven in to allow the cheese topped bread rounds to broil, covering the soup.  Don't remove until the cheese is lightly browned to your liking.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Homemade Amaretto & Amaretto Hot Chocolate

Today was blizzard day across most of the east coast.  I wasn't working today, so I decided to quickly make another liqueur, this time, the almond flavored Amaretto.  It was surprisingly simple to make and turned out to be the perfect treat for the snow day, since a shot of Amaretto added to your hot chocolate makes the most wonderful Amaretto Hot Chocolate known to mankind.  We still don't have half as much snow as they have in D.C. (there's some kind of thrill I get from feet and feet of snow piled up that has never worn off for me, even though I grew up in Rochester and saw more snow that the Eastern Seaboard could possibly imagine).

For our own snow day treat, mix up your own Amaretto at home, and make some Amaretto hot chocolate to warm up those fingers and toes.  Or throw in some ice with a couple of shots and some sour mix, to make an Amaretto sour.  The quality of the recipe I used - an original based on the recipe from the bestselling Disaronno Amaretto was excellent and I could not taste a difference at all from the top brands of Italian Amaretto on the market.

You could definitely cut this recipe in half if you don't need a lifetime supply.  However, this makes a wonderful gift, to if you make the full recipe, bottle it and give it to your friends.  While you are at it, try making Limoncello, too!

Make Your Own Amaretto (Adapted from this recipe)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
2 cups of water
4 cups of vodka (I used Stoli)
1/3 cup Almond Extract
5 tsp Vanilla Extract

This is super easy to make.  Just dissolve the sugars in the water over medium high heat, until it boils and all the sugars dissolve.  Remove from the heat and add the vodka and extracts.  Put in decorative bottles with ribbons and share with your friends.

For a bit of zing on a snowy winter day like today, add a shot of Amaretto to your hot chocolate.


Sasha's Kitchen: Chocolate Butterfinger Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

My newest cupcake iteration combines my favorite candy bar, the Butterfinger, into a Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cupcake.  The chocolate cupcakes were perfect, though I will be the first to admit that the Chocolate Stout Cupcakes are still my favorite.  However, the synthesis of the chocolate Butterfinger cupcake with the perfect peanut butter frosting was the perfect combination.

I've actually only been making cupcakes regularly for about two years now.  In the beginning, I did not have an artisan mixer, so this presented all kinds of problems when I got to the stage of whipping up a good frosting.  In those days a used a hand mixer, which usually resulted in spraying bits of butter and powdered sugar all over the kitchen, including sticking to the wall.  This never pleased the person in charge of cleanup duties  (my loving husband).

A second problem was that I did not have a good cupcake book - the book I started with (which shall remain nameless) was terrible and every cupcake recipe I tried never was worth repeating.  Then, I tried Julie Hassan's book, 125 Best Cupcake Recipes, and immediately every cupcake I made was a huge success.  After a few months of making Julie's amazing cupcakes (with some recipes I will eventually share here), I have started writing my own recipes and coming up with creative and fun ways to decorate the cupcakes.

In her book, Julie has a recipe for candy bar cupcakes using Three Musketeers and Snickers bars.  I don't care for those candy bars, but I wanted to use candy bars to create a chocolate peanut butter classic.  So from there, I went on to devise my own recipe for a candy bar cupcake.

 Chocolate Butterfinger Cupcake With Peanut Butter Frosting
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cups cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cups milk
2 Butterfinger candy bars, crushed into small pieces with a nut chopper

Peanut Butter Frosting
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
pinch salt
2 T milk
If you want a crunch peanut butter frosting, you can mix another Butterfinger bar into the frosting

To make the cupcakes, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add the oil and sugar to the mixer and combine on medium speed.  Then add the vanilla and eggs.  Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the mix, until fully combined.  Put in silicon cups with cupcake liners and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes until done (check with a toothpick).

To make the frosting, beat the butter until soft.  Then combine with the other ingredients and beat at a high speed in your stand mixer until you have a light and fluffy peanut butter frosting.  This stuff tastes amazing, that you almost forget that it's so fattening!

More chocolate cupcakes?  Check out my Red Velvet Cupcakes and my Chocolate Stout Cupcakes.

Cupcake on FoodistaCupcake


Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Tilapia with Capers in White Wine sauce

This is another quick and easy recipe that I've been making for a little while and thought I would add it to the blog. It's relatively healthy and always tastes great. Plus it is perfectly paired with whatever white wine you choose for this dish!

3 Tilapia fillets
1/2 pound of whole wheat pasta
1 handful whole wheat flour
1/2 small container of capers
1/4 medium tomato, diced with seeds removed
1/2 cup of white wine (I used a Riesling)
2 eggs, yolks removed
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp butter
lemon juice

The first step in this recipe is to dredge the fish fillets in flour and egg whites. Heat the butter in a pan until it's nicely browned and add the fish for a couple minutes on each side, adjusting the time depending on the thickness of the fillets. They should be nicely browned on each side. Remove the fillets and set aside. Then add your wine, tomatoes, garlic, capers and spices and let it cook for a minute or so, stirring continuously. You want the butter to take on the flavors of the fish for the wine to release it into the sauce.

Serve over pasta with your favorite veggies!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Michelle's Kitchen in Toronto: Fuchsia Dunlop's Dan Dan Noodles

My obsession with Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" (W.W. Norton & Co, 2001 ISBN 0-393-05177-3) continues with her spectacular recipe for dan dan mian; noodles with ground pork and a sauce of pickled vegetables. I had an amazing time on Saturday running around Chinatown and my local mega-mart trying to find all the ingredients. I love any excuse to explore Toronto Chinatown; ducking into tiny shops and coming across new ingredients. This recipe yields 2-4 portions.

8 oz Chinese dried noodles (I used the flour and water kind that were the width of linguine)


1 tbsp peanut oil (I used canola)
4 tbsp Sichuanese ya cai (Dunlop also recommends Tianjin preserved vegetable)
3 scallions, green only, finely sliced
2 tbsp soy sauce (Dunlop suggests 1 1/2 of light and 1/2 tbsp dark)
2-3 tbsp chili oil (I used 2 tbsp and it was pleasantly numbing on my lips)
1 1/2 tsp Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1/2 - 1 tsp ground roasted Sichuan pepper (I used the lesser amount and it was perfect for my taste)

Pork Topping:

4 oz ground pork
1 tsp Shaoxing rice wine (Dunlop suggests med-dry sherry if you don't have this)
2 tsp soy sauce
salt to taste

Heat oil over high flame and add ya cai or preserved veg to your wok and stir-fry 30 seconds, until fragrant. Set aside. Here Dunlop suggests a bit more oil, but I found that there was enough left from the preserved vegetables that I didn't need it. Add pork and stir fry. As the meat separates, add the wine. Then add soy sauce and salt, cooking until the meat is well cooked but not dry. Remove from wok and set aside.

Put the fried veg and all other sauce ingredients into a serving bowl and mix together.

Cook the noodles according to the directions, drain and add to the sauce in the bowl. Sprinkle the meat mix over and serve immediately, stirring at the table.

I must say, I had inferior dan dan mian when I was living in Shanghai and never liked them so I find the irony of cooking them in Canada and loving them amusing. For any of you who have read my articles in the past, you know that I hate black pepper, but I found myself adoring the numbing heat of the Sichuan peppercorns. My father gave me a grinder as a gift when I moved to Toronto, and this was my first opportunity to use it. I toasted the peppercorns in a low-med pan for about five minutes (the fragrance was amazing!) took them out of the pan and allowed to cool. Once cool I zapped them in my grinder and I must say, it was well worth it! The aroma was incredible.

I was lucky enough to sample the real Shaoxing - pronounced Show (like the show in shower) shing - rice wine when I traveled to the town of Shaoxing one holiday. My friends did not like the liquor, but I quite enjoyed it. Certainly much stronger than Western wine made from grapes, it is traditionally served in teacups like we are used to seeing at Chinese restaurants in the West.

Another huge hit recipe from "Land of Plenty!" Next up, dumplings!

Click here for my post on Fuchia Dunlop's Fragrant Fish Eggplants

Sasha's Kitchen: Valentine's Day Dessert: Red Raspberry Souffle

After making my Chocolate Souffle with Raspberry Chambord Cream Sauce over the weekend, I was inspired to make another souffle using raspberries.  Raspberries have long been one of my favorite fruits since the days when I was growing up in Upstate New York and would go to a local orchard and family run fruit farm, Hurd Orchards to pick our own berries.  Fresh berries in the summer (and even the winter too) are one of my favorite foods.

Even though raspberries are far from being in season right now, I thought that the raspberry - in all its tartness - would make the perfect light and airy souffle that wasn't overpoweringly sweet.  I was right - the final result was a lovely, light souffle in the most beautiful shade of pink imaginable.  It tasted like a adoring raspberry kiss.  

The souffle was surprisingly simple to make, once you get the hang of making and baking a souffle down.  You could also try this recipe with strawberries, but I think that would not turn out as well because it would be too sweet.  Another option, which I did not try this time, would be to add half a teaspoon of lemon juice to the recipe, because the tartness of lemon goes so well with raspberries.  Here's what you will need to make 3 souffles.  You can obviously double the recipe if you would like to make more.  It's like indulging in a kiss of pure airy raspberry goodness.

1/2 pint of raspberries
2/3 cup of sugar
2 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350 before you begin.  Spray three ramekins with PAM and sprinkle them with sugar,  You will need to have the oven preheated and ready to go by the time you are ready to put the souffles in or they will not rise properly.  Puree the raspberries in a Cuisinart or other food processor and mix with the sugar in a saucepan.  Heat for a few minutes over medium high until the mixture thickens and the sugar dissolves.  If you like, you can then add 1/2 a teaspoon of lemon juice.  Remove from the heat, mix in the egg yolks, and strain to get rid of as many of the seeds as possible.

Next, beat the egg yolks and cream of tartar until it forms stiff peaks, by beating on high with your stand mixer.  You can follow my instructions from the Dark Chocolate Raspberry Souffle here.  Gently fold in the egg whites.  Bake the souffles at 350 for about 20 minutes.  Put on your oven light to watch the souffles rise, but do not open the oven until you are ready to take them out, or they will collapse.

My husband, a big fan of the dark chocolate souffle, wasn't so sure about this one before I made it.  I had to do a bit of convincing.  However, he ate it in about 20 seconds and devoured every last bite!  I recommend serving the souffle with a side of Eric's homemade Vanilla Ice Cream.


Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream (Valentine's Day Special)

My girlfriend Jenn loves ice cream. Every summer the Wallis Run United Methodist Church, located only a few miles from her childhood home in Lycoming County, PA, would have an ice cream festival to raise money for the church. The members of the church would make home-made ice cream. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and banana - and people would come to indulge and to socialize with friends, family, and neighbors. You could also purchase containers to take home. Jenn's favorites were the banana and the vanilla. There is nothing like home-made vanilla ice cream; it doesn't taste anything like what you buy in the store. Last year for her birthday I bought an ice cream maker and this past weekend I made vanilla ice cream. She said It turned out just as delicious as during the ice cream festival she grew up with!

I think part of the reason it turned out so well was that we used a real Tahitian Vanilla bean instead of the artificial vanilla extract. Jenn's parents went to Tahiti last summer and sent us 3 vanilla beans that supposedly keep for up to 13 years if stored properly. From what I read online about them the best way to tell if they are still good is to smell them. Unfortunately we had been keeping it with our other spices and it was near the curry and chili powder... So it smelled like curry. At first we were worried that we'd have vanilla-curry ice cream, but since it was wrapped up and you have to cut the vanilla bean as shown above to scrape out the goopy-seeds, I guess it was protected from the curry fragrance and it turned out fine.

My ingredients were as follows:

3 cups of heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup of sugar
4 egg yolks
one vanilla bean

This makes about one quart.

First you combine the milk, cream, and sugar in a saucepan and heat it slowly while stirring. You want the mixture to get warm but not boil as it can curdle the cream and milk. Then you whisk the egg yolks and while whisking, pour in about a cup of the warm mixture to temper the eggs and keep them from cooking too quickly. Jenn's sister Laura was in town this past weekend and taught me all about this process. I think this is actually what happened the first time I tried to make ice cream and why we tasted the eggs which was a little odd.

Once the egg yolks are in you add the seeds from the vanilla bean which I have pictured to the right. These are the small black specks you see in good vanilla ice cream that lets you know it was made with a vanilla bean and not the fake extract which many times contains vanillin that is chemically treated to taste like vanilla instead of real vanilla beans. You want to split the bean length-wise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife.

After your mixture is warm enough and you've stirred in the seeds enough that they separate somewhat (I still had a few tiny clumps in mine) you want to let the mixture cool in the fridge. I also added the bean pods to the mixture and let them infuse while cooling for a few hours although it probably didn't need all that long. The next step is to take out the bean pods and add the cooled mixture to the ice cream maker for 25-30 minutes. At this point it will look a bit like a milkshake so you can put it in the freezer for a couple of hours to let it harden a bit more.

I wanted to make something a little more crazy and creative but I also wanted to be able to perfect something as simple as vanilla ice cream since my first attempt was a more ambitious raspberry pomegranate gelato and it didn't turn out to my liking. Below I added a picture of a sundae using the ice cream
, mainly because it was pretty but want to note that you lose some of the taste of the vanilla once you add the chocolate sauce.

Vanilla Bean on FoodistaVanilla Bean
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