Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Eat Me: Alice In Wonderland Themed Cupcakes Series

As most of my readers are probably aware by now, I love making cupcakes.  My passion for cupcakes is two-fold.  First, I love making cupcakes in different delicious flavors and experimenting with lovely frosted cupcakes from key lime to chocolate to vanilla to gingerbread.  In addition, I also love cupcake decorating and turning my cupcakes into miniature works of art.  I have done cupcakes that look like the great modern art masters of the 20th century in my modern art cupcake series, and of course sushi cupcakes.  Today, I introduce my series of Alice In Wonderland Cupcakes, inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic novel.  I made these cupcakes together with my often-sous chef Alicia, who was actually named after the main character, Alice (her mom did her thesis dissertation on the novel).  We had a fabulous time creating an original series of Alice in Wonderland cupcakes inspired by the novel - including the the Mad Hatter's hat, the White Rabbit's watch, the Doormouse, Tweedlededum, the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar.

The cupcakes that we made tasted great too (if you were willing to destroy the beautiful designs to eat them, which is quite hard to do, actually).  They are gingerbread cupcakes with a cream cheese frosting.  I promise to share the recipe for the plain cupcakes in a future post that focuses only on the cupcakes, but for today, I wanted to share the Alice In Wonderland inspired designs that we created last weekend.  Please leave a comment on this post and let me know which ones are your favorites!

The cupcakes are all made out of colored fondant that I purchased from NY Cake in a couple of different varieties.  The fondant was very easy to work with - kind of like sculpting out of Play Dough to create beautiful food art.   Without further ado, here are the photographs from my "Eat Me" Alice in Wonderland Series of cupcakes:

The Mad Hatter's Hat Cupcakes:
The eccentric Mad Hatter and his hat are probably one of the most famous characters from the Lewis Carroll novel at the tea party.

The Cheshire Cat and his famous mischievous grin are one of the most recognizable images from Alice in Wonderland.  We did the Cheshire Cat into a cupcake, as well as an offbeat goofy cupcake that simply personifies his grin.

The White Rabbit is one of my favorite characters from Alice in Wonderland.  He is always quite worried about being late, so for him, we created cupcakes that look like his pocket watch.  "I'm Late! I'm Late! For a very important date!"

The Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar is another distinctive character from the Lewis Carroll novel.  We weren't sure how to make him at first, and I used some artistic license in making him blue and yellow rather than simply blue.  In the end, I was quite happy how he turned out, with a small pipe in his hand.

Next up are Tweedlededum and Tweedlededee.  I only made one of these rolly polly guys, since they look the same.  I used some artistic license in simply creating a cupcake that personified their pants, suspenders and striped shirt, and their roundish (cupcake-like) shape.  They actually first appear in Lewis Carroll's sequel, Through The Looking Glass.

Eat Me and Drink Me are one of the two famous quotes from the Lewis Novel where Alice grows, shrinks and changes form based on the potions, elixirs and other things that she ingests.  We created two "Eat Me" cupcakes, and really who wouldn't want to eat them anyhow?

We did not do the Queen of Hearts or her famous croquets with flamingos on the mallets, but in spirit to the Queen, we did do a playing card cupcake.  "Off with their heads!"

The Doormouse is another character from the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.  I wasn't as happy with how he came out as the others - we just did a small mouse in a teacup.

Hope you enjoyed my cupcake tribute to Alice in Wonderland.  Leave a comment and let me know which cupcake is your favorite!


Friday, April 16, 2010

Matt's Kitchen In D.C. - Durian Cheesecake

First of all, what is a durian? It is an imposing-looking tropical fruit native to Southeast Asia, where it has been crowned the "King of Fruits," and rightfully so. Certainly there is no other fruit like it anywhere - it is capable of inspiring both passionate devotion and utter revulsion. The fruit announces its presence with a strong and pungent odor that is simultaneously fruity sweet and rotten and oniony. This smell alone is enough to turn away many, and is strong enough that in some Southeast Asian countries, durian have been banned from public transportation and hotel rooms. So why even bother with this ugly and noxious smelling fruit? Once cut open, the durian yields soft fleshy insides that have an almost indescribeable but exquisite flavor - a smooth, refreshing and delicious tropical custard, but with a hint of an underlying strong flavor, that some have likened to onions, and others to almonds. Certainly, durian tastes like no other fruit on the planet. And I should point out that it is an acquired taste - while one person may become a devotee for life, a second person may be turned off at their first taste. It is, however, the sort of thing that everyone should try once - if you like it, the rewards are quite great. That being said, the mere smell alone may be enough to deter some people, and there is nothing that can really be done about that.

Durian can be bought at Asian groceries either as a whole fruit or in frozen portions. Buying a whole fruit can be expensive and, I have been told, it is extremely difficult to know if your fruit is properly ripened. An over-ripe durian may be much more offensive than a properly ripened one and can make a very bad first impression. For the purposes of this recipe, it may be best to go with frozen, which should not have ripeness issues.

The following is a cheesecake recipe that features durian prominently. This is admittedly not a particularly complex or refined cheesecake recipe - the goal was to come up with a simple, no-bake recipe that allowed the deliciousness of the fruit to take center stage. However, ultimately it produces a very decent cheesecake, made even tastier with addition of the durian. Additionally, I took the shortcut of using pre-made pie shells which is because I ran short of time and did not want to be wrestling with crusts - however, if you want to make your own crust, there are hundreds of cheesecake recipes online that will instruct on making a crust and, if desired, using a springform pan to make an actual cake, rather than a pie. This recipe will make two pie-size cheesecakes, or one 8-inch cake. If you are serving to people who are unfamilar with durian, my suggestion is to make a pie which will yield smaller slices - you can just halve this recipe for a single pie.

8 oz. thawed durian flesh
8 oz. cream cheese
16 tsp. sugar
8 oz. whipping cream
1 pkg. unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup water
*2 ready-bake pie crusts (follow directions)

Beat the sugar and cream cheese together with electric beaters until fluffy. Puree the durian flesh, then beat into the cream cheese and sugar mixture. Heat the water in a small bowl until boiling or near boiling, then add gelatin grains and stir until dissolved. Stir into the durian mixture. In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until you have soft peaks, don't overdo it. Gently fold the whipped cream into the durian mixture until blended. Pour the mixture into the crusts and spread to the edges. Refrigerate at least four hours or until the mixture sets firmly.

Some of my test-tasters were of the opinion that the flavor improves slightly over time, so don't hesitate to make it a day or two ahead. Also, feel free to decorate/garnish it however you like - but keep in mind that some flavors may not mesh well with durian. I found one recipe that adds a fudge layer on top of the durian layer. This might taste delicious, or it might not. But I would consider giving it a try on my second go-round of making this recipe, which I will most certainly be doing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Ad Hoc's Cream of Cauliflower Soup With Red Beet Chips

I recently realized that not a single Thomas Keller recipe has been featured on this blog yet.  It's certianly time to change that!  Keller, the renowned celebrity chef and owner of a number of world famous restaurants, including The French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and his newest restaurant, Ad Hoc, which opened in 2006.   I have been to Bouchon and hope to make it to Ad Hoc on my next trip to Napa Valley.  I have not been to Per se or the French Laundry, as reservations there will set you back quite a few pretty pennies, but they have earned their reputations as some of the best restaurants in the world according to my friends who have dined there.  I am very excited about Thomas Keller's new cookbook, Ad Hoc At Home which brings Thomas Keller's celebrity kitchen to the everyday chef in a more accessible manner.  Sure, the French Laundry cookbook looks absolutely amazing, but even I was too intimidated to make the $70 investment in the book and the time investment required to make any of the recipes inside.  Never mind - Ad Hoc At Home  makes Thomas Keller accessible to the proletariat.  My first recipe from the cookbook, the Cream of Califlower Soup With Red Beet Chips was a huge success.  I plan to make his caramelized scallops next.  Please note that I am posting the full soup recipe, but I halved the recipe to serve two, which was perfect for our dinner!

Ad Hoc At Home's Cream of Cauliflower Soup With Red Beet Chips
2 heads of Cauliflower
4 T butter
3/4 cup chopped leeks
3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
1/2 tsp curry powder (Keller only uses 1/4, but I like a bit more curry)
kosher salt
2 cups milk (I used skim milk)
2 cups water
2 cups heavy cream
canola oil for deep frying the beets
1 tsp white vinegar
croutons (I didn't make my own like Keller suggests, I just used Mrs. Cubbison's store bought croutons)
1 medium red beet
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

First, remove the leaves from the cauliflower and cut out the core.  Coarsely chop the cauliflower.  Reserve about two cups of the florets for the garnish and place aside.  Coarsely chop the leek and onion.

Melt three tablespoons of butter in a large pot or Dutch Oven.    Add the onion, leek, curry and cauliflower to the pot and season with 2 tsp of salt.  Cover the pot with a lid and cook on medium heat for twenty minutes until the vegetables are almost tender.

Add the milk, cream and water and increase heat to medium high.  Then reduce to a simmer, and simmer the contents for thirty minutes, skimming off the foam occasionally.    Then allow the soup to cool for about five or ten minutes, and puree in the blender.

To prepare the beet chips for the garnish, fill a pot with an inch of canola oil.  Slice the beet super thing with a mandolin and fry for a couple minutes in the oil.  The place the fried beets on a paper towel to allow the oil to run off.  The beets are absolutely necessary to make the soup work, so don't skip this part, even if you are wary of beets (like my husband was).  The purpose of the beets is threefold - they add texture, color and a bit of sweetness.  Yum!

To prepare the reserved cauliflower garnish, take the cauliflower you set aside and boil in some water with salt for five minutes until the florets are tender, along with a teaspoon of vinegar.  The vinegar will allow the florets to retain their white color.  Then, drain the florets and saute in a tablespoon of butter.

Serve the soup with the florets, croutons and beet chips, and season with pepper.  This recipe was fabulous!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Dessert Challah

I love baking Challah; certainly it is my favorite Jewish recipe to prepare.  There's something both relaxing and spiritual about making Challah that always leave me in a good mood.  This recipe, like any Challah recipe, does not require a breadmaker - I always use my KitchenAid Artisan mixer to prepare fresh, light homebaked Challah, and it works like a charm.  Challah is one of my signature recipes - one of the feats in the kitchen that I am the most proud of.  My favorite part of Challah making is checking the Challah after the dough rises.  I love waiting for the dough to rise and braiding the bread.  I love the polished, professional and glossy look it has when it comes out the the oven.  And finally, I love the warm, fresh taste of a beautiful soft Challah straight out of the oven.  Few things are more gratifying! My all-time favorite meal consists of Challah, homemade caesar salad, Asian Sake marinated chilean sea bass with papaya salsa and my husband's green apple risotto.

I have already made regular plain Challah and cinnamon raisin Challah for this blog.  So I decided that the next direction to go with this egg-based bread would be to prepare a dessert Challah.  I decided that chocolate and cinnamon would be a natural combination for the perfect dessert bread.  There's certainly other possibilities - I have a pumpkin variation up my sleeve for a rainy day.

Sasha's Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Challah (makes one medium sized Challah)
2 1/4 cup King Arthur Bread Flour
2 small packets dry active yeast
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon sugar
1/2 cup warm water
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
4 egg yolks plus 1 egg yolk for the glaze
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

This dessert recipe is very loosely adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe for plain Challah from her Baking Handbook.  Basically, I looked at that recipe, not for direction, but to make sure I got some of the basic proportions right.


To prepare this recipe, first activate the yeast by placing the dry active yeast in warm water and waiting about 10 minutes for the yeast to activate into a frothy, bubbly form.  Then, combine the water, flour, salt, sugar, canola oil, four egg yolks, cinnamon sugar and chocolate chips in your breadmaker or artisan mixer and combine into a dough.  You can add an additional couple of tablespoons of water if you need to (I did this time, no big deal).

Place the challah in a well oiled bowl covered with a damp cloth and allow it to rise in a warm place for an hour.  My trick is allowing the oven to heat to about 150 degrees and then turn it off before placing the bowl inside the slightly warm oven.  I found that this allows the dough to rise faster and more completely.  Braid the Challah and put on a baking sheet sprayed with PAM.  Cover with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and allow to rise for another hour.  At this point, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Before you bake the Challah, glaze with an egg yolk using a pastry brush.  This will give the Challah a nice, shiny egg washed color when baked.  Bake the bread for about 20-30 minutes and enjoy!  Mine was sweet, soft and delicious.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Orzo with Turkey Sausage & Broccoli Rabe

I was inspired by Sasha's Angel Hair Pasta with Grape Tomatoes, Garlic and Pine Nuts so I decided to also add a light, spring meal with pasta, tomatoes, pine nuts and a few other relatively healthy ingredients, feta cheese, mushrooms, broccoli rabe & turkey sausage. I'd say this would probably serve 4 or so and pretty much covers all your food groups.

1 package Shady Brook Farms Hot Italian Turkey Sausage
1 box of cherry tomatoes
1 bunch of broccoli rabe
1/2 package of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 small package of pine nuts
6 oz. of feta cheese crumbles
1-2 tbsp minced garlic
white balsamic vinegar
black pepper to taste
olive oil

I had never cooked broccoli rabe before but usually like it quite a bit. I looked up a few recipes online and they all suggested boiling it first and then sauteing it. I boiled it for a couple of minutes and then most of the recipes said to place them in ice water to freeze the cooking time. I just ran cold water over them and then cooked them in the pan and mine were a little overcooked so maybe the ice bath would have been worth it. When I cooked them in the pan I have the garlic, mushrooms and olive oil in there to cook those as well.

I cooked the turkey sausage on my grill pan and then sliced them into thin discs, maybe an 1/8 of an inch each. After the sausage and broccoli rabe were cooked I just mixed everything together in the pot I boiled the broccoli rabe. I added the pine nuts, feta, tomatoes and a little more olive oil and the balsamic vinegar to taste. Everything worked very nicely together but I just wish I hadn't overdone the broccoli rabe. I will have to try and cook it again sometime.

Sasha's Kitchen: Philly Cheesesteak (North of Philly Version)

I spent four years living outside of Philadelphia during college, when I was an undergrad at Haverford College.  Most of my memories of food during college involve the mediocre typical college dining hall meals.  I certainly wasn't doing much cooking in those days because I loved in the dorms rather than the apartments that were a trek from the center of campus.  However, whenever I did take the less-than-reliable SEPTA commuter rail into Philly, I couldn't resist a cheesesteak from Pat's or Geno's.  Eric, my fellow guest blogger, and I both went to Philly-area schools and have a similar fondness for the cheesesteak as one of our favorite Philly cuisines.  Thus, we decided to have a friendly challenge where we would each make a cheesesteak that reminds us of our Philly college days and cheesesteak nostalgia, and write about it here on A Kitchen In Brooklyn.

In fairness, most of my cheesesteaks were inhaled in minutes, usually after drinking, so I wasn't paying much attention to the finer culinary points of the cheesesteaks during my college visits to Pats and Genos.   What I remember, is the melted cheese and the thin, delicious steak, and also that I loved cheesesteaks with sauteed mushrooms and onions.  When attempting to create this recipe, some years removed from college, I had the urge to caramelize the onions before adding them to the steak.

I purchased some quality Italian rolls from my local Italian market and butcher, M&S Prime Meats.  In addition, I decided that a thinly sliced rib eye was the way to go with the steak, since it isn't quite as lean as a cut of filet or sirloin would be.   The rib eye wasn't as thinly sliced as a Pat's cheesesteak, but it was cut into nice thing slices that my grill pan could easily handle.

To prepare the cheesesteaks, I seared the meat and cooked it through with a bit of canola oil in my grill pan.  I caramelized the onions with a bit of sugar (sliced one onion and added two tablespoons of sugar and a tablespoon of canola oil to the pan).  I sauteed the mushrooms in olive oil.  I used sliced baby bella mushrooms.  In addition, I bought a large roasted red pepper at the Italian market that I felt would be a perfect fit with this cheesesteak, so on it went.

Finally, it wouldn't be a cheesesteak without the cheese.  Some of the recipes from Philly that I looked at actually use cheeze wiz, but I certainly wasn't about to do that!  I decided that a sliced deli cheese was best and went with provolone.  The proper way to make a cheesesteak likely involves drizzling melted cheese, but I toasted the buns, assembled the sandwich and put it in the oven with the cheese at 350 for about five minutes until the cheese was melted.

In summary, here are the ingredients you will need to prepare my version of the cheesesteak.

Sasha's North-of-Philly (Brooklyn) Cheesesteak (makes two large sandwiches)

3/4 lb rib eye, thinly sliced
one onion, sliced
2 T of sugar
sliced baby bella mushrooms
canola oil  or olive oil
2 long Italian rolls
1 roasted red pepper

The end result was delicious.  Those Pat's and Geno's cheesesteaks had a special place in my heart from my college years, but my new cheesesteak is great for a new decade, although it was so big that I only ate half during dinner.  The flavors of the caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, sauteed mushrooms and provolone all combined nicely with the succulent, juicy rib eye.  The quality of the meat that I used is surely much better than a standard Philly cheesesteak, but keep in mind that this sandwich's main competition is my memories of Philly as a 19 year old college student.  Regardless, I was happy and nostalgic about this rendition.  This might just be the best Brooklyn cheesesteak out there!


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Asian Style Chilean Sea Bass

This is one of my favorite dishes to make and Jenn says that if I were ever on a cooking show and they asked what my 'signature dish' was, this would be it. I tend to agree with her and this was probably the best it's ever come out. I usually use some kind of Sea Bass or Red Snapper and this time around the only Bass they had at our local A&P happened to be Chilean Sea Bass. It's definitely not cheap but if you're willing to spend the money I'd say it's the way to go! This dish is based off of a family recipe from my Chinese side with a few minor tweaks. Mainly the spiciness and the lime juice.

(for 2, all my amounts are very much approximated)
1 lb. Chilean Sea Bass
1-2 tbsp, freshly minced ginger
1 tbsp, minced garlic or 1-2 cloves
1/4 cup white wine (I used St. Urbans Hof Riesling)
1/4 soy sauce
1/8th of a large sweet onion, finely minced
1 lime's worth of juice
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 a small hot pepper, minced
A couple cranks on the pepper mill

I start by chopping up all my ingredients for the sauce. I don't have a food processor and chop things pretty quickly but a food processor might not be a bad way to go about this if you have one. Basically you need enough sauce to go with your fish when you serve it and it should taste and smell pretty good by itself so I go by taste when making it. We used a pretty sweet Riesling and I added a little more sugar than usual and both seemed to work out very well. I also usually put in some hot red pepper flakes and decided to buy some actual hot peppers instead. They weren't labeled at the store and I bought three, thinking, how hot could they be? I started mincing the first one and ate a small slice and was dumbfounded by how hot it was so I scraped out the seeds (which tend to add a lot of heat) and only used half of it and in the end it really wasn't too hot.

You want to bake this in the oven for roughly 20-25 minutes at about 425 degrees. You also want to make sure it's tightly covered. You can create a foil pouch or just cover a baking pan with foil. Mine was the same size I would make brownies in (I don't bake much). I tend to be able to tell when it's done by the smell when I open the oven door but you may have to check on it. You can tell I took a nibble to check it in my photo... It was good.

In the end I served it over some Jasmine rice (1/2 cup uncooked) with some snap peas that I just sauteed in some olive oil, garlic and cracked black pepper. I cooked them covered for probably 5 minutes on medium heat until they were just soft enough to eat without being mushy. The fish ended up being very good and kind of buttery which I found funny since there was no actual butter in the recipe. Also check out Sasha's Asian-infused sea bass with a papaya marinade!

Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Cafe Langley's Russian Cream

This recipe comes from the Cafe Langley, a great Mediterranean restaurant in the little town of Langley, WA, where I grew up -- it's one of the best restaurants in town, so if you find yourself in "Langley by the Sea," as the marketers are wont to call it, stop by.

My mom has been making this for years, and it's one of my favorite all-season desserts. It's light enough for spring and summer, but rich enough for fall and winter, and you can change up the fruit topping to match whatever's in season or whatever you have on hand. I'm printing here the original raspberry topping, although I made it last night with strawberries because they looked so good in the store, as one of the first fresh fruits of spring.

Last night, I paired this with a garlic-and-lemon marinated rack of lamb, Israeli couscous, lightly sauteed peas with lemon zest and pine nuts, and a butter lettuce salad with locally grown fresh tomatoes, homemade croutons and a lime-rosemary vinaigrette. So all in all, a fairly Mediterranean meal, one that went over well with our dinner guests. One tip on that front: If you're going to crust your lamb, don't broil it. The crust will burn. Though the lamb was fine after we scraped off the carcinogens, I missed the panko/almond flour/spice flavor I was going for there.

Russian Cream
makes six 1/2-cup servings

1 envelope (.25 oz) gelatin
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup frozen (or fresh) raspberries, pureed, without seeds (though I left the seeds in the strawberry puree, and it worked out fine)

In a small saucepan, blend the sugar and gelatin. Add the water and mix well. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream.
In a bowl, combine the sour cream and vanilla. Gradually beat in the hot sugar/cream mixture, and beat until smooth.
Pour into individual serving dishes (I used wine glasses). Chill at least four hours, then spoon the berry puree on top of the cream just before serving.

I had intended to finish this dish off with a Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Crisp in each cup, but I forgot. D'oh!

Sasha's Kitchen: Maple Walnut Muffins for the Perfect Brunch

Muffins make for the perfect weekend breakfast.  If you make a good muffin recipe, it should be relatively quick and easy to make, and the muffins should disappear quickly.  For this recipe, I adapted the original recipe from my new Vermont cookbook to make it a bit healthier, using Canola Oil, rather than butter.  I also adapted the recipe to incorporate skim milk, rather than whole milk.  The end result was a delicious maple walnut muffin that was a scrumptious breakfast treat, and a healthy muffin that you can enjoy eating several of without too much guilt (not that there's any guilt here).

I recommend serving the muffins with a little bit of softened butter, or perhaps even a bit of whipped cream.  The maple adds a lovely (but not overpowering) sweetness to the muffins, while the walnuts are the perfect complement and add a nice element of texture.  This probably goes without saying, but the recipe is dependent on the quality of the maple syrup that you use for the flavor, so I recommend using the best local Vermont or Quebec maple syrup that you can get your hands on.

Maple Walnut Muffins (Loosely adapted from the cookbook, Dishing Up Vermont)
2 cups flour
2/3 cup high-quality Maple Syrup (I used Brad's Organic Maple Syrup, named after my husband!)
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup skim milk
 7 T canola oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar (the original recipe called for maple sugar, which I didn't have access to)
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a silicon muffin tin.  I made a total of 13 muffins.  Mix the dry ingredients (including the sugar) in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, canola oil and maple syrup.  Combine the two mixtures, alternatively also adding the milk, until all of the ingredients are fully combined.  Chop the walnuts and fold in gently with a spatula.  Fill the muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes.  Allow to cool before removing from the muffin molds.

These really are perfect for brunch - despite the maple syrup, they are not overly sweet and have the perfect organic fresh New England flavor.  And, they are healthy too!

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