Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberries and rhubarb mark the beginning of fruit-pie making season. They are the first fruits that come to season into the spring, an absolutely my favorite type of pie to prepare. The sweetness of fresh spring strawberries is just so perfect with the tangy, tart rhubarb. Rhubarb is a strange fruit, which kind of looks like pink celery. If you have never worked with it before, you might wonder, wait, do I really want to put this in my pie? But when it cooks in the oven with the strawberries, it assumes a lovely tart flavor that pairs perfectly. I do not recommend making an all strawberry pie - too sweet. But the strawberry-rhubarb combo is my favorite, and for my kitchen, it makes the beginning of the spring fruit season.

To make this pie, I used the exact same crust for apple pie, with my own strawberry-rhubarb filling.

Sasha's Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
2 1/4 cups flour
big pinch of Kosher salt (not, this is the grainy salt; never bake with iodized salt!)
pinch of sugar
2 sticks of cold butter
1/4 cup of ice water, plus a but more if needed (this time I used about 2 T additional ice water)

21/2 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 1/2 cups of rhubarb, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
3/4 cups of sugar (you could probably even get away with 1/2 a cup if you are concerned about sugar intake)
1 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 T cornstarch
2 egg yolks

To make the pie crust, follow the detailed instructions that I gave in writing about apple pie.  Basically, combine the salt, sugar and flour in a bowl. Cut up the butter into small chunks and gently incorporate with your hands into the flour. Splash the ice water into the mixture, and mold until it *just* forms  a ball of dough, adding more water as needed so it just sticks together (be sure to add the water slowly so not to overdo it). The key to a good pie crust is not to overwork the dough, so it is best to do this by hand. There will still be clumps of butter in the dough - don't worry about that, as it will make the crust more rustic and also crisper. Divide the dough and bring into tow balls. Plastic wrap and refrigerate for exactly twenty minutes to allow the dough to firm a bit.

Roll out one of the balls on a well floured surface, rotating after each roll or two so it does not stick to your surface. Roll to 1/4 of an inch thick and place in the pie dish, before trimming the edges with a pastry scissor. Using a pyrex pie dish is best.

Combine the ingredients for the strawberry rhubarb mixture. Add most of this to the pie - about four and a half cups total. Be sure not to heap the fruit, as tempting as it may be to use every last drop of the fruit mixture. I recommend using the freshest, local organic/farmer's market strawberries and rhubarb you can get your hands on as it will make your pie that much better. I also use organic butter in the crust.

Roll out the second ball of dough the same way and cut to form a lattice. I glazed the top of the pie using two egg yolks and sprinkled some granulated sugar on top. Bake the pie at 425 covered with foil for 30 minutes. Then, reduce the heat to 350 and remove the foil baking for another 30-45 minutes (my oven required about 35). The pie is done when it is tender when poked with a knife.

This pie was a winner! Maybe even better than the last apple pie I made. I have heard that the strawberry rhubarb pie at Four and Twenty Blackbirds is the best in the city. I love their pies so I will have to try it and compare. I've recently come across some of their recipes online, which I hope to try out and blog on in the future.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Truffle Deviled Eggs

You know, I never really appreciated deviled eggs until recently. I have always discarded the yolk potion before eating a hard boiled egg, which I generally only did during Passover seders. But my husband is a big fan of deviled eggs, so I decided to make some from the hard boiled eggs at our Passover seder, and turn them into some somewhat spicy, truffle infused deviled eggs. Boy was a surprised - they were delicious!

This is a very simple recipe and one I will certainly  make again.  For my first shot at deviled eggs, this was a winner!

Sasha's Spicy Truffle Deviled Eggs
5 eggs
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp truffle oil
2 T dijon mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 T diced onion
salt and pepper to taste

First, add the eggs to a large pot willed with water and 1 tsp of Kosher salt (do not ever use iodized salt in any recipe). Bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and let the pot sit for 15 minutes. Refrigerate to cool the eggs, and peel them (always the hardest part for me).

Cut the eggs in halves and remove the yolk. Mix the egg yolks with the mayo, truffle oil, salt, pepper and dijon mustard and whip until light and fluffy. Put into the indent on each egg to make a deviled egg. If you want, you can do this with a pastry bag and tip like for cupcakes and I think I will try it that way next time for prettier presentation. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper on top for some heat!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Mozzarella Making at the Brooklyn Kitchen

Forming a mozzarella ball

Last month I took a mozzarella cheese making class at The Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg. The class was taught byRoberto Caporuscio, owner of New York's famed pizzeria Keste, as well as cheese specialist Tia Keenan.  The classes at the Brooklyn Kitchen are a fabulous opportunity to sharpen your cooking skills, pick up some new skills, learn a new areas of cuisine or just plain relax and have some fun cooking.  So far I have taken a fabulous apple pie tutorial and a New Orleans brunch class, and I am signed up to take a fresh pasta making class in the end of May. I am really tempted to take a mediterranean cooking class there next week as well. 

This is the raw cheese curds that Roberto started with in the class

At any rate, on to the art of mozzarella. I learned from Roberto a bit of the skill of making mozzarella from cheese curds. We started with the curds rather than using renin to make the curs from scratch because it is near impossible to buy un-pasterized fresh milk in New York (since we don't raise cows here, ya know?) Also, it takes a tremendous amount of milk to make milk solids, which makes that process unrealistic. So what are curds? They are milk solids made from fresh cow's milk, separated from the whey. Most professional cheesemakers in the United States (particularly in more urban locations) start with  fresh curds rather than renin and fresh milk to make mozzarella. 

Preparing the melted curds with hot water/cream mixture
working with the curds

Roberto taught us in the class the process that he uses to make his fresh mozzarella at Keste, which basically involves salting, submerging and heating the curds, stretching and manipulating them in the proper way, and forming proper balls of mozzarella. It is way harder than it sounds. I was able to replicate the process at home, but my mozzarella was still far inferior to the product Roberto taught us in the class because cheesemaking is an art, and clearly I am not yet a master of that art. But it was sure fun!

This is the mozzarella roll - yum!

Roberto's secret to making a fabulous mozzarella cheese (which you will be aware of if you have ever had his delicious pizza at Keste) is to add cream to the water that he uses to submerge the cheese curds in. The basic process involves cutting the curds to have a large amount of surface area, salting them, melting them in hot water and cream, and then stretching and working with the cheese to form mozzarella. In the class, we made both mozzarella balls and rolled out mozzarella that you can add other delicious ingredients to. This was some of the best mozz I've tasted to date. In the class, Roberto helped us form mozzarella balls so that you do not get air or water inside the mozzarella, which is harder than it sounds. You can buy all the supplies at the Brooklyn Kitchen and I plan on making another batch at home sometime this summer!

I have included some pictures from the class in this post.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sasha's Kitchen: Key Lime Pie Cupcakes

These may be one of my favorite batches of cupcakes yet. They taste *exactly* like a little bit of key lime pie, which from my point of view, is just a little bit of heaven packed into a cupcake. I've kind of gone onto this kick of making a lot of pies lately. Click here for my apple pie, and a strawberry rhubarb pie will be posted soon. But what if I could convert each of these delicious pies into bite sized cupcakes that had the essence of each pie? Stay tuned for more of these recipes, because I really think they work out well.  As weird as it sounds, there's nothing better than crust on a cupcake because it breaks up the cupcake so you don't have too much of the same thing, which is the whole point of eating cupcake (rather than cake) in the first place. I decorated some of the cupcakes by making two peas in a peapod out of fondant, but that really is not part of the key lime theme, as I was just having some fun. I can't wait to try out the Boston Cream Pie cupcakes after Passover ends to continue with the pie-as-cupcake trend.

Sasha's Key Lime Pie Cupcakes (makes about 15)
Graham Cracker Crust
3/4 cups pulverized graham crackers
2 T granulated sugar
3 T melted butter

Key Lime Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 T baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup of butter at room temperature (about 2/3 of a stick)
3/4 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 T lime zest
2 T T key lime juice (you can buy Key Lime Juice at Whole Foods)

Key Lime Pie Pastry Filling
5 oz mascarpone cheese or regular cream cheese
3 oz key lime juice
3 oz sweetened condensed milk

Key Lime Frosting
1 1/2 sticks of butter at room temperature
1 small box of confectioner's sugar (about 3-4 cups)
3 T key lime juice
drop of green or yellow gel-based food coloring

Decorations (optional)
Green fondant
white fondant
black food marker

First, combine the ingredients for the crust and press about 1 Tablespoon of the graham cracker mixture into each mold in a cupcake tray filled with cupcake liners. Bake at 300 for about 12 minutes until slightly firm.  Next, prepare the key lime cupcake mixture. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat the butter and sugar on medium high speed in a stand mixer for about three minutes. Then beat in the eggs. Add the lime zest and mix throughout. Then alternate adding the buttermilk and dry ingredients, and finally add the key lime juice at then end. Divide among the cupcakes, filling each about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake at 350 for about 25-30 minutes (this time depends on how hot your oven runs) until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

While the cupcakes are baking, make the key lime pastry cream, by blending the key lime juice, condensed milk and cream cheese or mascarpone. Chill for about 45 minutes before using. Then, once the cupcakes are cool, use a fine tip attached to a pastry bag to "inject" the key lime pastry cream into the center of each cupcake.

Next, beat together the ingredients for the frosting and dye the frosting with a gel base food coloring - generally either green or yellow. Use a frosting bag to apply the frosting to each cupcake.

Key lime pie coming up - and yes, they taste just like a little bite of the best key lime pie ever!

From Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Chipotle-marinated tuna and panko-fried asparagus

I'm on a more-fish kick. I'm not sure if it's a health thing, or a variety thing, or what, but I want to eat more fish.

So at Atkinson's Market in Bellevue yesterday, I got two kinds of fish. Two whole frozen tilapia (I've been reading about how to make excellent roasted whole fish) for -- get this! -- $2.74(!!!), and two fillets of what was marketed as yellowfin tuna, but is usually marketed as ahi, for about $8. Since they didn't have any ahi steaks still frozen, I took the ones that had thawed, knowing I'd have to use them soon, and put the frozen whole fish in the freezer. Keep an eye out for what I do with those.

I also got, last week, my first issue of Food & Wine magazine, which my husband had ordered for me for Valentine's Day. Yes, it took that long to finally, finally get here. Seriously, what takes so long to change a mailing list?
Based on that first issue, I'm not entirely thrilled by the magazine because (as the issue was explicit about) it was addressing eating as part of world travel, and I just got back from only my second true international trip (I went to Indonesia when I was 13, and to New Zealand last month for our honeymoon, 19 years later. No offense to my Canadian friends and relatives, but when you live in US state that fronts Canada, Canadian travel almost doesn't count). I'm not exactly a true world traveller, and being stuck in Idaho, I feel even more "Americanified" than I am at heart.

I went on my go-to food website,, and searched "yellowfin tuna." Here are the Sicilian and Spiced Taco recipes that came up, which I was inspired by and combined.
I made a marinade for the tuna steaks that was basically olive oil, lime juice, a medium-sized chipotle pepper in adobo, a small can of anchovies, three large cloves of garlic, pepper and a little rose wine (because that's what I had open in the fridge), all pureed fairly finely together. The chipotles and garlic played a stronger part than they did in the recipes because my husband loves both, and I adore garlic and have been building up my tolerance to/love of spice over the last few years. The fish steaks hung out in the marinade in the fridge for a couple hours, in part because I had to go to the store for more ingredients.

From Food & Wine, I was inspired by this recipe to panko-fry some baby asparagus, to go along with the fish. I followed it fairly carefully, though I found that with the baby asparagus, there was less coverage with the flour-egg-panko mixture, especially after a dozen stalks. The first batch turned out beautifully, but the later batches were much clumpier and less like the magazine pictures (as you can probably tell from my photos). I'm interested to try this with larger stalks of asparagus, because of the balance of softer asparagus flesh versus crispier panko crust.

I also made some garlic bread -- I need to post about my variants on garlic bread and their relative successes someday soon -- and my husband grilled the tuna on the gas grill, because it is finally (FINALLY!) not snowed-in/too-chilly to grill. I think the temperature of the grill might not have been quite high enough, because the tuna grilled pretty evenly through. I prefer a rather rare tuna in the center, but he likes a more cooked one, so we ended up in the middle, with it still a bit pink and fleshy in the middle but well-done on the edges.

I melted a tablespoon or two of butter and added some flour and then the remaining marinade, to make a sauce for the fish. It turned out too thick, so more rose wine went in (to thin it out) and eventually a bit of half-and-half (to mellow out the chipotle). I cigar-cut a few leaves of basil as a garnish, which complemented the fish and sauce quite well, and plated up all four elements. To great acclaim from my husband, who loved the spice and heat as well as the flavor, which makes me eager to try similar mixtures with fish in the future.

The first picture above is the pre-fried asparagus on the left, and the fried asparagus on the right; the grilling tuna; the completed plate (I apologize that the yellow tablecloth makes the yellow tones in the food almost disappear, but I adore yellow and orange in my kitchen and dining room, especially during the drab fall/winter/spring months).
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