24 February 2011

Crème Brûlée

I finally went and bought myself a blow torch. As far as I'm concerned, Crème Brûlée can only be made using a blow torch, not with a broiler or any other heat element. I'm sure it can be done and the results are fine, but there's something truly special about serving this dessert straight from the fridge, very cold, but with a perfectly crisp layer of melted sugar on top. The picture above was taken before I had finished caramelizing all the sugar; it should be darker and cover the whole surface, but the blow torch is tiny and the flame is small, so it took quite some time!

Crème Brûlée

2 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar plus about 8 teaspoons more for the caramel glaze
1 tsp vanilla extract

Turn the oven to 325 degrees F. Heat the cream to almost a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, stir the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a medium bowl until just blended. Slowly, gradually add the cream. Really, do this slowly - you're looking to make a custard, not scrambled eggs. Strain into a second bowl using a fine-mesh sieve. Add the vanilla and divide in 4 larger or 6 smaller ramekins.

Place a few layers of paper towels in a large, oven-proof glass dish. Place the ramekins on top of the paper towels, making sure they do not touch each other or the sides of the dish (or the bottom, but the paper towels should be taking care of that). Place in the oven and immediately pour scalding hot tap water into the dish (but not into the custard, obviously) until it comes about 2/3 up the side of the ramekins. Cook for about 35 minutes, or until quite set but still quivery in the middle. Remove from the oven and extract from the water bath. Let cool on a cooling rack until the custards are at room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to two days.

Just before serving, remove the ramekins from the fridge. Evenly sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of sugar over each ramekin of custard and apply heat. You're looking for a dark caramel crust that you have to crack open with a spoon in order to properly eat. As mentioned before, a blowtorch would be ideal for this, but in a bind, you can use your broiler set to high. This will probably heat the custard as well, and the end result won't be as tasty, nor will it be prepared traditionally.

09 February 2011

Chicken Noodle Soup

All right, I'll be the first to admit that I have had canned soup from time to time. Canned soup is acceptable. At least when you have a bad cold and can't taste what you're eating. Seriously, canned soup is generally pretty horrible (including the "gourmet" kinds), and the effort it takes to make a good homemade soup is small - tiny, even, if you don't make your own stock. In this recipe, store-bought chicken stock is perfectly fine, and I don't even use the low sodium kind. It is still far, far less salty than a canned soup, costs less per serving, and tastes so much better. SO much better.

Chicken Noodle Soup

2 chicken breasts with rib meat
8 oz dried egg noodles
2 ribs of celery
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic
2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 tbsp olive oil

First of all, cook your chicken. I find that for soup, the easiest way is to simply boil it. It may not sound appetizing, but the end result is perfect for shredding into the soup. Cover the chicken breasts with cold water in a medium saucepan and cook over high heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Check with a knife to ensure juices run clear and no pink remains, then rinse with cold water to stop cooking and prevent them from drying out. Shred or cut into bite-sized pieces when cool enough to handle.

While the chicken is cooking, start with the rest of soup. Cut the celery, onion, and carrots into small pieces, and mince the garlic. In a large stock pot or soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the vegetables, bay leaves, and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened but are not mushy, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. At this point, lower the heat to a simmer and add the shredded chicken. Cook until heated through. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs (most of the thyme leaves will have fallen off at this point).

Serve with freshly baked bread or some good crackers.

For an extra kick, the soup can be made with a couple of tablespoons of some dry vermouth or even a splash of white wine. Add together with the chicken stock.

25 January 2011

Red Berry Cobbler

This is a variation of a recipe I found in New American Table, a cookbook by a chef born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and living in New York City. The flavors are much more complex than a standard cobbler, thanks to the red wine, cardamom, and honey. You can prepare these until they're ready to go in the oven, then refrigerate for up to three days. Perfect, in other words, to make in advance for that big dinner party!

Red Berry Cobbler

2 cups AP flour
3 tbsp white sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
6 tbsp unsalted butter (cold)
1 cup milk or buttermilk
1 vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup honey, preferably raw
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 cup dry red wine
2 cups fresh raspberries
3 cups fresh strawberries
confectioners' sugar for dusting

Start by heating the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, white sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture. Mix with your fingers until a mealy mixture is formed. Add the milk and stir with a spoon until a very wet dough is formed.

Cover a cookie sheet with a parchment paper. Divide the dough into 10 2-inch wide biscuits. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the filling. Hull the strawberries and cut them into quarters. In a small bowl, mix the honey, lemon zest, cornstarch, and the seeds of the vanilla bean or the vanilla extract, depending on which you're using. In a medium saucepan, bring the red wine to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, then add the honey mixture and stir continuously until it thickens slightly. Stir in the fruit and the remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and cook until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat.

Butter either twelve 4-ounce or six 8-ounce ramekins. Crumble up the biscuits and divide half of them into the ramekins. Add equal amounts of the berry filling on top of the biscuits, then crumble the remaining biscuits on top. Cook in the (still 400 degree) oven for about 15 minutes, or until bubbling. Be careful not to let the biscuits on top burn - if they start to brown too quickly, cover with some aluminum foil.

Let cool for 5 minutes, then dust the top with confectioners' sugar and serve, preferably with ice cream.

19 January 2011

Halibut in Lemon Butter Sauce with Pan Fried Potatoes and Cucumber Salad

While I never say "no" to a good steak, I do love me some fish and seafood as well. One particular craving for a delicacy of the seas set in the other day, and I decided to make some halibut.

Halibut in Lemon Butter Sauce with Pan Fried Potatoes and Cucumber Salad

1 lb halibut fillet (or other firm-fleshed white fish)
1 lemon
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 shallots
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cucumber
1 lime
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb firm potatoes
peanut oil (or other vegetable oil)
paprika powder

Turn the oven to 400 degrees F. Next, start preparing the potatoes. Wash them and dice them into half-inch cubes. Add a few tablespoons of peanut oil to a large cast iron pan and place over medium high heat. Add the potatoes, sprinkle with salt and paprika, and fry, stirring frequently at first (to prevent sticking), until golden brown and delectable. Add freshly ground black pepper when finished.

While the potatoes are cooking, wash the fish and dry with paper towels. Place in a large, oven-proof skillet. Peel and chop the shallots. Remove about a teaspoon of zest from the lemon, then cut it in half. Top the fish with the shallots and dot it with the butter. Squeeze the lemon over the fish, pour the wine into the pan (to the side of the fish, to prevent washing away the "toppings"), and sprinkle with the red pepper flakes. Place over high heat until the liquid is boiling, then place in the center of the oven for about 10 minutes or until cooked through. If you use a particularly thick cut of fish (like halibut), you may have to cook it for 15 minutes instead.

While the fish is cooking and the potatoes are finishing, prepare the cucumber salad. Slice the cucumbers fairly thinly, then cut them into very small squares. Chop the chives finely (I used about 8 pieces). Place the cucumber in a bowl, and add a tablespoon of olive oil, the juice of the lime, the chives, and a little bit of salt. Stir to combine and keep chilled in the fridge until ready to serve.

Once the fish is finished, remove it from the pan and place it on a plate. Place the pan back over high heat and cook the sauce for a minute or so until it thickens a bit. If most of the liquid has evaporated in the oven, add a little more wine. Slice the fish into portions, then pour the sauce over it. Serve with the potatoes and cucumber salad.

13 January 2011

I love bread

I love baking. I love baking bread. Four simple ingredients spend some time in a bowl, some time in a fridge, and some time in a hot oven, and suddenly, there's this spectacular new...thing. Eat it fresh out of the oven, put some toppings on it and call it a sandwich, or wait a few days and turn it into toast, or maybe even croutons.

I love bread.

(The recipe for the above can be found in this old post!)

I also promise to update the blog with something useful and interesting in the next few days!

02 January 2011

Cheese and Artichoke Dip

While the dip itself is more of a snack, we actually had this for dinner tonight! Cheese and artichoke dip, vegetables, ciabatta bread and oven-roasted potatoes may not sound like a traditional Sunday night dinner, but it was really, really good!

Cheese and Artichoke Dip
1 can artichoke hearts (16 oz)
1 package Neufchatel or cream cheese
4 oz shredded cheddar, Monterrey jack or similar cheese
black pepper

Turn the oven to 425 degrees F. Finely chop the artichoke hearts. I used my food processor, but a knife will do the job just fine (it'll just take a while). Mix with the cheeses, sprinkle liberally with the spices and stir thoroughly. Put the dip in an oven-safe form and bake for 15-20 minutes or until just starting to brown. Serve with root vegetables cut into staves (I used carrots, cauliflower and cucumber).

Oven-Roasted Potatoes
1 lb firm potatoes
olive oil
black pepper

Turn the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Slice the potatoes into half-inch thick pieces and add to the boiling water. Boil for about 10 minutes or until just tender. Remove the potatoes from the water and dry on paper towels.

Place an oven rack over a cookie sheet. Spread the potatoes on the rack and brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes or until the edges are crispy.