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.