Ricotta

It’s been a while, I know.  But when Lauren of Recipes to Rivals decided to make Ricotta this month, something I’ve been meaning to try since I learned how easy it was this summer, well, I couldn’t resist.  And boy, it hardly takes any time at all.

I picked up a gallon of the freshest organic milk I could at the local grocery store.  I was hoping to buy the local Pittsford Dairy brand, but it was not available.  That and a quart of butter milk and I was set.  I dug out our biggest pot, poured it all in, and set the burner on medium high (there was a lot of liquid to heat).

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I had other things to do that evening, mainly, make myself dinner.  So I slung the meat thermometer over the side, securing it with a rubber band on the handle of the pot, and just left a big spoon in the pot for easy stirring every time I strolled by.  It took a while, but as the temperature approached 85, magic started to happen.  Curds formed in the foam on top.  I stirred them in, but they kept forming and forming, and before I knew it, I had translucent whey (sorry, I forgot to snap a picture).

Next, the curds had to be strained.  The challenge called for fine cheesecloth.  I had some natural cheescloth that didn’t look too fine to me, so I folded the whole thing up to make 4 layers and straining was prefect!

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I let the curds drain for a while, and also tried to squeeze some of the moisture out.  That wasn’t such a good idea.  I ended up with a few large curds that didn’t mix very easily in next days dinner.  Next time, I’ll just leave everything to drain for half-an-hour and then package it away.

I ended up making Ricotta and spinach filled Cannelloni, and my roommate used a little bit to make some cannoli, like in some earlier posts.

Very tasty, very easy, and well worth a second try… hopefully with super fresh milk!

Published in: on February 28, 2009 at 12:20 am  Comments (9)  

R2R: Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

One of my all time favorite soups is roasted butternut squach soup.  I love when I see the butternut squash start to appear at the public market because it means the weather is really getting cold and it’ll be time to make this soup soon.  I was so excited to find this month’s Recipe to Rivals challenge (picked by MegPug of Joy Through Cooking) was all about squash soup using home made stock.  I also have been looking to try my hand a stock since watching past episodes of Alton Brown on YouTube.

The recipe I’ve always used comes from the magazing Eating Well and it’s very simple:
– roast squash, pears, tomatoes, leeks, and garlic into oblivion
– blend with stock/broth
– season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, or whatever spices you fancy
– serve with crusty bread and consume.

Ok, I’ll be honest.  I forgot about the creme fraiche (one of the requirements to the recipe).  I don’t really like it, and I also don’t find much occasion to use whipping cream, so I didn’t buy any of that to add either.  However, I have a diary based suggestion that I’ve used in the past:  Stilton.  Yes, the stinky cheese.  The recipe from Eating Well called for a little Stilton sprinkled on top.  I suggest looking for a milder Stilton, but it does give a lovely flavor to the soup that works surprisingly well with the soups sweetness.  I also like to add a kind of garlic crouton (really, it’s just crusty piece of toast with some garlic rubbed on and a drizzle of olive oil; crusty sourdough loaves work great).  The crunch of toast contrasts the smooth soup wonderfully.

Here is the Eating Well recipe as I remember it (I’m typing this at my parents (home for the holidays), and the recipe is at home in another state).  It’s a pretty flexible recipe, so I’m not too concerned about amounts:

– One butternut squash, cubed
– 4 medium tomatoes, quartered and seeded
– 2 bosc pears, pealed, quartered and cored
– 1-2 leeks, rinsed well and sliced
– 4 cloves of garlic
– 4-6 cups of stock
– salt and pepper
– olive oil
– seasoning as desired at the end (I suggest nutmeg and cinnamon, true fall flavors)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 or 450.

2. Put the squash, tomato, pears, leeks, and garlic on a cookie sheet with high sides or a large baking dish.  Everything should cover the bottom of your pan, but not pile too high because it will take longer to roast.

3. Drizzle to coat with olive oil and season liberally with salt. Toss everything together

4. Roast everything to oblivion (1-2 hours), stirring every 10-20 minutes.  I’m serious, oblivion.  It should reduce to about half the volume and the squash should be browning around the edges.  Everything should be falling apart into mush.  The longer it goes, the more the sugars in the squash caramelize and make a sweet soup.  You will not be sorry if you over roast everything… just take it out before things begin to char.

5. Blend with the stock, using as much as necessary to get the desired consistency.  I use my stand up blender and scoop some of the roasted mush in, and then fill to the level of veggies with stock.  Hold the lid down FIRMLY with a pot holder.  Be careful hear or you’ll get 400 degree mush all over your kitchen and yourself.  Blend until a cyclone forms in the blender.  You also can put the stock and roasted mush into a pot and use an immersion blender.

6. Pour the blended soup into a pot (if it’s not already in one), reheat and season to taste.

7. Garnish with a nice Stilton and serve with toasted sourdough rubbed with garlic

For the stock, I used the recipe provided by MegPug:

Vegetable Stock:
4 quarts water
2 white onions
4 carrots, peeled
2 leeks
6-8 button mushrooms
Bouquet garnish (parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns)

Boil the hell out of it and strain through a fine seive or cheesecloth.

Published in: on December 1, 2008 at 4:52 pm  Comments (9)  
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Dumplings

Seven weeks and two exams into our second year of medical school and my roomies and I hadn’t had dumplings for dinner yet.  Problem was, we hadn’t had time for a dumpling-making party.  I was so excited when this month’s Recipes to Rival challenge was dumplings.  We could fill them with anything, but we had to make our own wrappers.  Finally, we had a deadline for making dumplings.

I’ve never been a huge fan of dumplings until my roommates and I had a dumpling making party last year.  I just never had an occasion to eat them until we had bags of frozen homemade dumplings in the freezer for pre-exam week.

The recipe is one of those recipes my Chinease-American roommate, S, grew up on.  The kind where you just throw a bunch of ingredients together and season it until it tastes right (microwaving little spoonfuls to cook the raw meat).

Here’s what the filling usually includes, with estimates on amounts.

– 1 lb. ground chicken
– 10 large shrimp, minced
– 1 c boiled Chinese cabbage, shredded
– 3-4 chilves, chopped fine
– a boat load of chives, chopped fine
– a thumb of shredded ginger
– an egg or two, depending on how wet the filling is.
– oyster sauce, to taste
– soy sauce, to taste
– sesame oil, to taste
– we might have added salt and pepper, to taste

This all gets mixed up with chopsticks, which was a little difficult with the enormous bowl of filling we were making.  It’s best to let all the flavor’s marinade together overnight.  On this occasion I was a little crunched for time.  I was flying to visit my boyfriend for the weekend and only had the afternoon to make, fill, and photograph the dumplings for this post.

Knowing time would be short, I tried to make the dumpling wrappers ahead of time, hoping they would store in the fridge overnight in a stack… after all, the store-bought dumpling wrappers came in a neat little stack.  I made a half recipe:

– 2 c flour
– ¼ t salt
– About ¾ c of hot water, added in ¼ c increments, to bring the flour together.

I kneaded and kneaded the dough into a super smooth ball, being quite liberal with the flour to prevent sticking.  I let the dough sit for about 6 hours before I got around to rolling it out.  For this, I brought out my pasta roller.  I floured everything up, rolled the dough into a 1 in log and cut little ½ in disks off for flattening.  Covering each disk with more flour, I patted it into a circle and rolled it through the pasta roller, turning the dough 90 degrees to keep it as close to a circle as possible.  Again, more flour, and then I stacked them up for storage.  I made 40 wrappers with the half recipe.

Here’s where I ran into trouble.  Stacking doesn’t work so well because the dough absorbs any extra flour covering it and turns into a stick mess within an hour.  I had to scrap my entire first rolling.  The second time around, I stored the wrappers in stacks of parchment paper.  The dumplings still stuck to the parchment paper, but I was able to carefully pull them off, flour them up, again, and wrap dumplings.  Rolling out the wrappers really doesn’t take long if you have a pasta roller on hand, but you really ought to do it right before you plan to fill the dumplings.

Each wrapper was about 3 inches in diameter and about 1mm thick.  We scooped about 1 tablespoon of filling into each, wet the edge of the wrapper with water all the way around and sealed.  One half of the wrapper gets a few pleats folded in to make a little larger pocket for the filling.  Cute little guys aren’t then?

Most the dumplings we freeze (we do make about 100 of them at a time), but a few we’ll cook right away.  I’m not quite sure how long we cook them for.  The way S does it is she boils a pot of water and dumps in 15-20 dumplings.  Then when it comes to a boil again, she removes 1 cup of water, replacing it with 1c of cold water.  She lets it come to a boil again and repeats this twice more.  Then the meat should all be cooked.  I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures of the cooked dumplings, we were too hungry after all this work of putting them together that we just scarffed them down.  We’ve got another exam in less than two weeks… there’s a good chance we’ll be making some more.  Perhaps I’ll take a study break to photograph the finished product.

Although store-bought dumpling wrappers are far easier to deal with, I’m glad to know I can whip up some of my own without too much trouble.

Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 6:04 am  Comments (12)  

White Bean and Sage Dip

This dip I made to accompany my cracker challenge from Daring Bakers.  The rules were it had to be vegan and gluten free.  I decided my best bet was to peruse my Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone pilfered from my mother (I’m after her bread cookbook next).  I found a number of recipes that sounded super tasty, except it called for something dairy or an egg.  Clearly, I’m not cut out to be vegan.  But part of Daring Baker Challenges are to make something outside my usual recipe repetoir (they had that covered with the crackers), so I decided I’d take a stab at the White Bean and Sage dip.  Besides, I had a growing sage plant in my herb garden that I had no idea what to do with and this recipe called for 10 leaves!

It’s a pretty straighforward recipe:

1. Roast a head of garlic
1b. Boil beans and sage leaves together for 1.5 hours… 1.5 hours! Hell no! Luckily my roomie who owns the pressure cooker was in ear shot and suggested I use the pressure cooker.  “It’ll take 20 minutes!”  Half an hour, actually, but still super quick.
3. Blend everything together and season to taste.

I recommended NOT skimping on the lemon or the olive oil, both add a great depth to the flavor.  The end product reminded me a lot of humus in texture, and color, but with a slightly different flavor.  I might make this again for a party, but the recipe made a little too much for me to get through.

White Bean and Sage Dip
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

-1 1/2 c Cannallini beans
-5 Cloves garlic
-10 sage leaves
-2 bay leaves
-3 T Olive oil
-1 whole head of garlic
-Juice of one lemon
-1 T chopped thyme
-Salt and pepper

1. Roast the whole head of garlic in a baking dish with a little water at 350 degree for 45 minutes.  You should be able to squeeze out the garlic.

2. Boil beans in a pot of water (covering beans by 2 inches).  Lower to a simmer and add the bay leaves, sage, and 5 cloves of garlic, and 2 T of oil.  Simmer for 1.5 hours, or 30 minutes in a double boiler.  Cook until the beans are tendor.  Remove the bay leaves.  Drain and save the extra bean broth.

3. Blend the roasted garlic and pot of beans (sans bay leaves), lemon, olive oil, adding enough bean broth to the desired consistency.  Season to taste.  I suggest not skimping on the olive oil or the lemon.

4. Stir in the chopped thyme and serve warm with crackers.

Published in: on September 27, 2008 at 8:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Going Crackers!

Med school hasn’t made me crackers yet, at least not before I could make crackers.  Har Har! I crack myself up… no pun intended (yeah right!)

Enough with the cheese, on with the baking!

I never thought making crackers could be so easy, and so delicious!  I was a little intimidated by this month’s Daring Baker Challenge, but one evening when I wasn’t so inclined to open my books I thought I’d give it a shot.  The ingredients were simple:

1 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 Tb sugar
1 Tb vegetable oil
1/3 to 1/2 cup water, at room temperature

Mix all together, adding enough water to bring the dry ingredients into a ball and knead.

The kneading, not so simple.  My roommate and I took turns taking out our aggressions on the dough, and giving our hands a workout!  The recipe says knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough passes the windowpane test: stretch a piece of dough thin enough so you can see light through it, but if it tears you need to keep kneading.  I was kneading for 20 minutes.  Then the dough sat for an hour in an oiled bowl set in a warmed oven and then I got to rolling. This recipe specified for one sheet of crackers, but I decided to cut the dough in half for some super thin crackers.

You need to roll the dough on an oiled surface.  It sticks a little more, which helps to combat the elasticity of the dough.  Floured surfaces do not work.  I was surprised how easy it was to roll out.  I thought I’d have to let the dough rest frequently, but it wasn’t a problem… until I baked it and found how unevenly I had rolled my dough.  The dough bakes on parchment paper at 350 for 10-20 minutes, depending on how thin it is.  Areas of my crackers got quite brown while other parts never quite cooked enough for a true cracker crunch.  I let them finish up on the pan for 10 minutes out of the oven before I started breaking them apart.  Despite variable textures, they were very tasty with the sesame seeds I sprinkled on top.  You only see a few in the pictures because sesame seeds don’t like to stick.  I later found suggestions on the Daring Baker forum that you really need to roll the sesame seeds into the dough to get them to stay.  Before baking I scored them with a pizza cutter for easy separation.

The crackers were accompanied with a White Bean and Sage dip (vegan and gluten free as directed).

Full directions from Natalie of Gluten A Go Go and Shel of Musings From the Fishbowl:

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers [I made two sheet pans]

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings
[Sesame for me!]

1.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball.  You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2.   Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4.  Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.  Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour.  Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches.  You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax.  At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down.  Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes.  When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment.  Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment.  If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.)  Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough.  You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.  If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

6.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough). [After 11 minutes the thin areas were pretty brown.]

7.  When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.  You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

Published in: on September 27, 2008 at 8:44 am  Comments (6)  

Complicated Chocolate Eclairs

Eclair filled with almond pastry cream

Eclair filled with almond pastry cream

(Eeee, I’m posting a day late… That’s what I get for spending 12h in the library studying!)

It’s my first time as a Daring Baker and we’re taking on eclairs (click for challenge recipes) this month. I’m home for three days before I head back to NY and med school. I decided to tackle this challenge here at home because it’s the last time I’ll have time for a big baking project, mom has a bigger kitchen and it’s better stocked with equipment (including a more reliable oven). It’s also my brother’s birthday at the end of this visit, so I’m making a Genoise cake with buttercream frosting as well. It’s taken some careful planning to make it all happen. Since I’m not allowed to post until the end of the month, I’m going to try to write this up daily and post it all at the end.

I decided to keep the chocolate frosting for the eclairs but use Julia Child’s pastry cream filling with a little Italian Meringue folded in (since I had to make some anyway for the cake’s buttercream frosting). It was my brother’s suggestion, and my mom agreed I should try a classic eclair. I’m not the biggest fan of classic eclairs because of the custard filling (it’s a texture issue I have with custards and smooth puddings). Luckily Julia also offers an almond custard variation so I’m trying that one too. I really need to buy my own copy of “The Way to Cook.”

Here’s what’s on the schedule:

Wednesday: Creams, Glazes, Sauces, Meringues and a Brittle

Julia’s Italian meringues
to add to…Julia’s pastry cream
and for…Julia’s buttercream frosting
Chocolate sauce
to make…Chocolate glaze
Almond brittle
to pulverize into Praline… just for the hell of it.

Thursday: Baking Day

Two Genoise cakes
Choux (Cream Puff Dough)
Assemble Eclairs

Friday:

Assemble the birthday cake and play around with cake decorating

I compiled the ingredient list for everything and went to the store to buy:
17 eggs (2 dozen, really, since I’m bound to mess up)
1 lb of butter
12 oz of chocolate
1c heavy cream
2c whole milk
… and I don’t even want to know how much fat that adds up to.

Wednesday:

I started with the custard. This I whisked by hand because it was all on the stove. Mom has a hand held mixer, but it didn’t seem like it would be that much whipping. I didn’t count on how thick the yolks, sugar, and flour would be. I need to work on my whisking arm. The only thing I would recommend is a third hand for dribbling in the hot cream. I made a bit of a mess trying to whisk with one hand while pouring with the other. The batter was so thick at first that whisking tended to move the pan around instead of the batter.

The Italian meringue came next, and this is always a bit of a nightmare. It requires boiling sugar syrup to soft-ball stage. Mom has a candy thermometer, but its accuracy is questionable. Thankfully we hit the upper end of soft ball stage and the meringue was perfect.

Next I folding in some meringue into the pastry cream, which really altered it’s custard-like texture and flavor. Next time I might use less meringue… or maybe I’ll just try the chocolate pastry cream from the challenge. I’m also looking forward to trying it with the praline (aka, pulverized toasted almond brittle… which doesn’t really remind me of praline all that much).

The chocolate sauce and glaze came together very easily. The glaze might be a bit lumpy, but I’m not too worried. It’s in the fridge right now and I hope I don’t mess up the mixture when I heat it up to glaze the eclairs.

At the end of the afternoon of cooking my dad came home and was impressed with all I had made, but he did point out that I still hadn’t learn to clean up as I go. Tee hee.

Recipes:
I’m writing up the recipes from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook.” She gives more detail than I do, and this book is seriously a huge help for some scary recipes. It even has step-by-step photos for some of the more complicated techniques. If you can’t buy it, or don’t own it, just swing by a bookstore and flip through some of the recipes for some great pointers.

Italian Meringue: From Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
2/3 c egg whites (4-5 egg whites)
pinch of salt
1/4 t cream of tartar
1 1/3c sugar
1/2c water

The eggs:
Beat the eggs slowly at first until they foam, and salt and cream of tartar and beat on medium-high until soft peaks form.

The sugar:
Meanwhile, you want to make the sugar syrup so it’s ready about the same time as the eggs. Heat the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved, then boil until it thickens to soft ball stage. Check it with a candy thermometer or by dropping a bit into cold water and checking that it’s soft when cool.

Slowly pour the sugar syrup into the eggs while the mixer is running on medium. Continue beating until stiff white peaks form.

Pastry cream: From Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”
Julia offers some variations. I’m writting up the recipe I made.
6 egg yolks
1/2c sugar
pinch of salt
1/2c flour
2c milk
1T vanilla
1T unsalted butter

Heat the milk. Whisk eggs, sugar and salt until lemon yellow in color. Whisk in flour. Slowly add the heated milk while whisking so the eggs don’t cook. Heat the whole mixture over medium until it boils. Whisk out any lumps that may form after it starts to boil, then you can switch to a spoon. Cook about 2 minutes to cook the flour. Pass through a sieve, then add the vanilla and butter. Allow to cool. Fold in one cup of the meringue. Technically this is called Creme Chiboust with the meringue in it, which lightens the custard and give it more hold.

Praline (pulverized toasted almond brittle): Scaled down from Julia Child’s “The Way to Cook”

1/2c blanched and slivered almonds, toasted in a pan on the stove
1/2c sugar
1/6c water

Boil the sugar and water until it starts to turn golden brown and caramel color. Leave it on the stove a few more seconds. Mix in the almonds and try to spread it out on an oiled baking sheet. Brittle is supposed to be thin, but if you’re pulverizing it anyway (I used a food processor), I doubt it really matters, as long as you can get it off the baking sheet. Julia suggests having a metal spoon and spatula on hand.

For the Chocolate Sauce and Glaze, I send you to the original recipe (link to come).

Thursday:

This day started with two genois cakes for my brother, and then the choux. The batter really did come together quite quickly. I pipped mini-size eclairs which were perfectly two-bite sizes. With the bit of choux left over, I made a few round eclair shells, too. I made two sheets of mini-eclair size, which each baked up very differently.

Choux pastry

The one on the left, with the crack down the middle, was baked on a heavy, thick pan, started on the lower shelf in the oven, and when turning pans and shifting shelves during baking, I set this pan down a little hard and it looked like it caused these choux shells to collapse a bit. They puffed up again beautifully in the last 8 minutes of cooking. The choux on the rest of that pan has beautiful cracks all over the place that really reminded me of eclairs.

The one on the right, with the very smooth top was baked on a thin pan, started on the upper shelf in the oven, and wasn’t jostled at all during the pan rotation. Every eclair on this pan had a similar smooth top with some cracks around the bottom where the choux touched the baking sheet. I ended up flipping these over to remove the bottom “pedestal” of the choux (which came away very cleanly) to coat with chocolate. You really can’t tell that these eclairs are upside down. In fact the few I didn’t flip kept tipping over with the heavy pastry cream.

I wish I knew a little more about how choux worked so I could figure out why this happened.

I took over the entire kitchen table to put these together.

Setup to glaze and fill choux

Setup to glaze and fill choux

The pastry cream kept very well in the fridge. The chocolate glaze was nearly solid when I took it out of the fridge, but a quick turn in the microwave on a very low power setting softened it right up. I folded the praline into some of the cream. Perhaps I folded in too much, or the damp day added some moisture to the praline, because the almond pastry cream lost a lot of it’s hold. Really, it was a runny mess… but a very tasty runny mess. The pastry cream on the other hand help up quite well in the choux. For the round choux, I just stick the tip of the pastry bag into the middle and filled up the puff with cream. I added some slivered almonds on top of the eclairs with the almond filling. I was having so much fun piping the custard I accidentally piped it into some intended for the almond pastry cream.

Filled and glazed choux

Filled and glazed choux

Photographing this was a lot of fun. I didn’t let anyone eat any of them until I had all my pictures… until the camera tipped over on it’s tripod and fell on two of the eclairs. Those were up for grabs. And thankfully none got on my lense!

Published in: on September 1, 2008 at 7:11 am  Comments (4)  
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Minty Brewed Chocolate

I was in the need of a post-dinner/study-break snack.  I’ve been on a health kick since I got back to school and needed something other than the ice cream or thin mints sitting in the freezer.  My roommate poked hear head in and handed me the last of her cup of mint tea, made with the chocolate mint I bought and planted a few weeks ago.  “Here’s what I like to do with mint!” she said.  I’ve lamented to hear that I don’t know what to do with the beautiful mint growing in a pot in our front yard!  I did find a tastespotting post that included mint in a fruit salad, and so cut a few fronds for dinner.  My roommate had used the rest of make her favorite minty treat, tea.  It was delicious, but not quenching my craving for a snack.  And so I trudged downstairs, hoping I would not be tempted by the Nutella or gingersnaps in the cupboard.

Then I ran across my jar of Brewed Chocolate.  Mint + chocolate = deliciousness.  And my oh my was it good!  I added a little more Brewed Chocolate than called for, let the mint leaves steep, and enjoyed.

As much as I enjoyed this new way to enjoy chocolate, I can’t wait to find out the new delicious ways to use it!

Published in: on August 26, 2008 at 9:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Brewed Chocolate

Caffeine has been a pretty important part of my first year in medical school. With so much information to learn, the better I could pay attention in lecture, the less time I had to spend reviewing material outside of class. Every morning I whipped up a cocoa-ccino at the coffee cart, stocked by student services with Swiss-Miss hot cocoa mix and sub-par coffee. I don’t like coffee to begin with. I do everything I can to cover over the bitter taste, and the coffee-cart coffee requires a lot of Swiss-Miss, delivering a bunch of calories that I could just do without.

I’m a week into my second year I’ve avoided the coffee cart so far. Perhaps I find neuroanatomy more stimulating that the orientation and statistics we had at the beginning of first year. It takes a lot of brain power to focus on every word that Dr. J says as he runs though his neuroanatomy lectures at hyper-drive. Or maybe I just caught up on sleep over summer break.

This summer I also took the time to delve into the food-blogging world, which has afforded me food photography lessons, a post on Tastespotting, and a jar of Brewed Chocolates won from Food Interviews. I am most excited about the Brewed Chocolate, a concentration of whole, raw brewed cocoa beans with a bit of sugar cane added, just add hot water. I inquired in a comment and was assured this Brewed Chocolate didn’t have the same bitterness of coffee and black tea. I couldn’t wait to try it.

My roommate and I tried it for the first time this morning. Because I heard it could be a stimulant or make you drowsy, I decided I would not try it on a school day lest I fall asleep in one of Dr. J’s lectures and end up behind for the rest of the course.

The first thing I did when the jar arrived was pop open the lid and smell it. It has a lovely subtle chocolate aroma. Nothing too bold like a new chocolate bar, but rather a lingering chocolate essence. A beautiful soft brown color, it rolls around in the jar like warm honey, not too viscous, but with some weight behind it. My favorite part of making the cups of brewed chocolate this morning was drizzling it into the hot water. It flowed in looking like molasses and held its shape as squiggly spaghetti in the bottom of the cup for just a moment before melding together into a little puddle of darkness. Much of the brewed chocolate clung to the spoon so I had a little taste. Chocolaty, but, much like the smell, better resembled the lingering taste of a fine dark chocolate on your palate than the first few munches on a whole chunk of the stuff.

I stirred it up and took a sip. I was expecting something bold like coffee (perhaps because I had just licked a bit off my finger) and felt a bit startled when it was nothing of the sort. My roommate commented it reminded her of tea. I took a few more sips with tea in mind and felt much less startled. It’s got a watery taste like many herbal teas with the chocolate flavor coming at the finish of each sip. The smidgen of sugar added the prefect sweetness.

As to how I felt half an hour after finishing my cup: not very different. My roommate didn’t notice much difference either. Perhaps a teaspoon of this chocolaty concentrate isn’t enough to have much effect. At least I didn’t fall asleep, so brewed chocolate is approved for morning lectures. And I plan to drink plenty of it as the months grow colder to warm me up in the morning. Thanks so much to Stef and Rob for the free taster. I’ll be back for more!

Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 5:51 pm  Comments (4)  
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On the side of the road

Big, plum, juicy, sweet blackberries

Big, plum, juicy, sweet blackberries

How delightful is it to run across wild blackberries on the side of the road? How about a cherry plum tree? I was visiting one of my best friends, A, in San Francisco when we took a trip to Muir Woods on a Sunday afternoon. The place was pretty packed, especially the parking lots, so we parked on the side of a twisty and windy road…right next to blackberry bushes. We already ate our fill at the farmer’s market that morning, but that didn’t stop us from picking a few handfuls. It reminded me of the blackberry bush my family discovered one summer in the back yard. It was a tasty few weeks of blackberries and ice cream, blackberry tarts, and purple fingers.

I’m just going to take a minute and tell you how much I love farmer’s markets. Not only do I get to support local growers, but there’s just a sea of fresh produce all over the place. This farmer’s market even had tasties (ya know, like the plates of cut up fruit and whot-not at the grocery store that qualifies as lunch on a Saturday. My boyfriend and I call those tasties). Ever single stall selling any peaches or plums had pieces cut up to try before you buy. Another stall was happy to let us taste the cherry tomatoes. One grower had a pile of chestnuts. I love chestnuts, but I only ever see them in the fall. This grower handed us each a big plump, juicy and sweet blackberry as he explained he kept his chestnuts in cold storage and sold them all summer until he ran out. We chatted for a bit with this nice gentleman, who also fed us these delectable little plums: “Cherry plums, you know, like from the Nutcracker, ‘Cherry Plum Fairies.’ I guess they’re Sugar Plum Fairies, actually.” These plums may well have been called sugar plums, they were so so sweet!

Wild cherry plums, so sweet!

Wild cherry plums, so sweet!

If A and I hadn’t stopped at this stall, we wouldn’t have know what to call the tree that stood right next to the blackberry bush, the one we didn’t notice until we got back after the hike around Muir Woods. We were running late to pick up my boyfriend in the city, so we gathered as many as we could off the tree and tossed them into the cup holder in the car, eating them as we drove along.

Since I’m hoping to post these photos to a food porn website, I feel like I should provide a recipe. I think I’ll go with the mixed berry pie I made a few weeks before we left. After all, it did contain blackberries (but not plums). I used frozen blackberries, raspberries and blueberries because that what I could find. I mashed up the berries a bit with a potato masher, just so I could fit more in the pie. Use any combination you want (I’m sure the plums would have been a lovely addition), just make sure it only goes up to the level of the crust, but not over. Otherwise, there will be a big mess in your oven 45 minutes into baking.

One quart of mixed fruit, mashed a little.
1/2 c sugar (white or raw)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2T flour
Dash of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Mix all ingredients, pour into a pie crust (recipe and pointers here), drape strips of pie crust over the top to make a lattice. Brush top with a beaten egg. Bake at 350 until bubbling in the middle.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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Almond Tuile Cannoli: Batch 2 of the tuile and filling.

Cannoli with Almond Tuile (batch 2 foreground, batch 1 background)

Cannoli with Almond Tuile (batch 2 foreground, batch 1 background)

Our Italian dinner party was quite a success, and my cannoli were voted tastier than those a guest bought from the fancy grocery store in town. I was surprised, however, to find that my first thrown-together batch of tuile was much tastier than the second. Better in all accounts, in fact, except perhaps aesthetics, but that’s easily debatable.

To recap, Friday I made this batch: tasty batter, crispy tuile, but they stuck to the parchment paper and were hard to fold. Saturday I messed around with a few ingredients (used two egg whites, found almond meal at the grocery store without the large chunks my food processor leaves behind, and replaced half the almond meal with more flour, I also saved 1 tablespoon to add later for adjusting the consistency). I have to say, the batter wasn’t as tasty, the tuile not as crunchy, but the batter was much easier to spread on the baking sheet and roll around spoon handles.  The second batch didn’t stick at all to the parchment paper, and so I baked them less, trying to make a beautiful, all-white cannoli roll.  The cannoli with some browned edges were crunchier than the all-white ones, so perhaps I didn’t bake them long enough to have the perfect crisp.  I’m not sure how to balance even browning and crispness. In any case, I think I will stick to batch 1, as tastiness never fails!

Lastly, filling the cannoli.  You really need a pastry bag or a plastic bag with the corner cut off to pipe the filling into the tuile tubes. I bought myself a little set of pastry tips (which I’ve been meaning to get for a while) just for this occasion.  Add the filling just before serving, and sprinkle with any variety of confections: powdered sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, or chopped candied fruit.

Almond Tuile: Recipe #2

1/4 c. almonds meal
1/2 c. (save 1T) all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
2 egg whites
5 T. melted butter
1/4 t. almond extract

Preheat oven to 325. Whisk together the almond, flour, sugar, and salt. Beat in the egg whites, butter, and almond extract until smooth.  Add in the saved tablespoon of flour if the batter seems too liquidy.  My batter dropped off the whisk in large plops.  Drop a rounded teaspoon size onto parchment paper and spread out with the back of the spoon to make a 3-4in diameter circle. Bake 6-8 minutes, until edges just start to show a hit of brown.  Thinking about it now, you might be able to leave them in just a bit longer, as long as you are ready to roll them as soon as they get out of the oven.  Something to try another time.

Immediately after removing from the oven, form over desired kitchen object and leave to cool for about 1 minute. If the tuile gets too hard, pop it back in the oven for about 30 seconds to soften. Let formed tuile cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Cannoli Filling:

8-9 oz ricotta, as fresh as possible and drained of any extra juices.  I found some locally made goat cheese ricotta.
8 oz marscapone.  This cheese I could only find from commercial brands.
1/2 c sugar
1 t Vanilla
zest of 1/2 lemon

Mash everything together, adjust sugar to taste.  Other recipes call just for ricotta, some for half as much Marscapone, others for twice as much sugar.  I almost thought I added too much sugar, so I suggest starting the sugar at a 1:4 ratio with the cheese, or even less, and add more to taste.  

Just to let you know, this was not enough filling to fill the two batches of tuile I made.  It probably is enough for one-and-a-half batches (again, I was snacking on the filling).  Both shells and filling are tasty on their own, so in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 7:39 pm  Comments (8)  
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