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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Birthday Cake

It’s my brother’s birthday today.  He wanted a genois cake with buttercream frosting so I’ve spent my few days home before I return to school making the cake.  The frosting turned out very well.  We’re a family that loves buttercream and have make Martha Steward’s recipe many many times.  This time we decided we’d try Julia Child’s version.  And I decided I’d play around with cake decorating.

Starting with the cake: Genois cakes are supposed to be very light, almost a yellow sponge.  I’ve made this cake a number of times, and messed it up almost as many times.  This cake was unfortunately one of those times.  The top layer I beat the eggs too long and they became too stiff.  It made the cake very hard compared to the soft and fluffy texture I was going for.  Mom teasted me it was like a disk we could throw around.  The second layer I think I didn’t beat the eggs long enough… but I certainly didn’t cook it long enough.  Some of the batter congealed during cooling, leave a distinct horizontal line in the cake when I cooked it.  The cake above this line was quite perfect, but that’s all I can say for the cake.

The frosting on the other hand was quite delicious.  It called for much less butter than we’ve every used, leaving most of the volume to the Italian meringue.  I made it the day before, and it needed a bit of beating to smooth it out before I put it on the cake.  I colored it green and then started playing with all my icing tips.  I made my first frosting roses, which came out quite pretty in photo.  If you look closely you can see how ruff they are around the edges.  I think the frosting was a bit soft.  I look forward to trying again.

All recipes came from “The Way to Cook” by Julia Child.  I’ll post them here soon.

Published in: on August 8, 2008 at 7:19 pm  Comments (1)  

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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Almond Tuile Cannoli: Batch 1 of the tuile

Batch 1

Almond Tuile: Recipe 1

My boyfriend and I are having an Italian themed dinner party for my last weekend in Texas. Immediately I though, “I can make cannoli!” Then I read a bit about how they’re made. The filling looks incredibly easy, mix some ricotta, maybe a little mascarpone, add a bit of sugar and vanilla, et voila! I even considered making it harder by curdling my own ricotta. Perhaps another time. And then I read how to make the shell…lots of mixing, rolling, and DEEP FRYING?!? I had no idea! It sounded like too much work for an afternoon with many other preparations… nor would my boyfriend like the idea of a vat of hot oil smoking up his loft (as our steaks and burgers do on the stove-top grill pan). So I am substituting almond tuiles (baked, not fried), and I’m sure it will be a lovely combination (readers with Italian heritage, please don’t shoot me!).

First batch of tuiles are in the oven (2nd sheet of them, as I write) and I’m already running into trouble. I tried making these once before, but did not have almond meal at the time, so I substituted with an equal portion of flour. The batter was too thick and hard to spread. Next time, I told myself, I would make it thiner and add the almonds! Perhaps not quite as I had planned. First the food processor won’t chop the almonds up finely enough. And I guess I forgot how thick the batter was last time, and made it just as thick this time. Oh, and I only had one egg left, so I just used that instead of two whites.

…Quick break to take sheet 2 out of the oven!…

First of all, the batter is immensely tasty. I probably ate a third of it as spoon-fulls of batter bypassed the oven and went straight to my tummy. So buttery and creamy with little chewy chunks of almond tickle my tongue. YUM!

I can’t quite say the same for the baking. Instead of remaining smooth and flat on the baking sheet, these tuiles puffed up, leaving little pot-marks of almond chunks behind. And they stuck to the parchment paper (excuse me! what sticks to parchment paper?!?). So after wrestling the tuiles with my spatula (which needed frequent cleaning as little bits of undercooked tuile stuck to the edge…also tasty cooked!), I managed to break one (one needed to be sacrificed to the taste testing gods anyway), and form three cannoli tubes. The tubes were a bit bigger than I wanted, and I was quickly running out of batter (I wonder why?), so I began making small disks, figuring I could at least be creative with the tuile. Some I simply folded over serving spoon handles, others I turned into little dishes on the spherical handle of our little rolling pin. In any case I have a nice array about about 20 vehicles for the yummy cheese filling I’ll be making tomorrow. I think I’m buy some chocolate chips for decorations.

Batch 2 will be made this afternoon. I plan to use the two whites. I’m also going to swap the potions of almond and flour, and try to make sure my almond is very fine. And in adding the flour, I’ll save a few tablespoons to add in later as I adjust the consistency.

Almond Tuile: Recipe #1:

Modified from Food and Paper.

Without snacking, recipe might make 10-15 cannoli, or 20-30 disks to shape over any rounded surface you can find. Be creative.

1/2 c. almonds meal (or blanched almonds processed in your own food processor)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 t. salt
1 egg (I was supposed to use 2 egg whites)
5 T. melted butter
1/4 t. almond extract

…I should mention I was actually a little sloppy in my measuring. After the first sheet came out of the oven and I realized I would be running out of batter, I added an extra 2T of melted butter in hopes to stretch my batter a little further.

Preheat oven to 325. Whisk together the almond, flour, sugar, and salt. Beat in the egg (or whites), butter, and almond extract until smooth. Drop a rounded teaspoon size onto parchment paper and spread out with the back of the spoon to make a 4in diameter circle. For the small disks, I used one teaspoon of batter, even, and let the heat of the oven (and the hot pan I didn’t cool between bakings) spread out the batter. Bake 8-10 minutes. I didn’t use a timer because my boyfriend was taking a nap, and I didn’t want to wake him. Instead I carefully watched the tuiles and took them out when the edges started to brown.

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.

UPDATE: my post made it to Food Gawker and Tastespotting! I’m so proud of myself. Yay to improving photography skills!

Published in: on July 19, 2008 at 2:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Spinach Soup

My boyfriend made spinach soup for dinner. We enjoyed this very healthy soup, and it used up some spinach that wilted in the fridge over our weekend-away. It had a lovely color; however, we both felt that something was lacking in either the flavor or texture or both. I would have said add some butter (my English roots are showing through), but I’d really like to find a healthy addition to this recipe.

I did try a few things to spruce it up. My first though was to add some crusty bread to this smooth soup, so I toasted a few slice of baguette. Dipped in, it added a nice crunchy texture. The consistency was quite watery, and I almost felt like I could drink it out of a glass. My boyfriend mentioned he may not have reduced it enough. I also felt it lacked a bite, so I added some sharp shredded parmesan cheese. This certainly added a little extra salt the soup may have needed, and, well, cheese makes almost anything better. At the end of my bowl I found a morsel of unblended potato, which added a lovely little bit of texture to sink my teeth into, so next time we may save some chunks of potato from the blending step.

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough experience in the soup department to figure out exactly what this soup needs, and so I’m looking for suggestions from the soup experts out there.  I would greatly appreciate it.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 11:08 pm  Comments (2)  
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Apple pie

Mummy makes more apple pies than any other pie. It might be Dad’s favorite. I made this pie at the begging of my boyfriend who wanted to learn to make pie crust (those are his hands on this page). He loves fruit pies. I think this is a fantastic pie for any season. Traditionally, Mummy uses mackintosh apples, but you could use a sweeter or tarter apple to your taste.

Ingredients:

Pie crust

Filling: Now, I should say these are all rough estimates. You can play around with the amounts all you want for a big pie, small pie, sweet pie, tart pie, and whatever you can imagine for spices. I’ve listed what I used this weekend, which my boyfriend found to be a little sweet. My sweettooth thought it was perfect.

8-10 apples, peeled and chopped. You really can use a lot of apples. It’s great if this pie is piled high.

1/3 c brown sugar

1/3 c white sugar

1/2 T butter

2 T flour

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

1/4 t allspice

Directions:

1) Make the crust.

2) Mix all the fillings and pile them in the pie crust. Seriously, I could have added a bunch more to this pie:

3) Cover with the other half of the pie crust, flute the edges to seal together (see the pictures above). Poke a few holes in the top to let the steam out during baking

4) Bake at 350 for 45-60 min, until crust is golden. This pie has a tendency to leak and spill over, making a big mess on the bottom of the oven. Check it at 45 minutes (or when you smell burning), and slide a cookie sheet underneath it to catch any drips.

5) Serve with some vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 10:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie…a little taste of family

This is my family recipe for strawberry cream cheese pie. I think it’s my grandma who brought it to the family. I imagine it’s something from her childhood. It’s certainly a taste of my childhood and the family trips to visit my grandparents and aunts and uncles during summer vacation. My grandma would make many of these pies while we visited and it hit the spot on a warm summer evening.

Ingredients:

One pie crust, preferably handmade

8 oz cream cheese

1 lb strawberries, roughly

For the sauce:

3-4 more strawberries, chopped small

1/2 c sugar

2 T water

Directions:

1) Make/buy pie a pie crust. If you have a lot of people to feed, I suggest making this in a large tart pan. Use a fork and poke holes in the bottom so it won’t bubble too much and bake at about 350 for 20 or 30 minutes, until just starting to turn golden brown. Let cool completely

2) Let the cream cheese come to room temperature and spread it in the bottom of the pie.

3) Cut the tops of the strawberries and place in the cream cheese all pointing up. Or if you have a large pan, cut the strawberries in half and lay them in a pretty pattern in the cream cheese, cut side down. Make sure everything is close together, it can be a bit of a puzzle.

4) For the sauce, put the chopped strawberries, sugar, and water in a pan and cook over medium heat. Let it come to a bubble and reduce for a few minutes, until the strawberries start to wilt. If the syrup seems too thick, add a little more water. Pour the syrup evenly over the pie, and enjoy!

Photos by bhbryant.

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 10:22 pm  Comments (2)  
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Pie Crust

This past weekend I made two pies: Strawberry cream cheese pie and Apple pie. The best place to start with any pie is with a fabulous pie crust, such as the one that my mother is known for. She and my grandmother are always comparing pie crust recipes, tweaking them, and making wonderfully flaky, buttery crusts. So here is their recipe with a few pointers to always remember. Sorry I don’t have more photos, but I’ll work on step-by-step pictures when I make a blueberry pie later this summer.

Ingredients (enough for a covered pie, halve the recipe if you’re making an open face pie):

3c flour

18T butter

1/2 t salt (if butter is unsalted)

1/4-1/2c cold water

Directions:

1) The MOST IMPORTANT thing to remember when making pie crust is that everything must be COLD. Mummy can not emphasize that enough. The butter should be straight out of the refrigerator and the water ice cold.

2) Combine flour and salt (if using) in a large bowl

3) Cut the butter into small chunks and cut into the flour until it’s the consistency of oatmeal. I like to use my hands, pinching at the chunks of butter. Mummy says the warmth from your hands adds just the right amount of heat to the butter so the crust is easy to roll out. You can also combine the flour and butter in a food processor until the butter is the size of small peas. In either case, work quickly so the butter doesn’t get too soft, especially if you’re working in a warm kitchen.

4) Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cold water, just enough to bring the flour/butter all together. The exact amount really will vary every time you make pie crust. If the dough becomes very stick you’ve added too much and it would be troublesome to roll out. Keep going, but remember to add less next time, bit by bit.

5) Separate the dough in two. If it’s cold enough, you can roll it out right now. If the butter looks like it’s melting, pat each half into a large circle, wrap in saran warp, and put it in the refrigerator for 1 hour. The best way to roll it out is between pieces of saran wrap. There will be very little mess at the end, and no worry of crust sticking to the counter top. I usually put two on the counter, and use a third on top, moving it around to the areas of dough I’m rolling out.

6) Roll the crust is 1/8-1/4 inch (3mm) thick, fold it in half, peel away the saran wrap, and lift on to a pie or tart plate lining the fold up with the center, unfold and gently press the crust into all the corners, being careful not to stretch the crust.

7) Add your favorite filling, roll out the top crust and lay it on top. Press the layers together with a fork or make a fluted edge by pinching crust between your fingers (a picture will be better than words here). Poke a few air vents in the top crust and bake until golden brown (350 degrees for about 1 hour should be fine).

Photos by bhbryant.

Published in: on June 16, 2008 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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