Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valentine's Day

We don't really celebrate Valentine's day. Well, my kids certainly do. Every year we go out to the store and pick the just right box of valentine's and some accompanying candy for them to share with their classmates. This year, however, my son is in junior high, and well, it's just not done anymore....not cool. We also give our kids a little Valentine, something small that they are really fond of, a book, a webkinz, a CD.....that kind of thing. I always wrap them, decorate the breakfast table the night before with Valentine finery (i.e. themed paper plates and napkins) and place the small gift at their place. I love how excited they get about seeing something in the morning. It is a very little ritual, but fun nonetheless. We don't really go for the romantic version of Valentine's day though. But seems to me it can serve as an excuse to celebrate something in one form or another, so this year we invited another family to join us for dinner. I decided to make the Pappardelle with Bolognese out of Mario Batali's Babbo cookbook. It looked delicious, and I love Bolognese sauces! Mario Batali's version is the meatiest and least saucy version I have ever made. It calls for pork, veal and bacon (how bad can that be?!!), and I made it as the recipe suggested. However, I really have a hard time consuming veal for all the possible reasons. Next time I think I will try it with ground turkey instead. I also added chicken stock to the dish because the liquid called for didn't seem like nearly enough to me for the length of cooking time. It was really very yummy. The pappardelle I used I bought, but you can make your own if you want to. I love pappardelle because it is so silky in texture. It is a really nice change from regular pasta and the light yellow hue to it from the egg is pretty on the plate.

As is always the case with me, I put a lot more effort into dessert than I do the main course. For this meal, I was inspired to make a double mousse concotion with a base of chocolate cake. The first layer is a milk chocolate mousse that I lifted from Cannelle et Vanille (thanks Aran!), and the second is a caramel mousse that I used in my pastry shop years ago in Southern California. I don't make it very often anymore because when I make it I want to eat it all. Turns out that now holds true for this milk chocolate mousse, too. Heavenly doesn't even begin to describe it. Eating all the mousse by myself is not such a good idea after 40. Luckily I had some help for Valentine's day which my hips will thank me for later! I made individual desserts because it's like having your own little present. I covered them with ganache and decorated each one with a diminutive caramel-bittersweet chocolate truffle, a chocolate shard/fan-ish decoration and a tiny piece of edible gold leaf. I took a picture of my sample and it will hopefully appear here soon (I am technologically challenged, I'm afraid)! Everything was really scrumptious and I enjoyed making all of it. I told my guests there was so much love in everything that there was no room left for any calories! One can wish......

Babbo's Bolognese Sauce
adapted from the Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali

1/4 c. olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, sliced
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
4 oz. slab bacon, ground
1 can tomato paste (6 oz)
1 c. milk
1 c. dry white wine
1 c . chicken stock
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stemmed
kosher salt and black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a heavy duty Dutch oven or stock pot. Stir in carrots, celery, onion and garlic. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until transluscent, about 5-10 minutes.
2. Crumble veal, pork and bacon into stock pot and cook over high heat, stirring to prevent sticking and to break up large lumps, until browned.
3. Reduce heat to medium and add in all liquids, tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until done. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.
4. Serve tossed with cooked and drained pappardelle, passing grated parmesan on the side.

Chocolate Cake
This is a very moist and easy cake. You'll use it again and again.

2 c + 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. + 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
2 eggs
1 c. milk
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 c. canola oil
1 c. boiling water
1/8 tsp instant espresso powder

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a half sheet pan (12 x18") with parchment paper. Spray with PAM.
3. Into the bowl of your mixer, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, baking powder and soda.
4. Whisk together eggs, oil and vanilla.
5. Turn mixer on low speed and mix dry ingredients for 30 seconds.
6. With mixer still on low, pour wet ingredients into dry. Mix for 30 seconds on low. Scrape down bowl and continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes.
7. Dissolve espresso powder into boiling water. Pour into batter. Stir gently with a rubber spatula until just combined.
8. Pour batter into shalf sheet pan.
9. Bake about 15 -17 minutes or just until a few moist crumbs cling to a skewer inserted into middle of cake. Do not over-bake.
10. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Milk Chocolate Mousse
I doubled the pate a bombe recipe and 5x'd the recipe for the milk chocolate mousse to make about 12 individual desserts

Caramel Mousse

1 Tbsp gelatin Powder
3 oz. water
10 ounces granulated sugar
3 pinches kosher salt
4 ounces water
12 oz. heavy cream, heated to hot, but not boiling
6 ounces sour cream
28 oz. heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Bloom gelatin powder in 3 ounces of water. Set aside.
2. Combine 10 oz. sugar with 4 oz water in a medium saucepan. Stir once or twice to moisten sugar.
3.Place pan over medium heat and cook until sugar is medium amber in color, wiping down sides of pan with wet pastry brush as needed and swirling pan gently to "Stir".
4. When sugar is caramelized to right color, remove from heat and slowly pour in hot cream. It will bubble up like mad, so be safe. Return pan to low heat until caramel and cream are smooth and well combined,
5. Remove pan from heat and stir in salt, vanilla, and gelatin mixture. Whisk smooth. Pour into a heat proof bowl to cool completely, stirring from time to time.
6. Meanwhile whip remaining cream and sour cream to medium peaks.
7. Fold 1/3 of whipped cream into cooled caramel mixture. Fold in remaining cream.

Chocolate Caramel Ganache
You'll want to make this a day or 2 before you need it.

3 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp water
6 ounces semi or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
tiny pinch salt
4 ounces heavy cream

1. Combine sugar and water in small saucepan and caramelize mixture to a medium amber.
2. Heat cream to boiling. pour half of cream carefully into caramelized sugar. Return pan to low heat until caramel is completely melted and smooth; add salt.
3. Pour hot caramel mixture over chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Pour in rest of hot cream. Let sit a few minutes and then gently stir until smooth.
4. Place plastic wrap directly on surface of ganache and let sit at room temp over night.
5. The next day, pipe small balls of ganache onto parchment -lined tray (it will make a lot more than you'll need....not a bad thing). Refrigerate to firm up.
6. Before using, roll balls by hand into more uniform ball shape, roll in cocoa powder, shaking off excess.
Ganache for coating
Finely chop 16 oz semi-sweet chocolate. Place in heat-proof bowl. Bring 16 oz heavy cream to a boil. pour boiling cream over chocolate. Let sit 1 minute, then gently stir with a rubber spatula until completely blended. Let cool somewhat before using.

Assembling the Dessert:
1. Place ring molds into cake (I used washed and dried 7 oz.canned mushroom cans)
2. Fill each ring halfway with milk chocolate mousse
3. Freeze tray while making caramel mousse
4. Top off each ring mold with caramel mousse; smooth tops and freeze.
5. Early in the day, remove dessert from ring molds; coat with regular ganache, covering all exposed areas evenly. Make sure ganache is able to flow easily but it shouldn't be so hot that it melts dessert and fall off.
6. Decorate desserts as you wish.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What's for Dinner?

I love to cook. It is really one of my most favorite things to do, and yet, I still struggle regularly to come up with or plan for something good to have for dinner. Today it was more about not planning because my freezer and cupboards are full of possibilities. As 3:30 approached and I realized I had to take my kids to piano lessons and have something ready for us when we got home, I went into panic mode! I started to rummage through the freezer to see what I could pair with what and have it be done really quickly. I wanted to simply re-heat it when we got home. My first useful find was some ground beef. I could thaw that quickly enough, but then the real treasure appeared...stewed zucchini! My friend, and the best cook I know, HRH the Queen, made that for me. I thought I'd already used it all up, but there it was, one quart bag full of her amazing creation! HRH worked with me for almost all of my 5 years in business. Then she upped and moved to Michigan last spring and now I don't get any of her good cooking anymore. So sad for me. Even my daughter refers to her as THE best cooker! So to discover the stewed zucchini was a great surprise. I had to now think of something to make that would combine these two frozen pucks of food . My first thought was to make a soup using the zucchini as the vegetables and adding seasoned ground beef for a little more heft. I thawed everything using the microwave, which surprisingly worked out well. I usually end up with partially cooked meat when I try this, but today the microwave god was on my side. As the zucchini was thawing I browned the ground beef in my Dutch oven and seasoned it with Emerils' essence to taste. It has cayenne pepper, oregano, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and more in it. It is pretty savory and kind of brought in the flavor of the Queen's zucchini (which we actually refer to as Zippy Zucchini because she has quite the hand when it comes to spicing things up). HRH has been making this as long as I have known her, and I have been trying to get the recipe just as long. She told me most of it, but being the intuitive cook that she is, she never measures and never makes it the same way twice!

Once the beef was browned and the zucchini thawed, I stirred it all together in my pot. At this point I debated going the next step of making it into soup. I tasted it and it was pretty fine, which made me think maybe I should just serve it over noodles or rice as is. I brought in a second opinion, my pre-teen son, and he liked it as is, too. So we decided to serve it over fat egg noodles. The end result was like a latin-inspired Bolognese and it really hit the spot.

In the summer, I would eat the Queen's Zippy Zucchini as a meal in itself. If it didn't turn out too spicy my kids would also gobble it up. It has onions, tomatoes, yellow summer squash and green zucchini in it. Sometimes it has corn, sometimes it has stewed tomatoes, sometimes it has diced tomatoes. It always has fire-roasted chili peppers in it and a little chicken broth. The Queen likes it pretty spicy. Big Jim's work well, but so would any. Sometimes she sprinkles in shredded parm which I love. Armed with that information I tried to duplicate what I had tasted of her's. The results were mediocre. About a year after my effort, I discovered she had some secret ingredients. I only discovered them because she was making a batch at work in my kitchen one day. Her arsenal contained el Pato jalapeno salsa and Tabasco seasoning salt. Well, the tabasco seasoning salt isn't even made anymore, but somehow she has bottles of it in her stash. The El pato salsa might not be readily available everywhere. I don't even know if she can get her hands on it in Michigan anymore! I'd love to give you the recipe, but it just doesn't exist. The best I could tell you is to think ratatouille with a latin twist! Oh, but don't use any eggplant. Forget the bell peppers, too. Use corn or don't.....You just have to wing it, but whatever you do, try to include the el Pato Jalapeno salsa.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Meyer Lemon Tart

I have been on the look out for Meyer lemons since reading earlier posts on Canelle et Vanille and Tartelette (please be sure to visit them if you love pastry and beautiful food images). Their desserts are so fabulous that whatever they make I find myself wanting to use at least some element of their work. Last week I was at my local Whole Foods and lo and behold, they had a stack of bagged Meyer lemons! So I bought 2 bags as they were not at all expensive. In the meantime I had borrowed Sunday Supper at Lucques by Suzanne Goin from my library. In it she included a recipe for her favorite Meyer lemon tart. So with Meyer lemons in hand I set out to make her tart.

Meyer lemons are small and not as thick skinned as the more familiar Eureka lemons. They have a floral fragrance that has hints of tangerine in it. The smell is heavenly really. The flavor is slightly sweeter than that of a regular lemon, too.

I got to work cooking the lemon curd according to her recipes. I tasted it as I went, as any good cook would (ha!). The flavor was so bright and delicious. I was very eager to taste the final product. As is normal with lemon curds, cold butter is whisked in at the end to help it thicken and hold its shape. This recipe called for 10 tablespoons. After a few minutes of cooling, the recipe instructed me to pour the curd into a tart crust painted with dark chocolate. I know this sounds unusual, but the lemon-dark chocolate combination is excellent actually. Everything about this recipe turned out very well except the end flavor. All the butter turned the once bright and sparkling flavor of the curd into a flat and disappointing filling. I would very much like to try and remedy this to let the flavor nuances of the Meyer lemons shine through as they should. So perhaps I will continue to experiment. You might look the recipe up yourself to see what you think, taste being the subjective matter it is. In the meantime, my "go to" lemon curd is still my favorite. It is very bright and quite lemony, perhaps bracing to some, but I adore it's bold flavor. Here is the recipe.

LB's Lemon Curd

3 large eggs
3 large egg yolk
zest of 2 lemons
1 c. (8 ounces) fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 c. + 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. cold, unsalted butter (1 ounce), cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces good quality white chocolate (Callebaut, Valrhona, Lindt, etc), chopped

1. In an heavy bottomed saucepan, whisk together eggs and yolks.
2. Gradually whisk in sugar, then juice and zest.
3. Place pan over medium heat and cook lemon mixture, whisking constantly, until light and thickened.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in butter and white chocolate.
5. Strain into a pre-baked tart shell or into a bowl. If in a bowl, place plastic wrap directly on curd and pierce in 2 or 3 places with tip of a sharp knife to allow some heat to escape.
6. Chill completely before serving and store in refrigerator.

note: Refrigerated lemon curd can be dolloped on top of slices of pound or angel food cake, topped with fresh berries. You can gently fold whipped cream into it to make a mousse. You can eat it with a spoon or use it as a filling for cakes, too.