Friday, February 27, 2009

French Apple Tarts

I visited friends in Barcelona and in Toulouse the spring of 2007. We took a day trip to Carcassonne, France, a fortified city that now plays hosts to many, many tourists. The city is filled with delightful gelaterie and patisserie. I spent more time looking at the food than the fort.

One of my favorite items was a small apple tartlet.

I am attempting to recreate the patisserie's apple tart (I have a lot of apples laying around my place). My recipe makes 1 9-inch tart; to make smaller tarts, adjust cooking time accordingly.

This tart has a sweet pastry crust, apple and custard filling and an apricot glaze. Yum.

The Ingredients:

1 prepared (baked) sweet pastry crust (I don't have this on my site-but many others do. Check one out at Life by Chocolate.

For Apple Mixture:
3-4 large apples
2-5 tablespoons sugar (for tart apples, use more, for sweeter, use less...add some to your apple mixture and adjust accordingly)
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons lemon juice

For Custard:
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup light cream or half&half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple brandy (Calvados)

For Apricot Glaze:
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/2 tablespoon Calvados

Wash, core and peel apples. Cut into thin (1/4 inch thick) slices. Top with lemon juice, cinnamon, 1 tablespoon sugar and butter. Taste, and add more sugar if needed. Let sit 30 minutes. Drain excess liquid into bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the half-and-half until it just starts to boil and the cream foams up. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl whisk the flour and 1/3 cup sugar together. Mix in the eggs and stir to make a smooth paste

Gradually whisk into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Whisk in the Calvados, vanilla extract and extra liquid from apples (if you have a lot, just add 1/4 cup or so). Set this mixture aside while you prepare the apples.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange the apple wedges in concentric circles on top of the cooled and glazed tart shell. Carefully pour the custard over the apples to just below the top of the tart pan (do not fill all the way or the custard will drip between the crust and the pan).

Place tart pan on a larger baking sheet in middle oven rack. (This will catch any spills and will make it easier to remove from oven) Bake for about 25-30 minute, until the custard has set.

After putting tart into oven, heat up apricot preserves in small saucepan. When they begin to boil, remove from heat and stir in the 1/2 tablespoon of Calvados.

Lightly spread apricot glaze over the tart about 5 minuts before it is done baking. Turn to broil and caramelize glaze. You can cover the crust with aluminum foil to prevent it from getting too brown.

Let the tart cool on wire rack.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Seafood Paella

Ingredients:
5 cups chicken stock

1 large pinch of saffron, pulverized

5 tablespoons Spanish olive oil

10 prawns or jumbo shrimp, heads and shells removed & deveined (about 1/2 lb)

18 medium shrimp, heads and shells removed & deveined (about 1/2 lb)

16 medium sea scallops, rinsed well and tough muscle part removed

12 garlic cloves, minced

2 large, ripe tomatoes, grated (or a 14 oz can diced tomatoes if necessary)

2 teaspoons pimenton (sweet Spanish paprika)

1 3/4 cups medium grain rice

1/3 cup minced parsley
Coarse sea salt

2 lemons, cut into wedges for serving


Heat up chicken stock in large sauce pot. Add saffron threads and maintain at a simmer.


Heat up 1/2 of the olive oil in 16 inch paella pan until smoking. Sear scallops on both sides, turning down the heat if they brown to quickly, cooking the scallops about 3 minutes in total.
Remove scallops from pan.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook the garlic about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and turn down heat to low. Add the sweet paprika and cook about 7 minutes. The sauce should look thicker.

Preheat oven to 425.

Add rice to the paella pan and mix in with tomato mixture.

Pour in 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and mix everything together.

Turn burner to medium heat and stir in parsley. Cook 8-10 minutes, making sure to move the pan around so that it all receives heat. If it looks like it is drying out, add more stock.


Bake paella pan in oven for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, mix in scallops and partially cover. Let stand for 10 minutes.


Heat up remaining olive oil in large saute pan. Saute the shrimp and prawns 3-4 minutes, until pink and cooked through. Mix shrimp into paella.


Slice each lemon into 6 wedges and arrange around paella pan. Arrange prawns on top of paella to serve.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Did You Just Call Me!? La Puttanesca aka Pasta alla Roxanne


So yes, I am stealing from The Police for my title. (And I don't care if it's wrong or if it's right).

What an awful name for sauce: "la puttanesca," which means "lady of the night" or "hooker" (I fear blogger and Foodbuzz would object to a more literal translation). According to one story, the name purportedly comes from the fact that the intense fragrance of this sauce was like a siren's call to the men who visited such "ladies of pleasure." There are many amusing variations to story of the puttanesca sauce's origins.

I must admit that I am varying a bit from the traditional recipe, but to me, pasta with olives and tomatoes always reminds me of this racy sauce.


My Ingredients (as they do not comprise a traditional recipe, but do comprise a yummy one):

1 recipe oven roasted tomatoes
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup pitted & chopped Kalamata (black) olives
2 teaspoons dried basil (if using fresh, use 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon dried parsley (if using fresh use 2 tablespoons)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 lb pasta (I like to use something like fettuccine or linguine)


Heat up 2 tablespoon olive oil in large saute pan over medium high heat. Add minced garlic and turn to medium, stirring so that garlic does not brown (take off heat if it starts to brown). Add red pepper flakes and spices(if using fresh herbs, mince and add with olive pieces). Cook about 5 minutes. Add oven roasted tomatoes and balsamic and cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in olive pieces.

Cook pasta per directions. Drain and toss with remaining olive oil and ricotta cheese. Stir in tomato mixture and serve.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Slow Roasted Tomatoes


Oven roasting at a low heat for several hours caramelizes tomatoes; even out of season, this method results in a sweet, juicy topping for bruschetta, roasted tomatoes for pastas, pizza and in salads. I like to do a bunch at one time, then use them throughout the week for a quick & tasty meal.

Ingredients:
1 pint grape tomatoes
(I use vine-ripened when in season)

3 heads garlic

2 tablespoons Parmesan

Olive oil

Basil

Pepper

Salt


Preheat oven to 250.


Rinse tomatoes and slice vertically (from stem spot to bottom). Place skin-side down in roasting pan. Drizzle olive
oil over tomatoes. Mince garlic and sprinkle over tomatoes. Lightly salt and pepper tomatoes.

Cook in oven 2 hours, every 30 minutes or so, use a spatula to prevent tomatoes from sticking to pan.


Sprinkle basil and Parmesan over tomatoes. Cook additional hour. (If you have access to good fresh basil, wait until tomatoes are done cooking to add basil).

Remove from
oven. Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spicy Shredded Beef


I love my Mom's hot, shredded beef sandwiches. (So much that I often forgo the bun in order to fit more meat in my stomach).

They are ridiculously easy to prepare and cheap. I got a 4 lb bottom roast for about 8 dollars, canned peppers for 1.50, garlic for .50, rolls for 1.50 and already had beer, spices and onions at home. So all in all this recipe costs about 13 bucks. And it feeds a small army. After cooking, I should have about 3+ pounds of shredded beef, or about 8 sandwiches.


Ingredients:
4 lb beef roast (look for pot roast or oven roast on
the label-or it should say bottom cut or chuck)
1 bottle beer (I am using a lager)

1 onion, diced
1 small head garlic, minced
1 small can diced green chilies
1 small can sliced jalapenos
1/4-1/3 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt, to taste
Olive oil
Dinner rolls

Preheat oven to 275.

Heat up olive oil in large saute pan over medium high heat. Sear/brown beef on all sides. This browning adds a deeper flavor to the beef. Remove and place in deep oven dish. Pour beer over beef. Add peppers, onion, garlic, soy sauce and spices. Cover with aluminum foil or a baking dish cover.

Cook until meat registers an internal temperature of about 110 or a little more. The meat should fall apart easily when pulling with a fork. The importance of cooking cheaper cuts at a low temperature, is that it does not evaporate their juices, which would both dry the meat and as a result you would lose mass. A low temperature also breaks down the tough collagen into a gelatinous state, rendering the meat moist and tender.


Turn oven up to 500 to further brown the outside of the meat, this occurs quickly, in about 10 to 15 minutes, as the slow cooking draws protein and sugar laden juices to the top. Remove from oven once browned.

The total process takes about 7-8 hours, but needs little supervision during this time.


Once cool enough to handle, shred beef using your hands or with a fork, whatever is easiest for you.

Stuff dinner rolls with shredded beef and serve with yuca fries

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Academy Award Winning Dips

One of my favorite parts of watching the Oscars is the food. I love parties that include a bunch of types of appetizers (this is probably why I love Spanish tapas) as I get to try a little bit of a lot of dishes. Here I have 3 dips that are easy to prepare (active time is about 10 minutes for each) and simply delicious.

The Dips:

Hot Artichoke
Pesto & Asiago Cheese
Cilantro, Chives & Yogurt

Serve dips with fresh baguette, crackers, grape tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower & other desired veggies.


Hot Artichoke Dip

Ingredients:
1/2 cup mayo

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 12oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained

Preheat oven to 375.

Coarsely chop artichokes. Mix with mayonnaise and Parmesan. Bake until cheese is melted and dip is bubbling. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes before serving.


Pesto & Asiago Cheese Dip

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon pesto
1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cream cheese

Mix together cheese, pesto and sour cream Ta da! (It's that easy). You can also serve this dip warm, to do so, prepare in the same manner as the hot artichoke dip.


Cilantro, Chives & Yogurt Dip

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1/2 minced garlic clove
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Mix together yogurt, chives, cilantro, garlic and lemon juice. Let sit at least 3 hours (preferably overnight) for flavors to blend.



Shrimp, Avocado & Queso Fresco Tacos


I really wanted to make shrimp enchiladas, but due to lack of foresight I made shrimp tacos instead. I sort of forgot that my crema mexicana and queso fresco would need to be prepared before I could cook the enchiladas...thus tacos. They turned out really well to my delight.

Ingredients:
1 lb medium shrimp (I bought mine at Trader Joe's...already deveined and cooked, only needed to be defrosted)

12 oz
queso fresco
1 cup
crema mexicana
2 avocados

1 cup enchilada sauce

Beans & rice

Corn tortillas
4 limes
Paprika
Cumin

If you want to use a quick and easy recipe...as I did...you can purchase pre-cooked shrimp, place them in a large colander and run cool water over them to defrost them. Let drain thoroug
hly and pat dry with paper towels if needed.

Place shrimp in medium-sized bowl or container. Pour the juice of 1 lime over the shrimp. Sprinkle paprika and cumin over shrimp. Crumble the queso fresco on top and toss lightly to mix the cheese amongst the shrimp.

Sprinkle a little cumin and paprika over crema and mix in.

Peel and chop avocados.

Heat corn tortillas in saute pan until golden, flipping once. Keep warm in oven, covered with a damp cloth or paper towel, until ready to serve.

Heat shrimp and queso fresco in over saute pan until the cheese softens.

Place shrimp mixture in tortillas and top with avocado. Drizzle crema and enchilada sauce over tacos.

Serve with beans, rice and lime wedges.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Queso Fresco

So, in addition to the Crema Mexicana that I made last night, I also made queso fresco for the first time. For those who are not familiar, queso fresco is a Latin American firm, crumbly cheese that is usually a bit salty and does not melt easily. Going along with the whole "in a recession thus must save money" mindset, I decided to make my own cheese. It is incredibly easy.

Ingredients:

1/2 gallon whole milk (pasteurized)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Salt


Heat milk over medium heat in large sauce pot until it starts to steam, about 180 degrees. I do not have a thermometer to check the temp, so I just waited until the milk was steaming, but not boiling.

Add vinegar slowly, whisking whilst you pour. The milk should curdle at this point. Turn heat to medium-how and continue stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes.














Remove from heat and let set for 20 minutes. Lightly salt the curdled milk. (A couple of shakes-you can add more later).

Line a large colander with cheesecloth. Pour entire contents o
f sauce pot slowly into the colander. Lift the edges of the cheesecloth to form a make-shift sack, forming the curds into a large ball and let the whey (the liquid) drain from the cheese. Set in the colander until cool enough to handle.

Periodically (every 30 minutes or so) lift up sack and twist above cheese to squeeze out excess liquid. Do this for 3 hours, then refrigerate.

*The next time I make this I might add some diced bell pepper or jalapenos...or add minced sun dried tomatoes and black olives.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Crema Mexicana


After having a mystery white sauce at Tacos Lupita in Somerville, MA, and being told about crema mexicana by DuoDishes, I decided the two were the same and that I need to make it for a shrimp enchilada dish I am preparing for lunch tomorrow. It seems absurdly easy to make, and I really hope that it turns out.

My great fear is that is that although seems easy, it may actually turn into a fatal compound if the slightest error occurs. (Hi, my name is Caitlin, and I am a hypochondriac. "Hi Caitlin...")

But anyways, I did the deed and will update y'all tomorrow with a photo and description of the finished product. (As of the morning after...much thicker, added some cumin, paprika and chili powder). If you see no updates in the next week, don't make the recipe ; )

Anyways..here goes.

Ingredients:

2 cups cream, try to find one that is pasteurized but not ultra, super or overly pasteurized.
1/4 cup buttermilk
Dash salt

Bring cream to room temperature, or heat in small saucepan. DO NOT heat over 100 degrees Farenheit. This apparently is very bad. So don't do it!

Stir in buttermilk and a dash of salt.

Keep covered in warm (80-90) location. For example, southern California or Florida. If that is not possible, an oven's pilot light is supposed to be a good place. I have mine above my cable box (it always is warm to the touch). Leave overnight (6-8 hours). It should appear thickened after this time.

Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. It stays good about 7 days in the fridge.

You can spice it up by adding (after the overnight period) cilantro, cumin, paprika, chili, chipotles in adobo sauce...you name it!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Spanish Melon Soup with Jamon Serrano

I first had this soup at the Boqueria, Europe's largest outdoor market, located in Barcelona. It is incredibly easy to reproduce but impresses every time I make it. The addition of jamon serrano adds a nice salt contrast to the sweet soup. I love it served in a wide shot glass with crumbled serrano on top. It's a perfect addition to any tapas party.

Ingredients:

1 3 lb honeydew melon, rind and seeds removed and cut into small chunks
1 cup mango chunks
1 large lime
1 large lemon
1 cup sweet white wine, Moscato d’Asti or a sweeter Vinho Verde would work
4 large strips of jamon serrano (cured Spanish ham)

Juice lemon and lime. Puree melon, mango and juices in a blender until very smooth. Transfer to a large container (bowl or tupperware). Stir in wine. Cover very well and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours, preferably overnight.

Before serving, heat saute pan over medium-high heat. Add jamon serrano strips and cook for about 3 minutes, flipping so that both sides start to become crisp. Remove from saute pan and set on paper towels to absorb grease. When cool, slice into 1 inch sections. Slice the 1 inch pieces diagonally.

Divide the soup among small, shallow bowls or shot glasses. Garnish with serrano triangles.

The recipe makes about 4-5 small bowls of melon soup.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Caramelized Onions with Goat Cheese


While working at Dali Restaurant, I discovered my love for Spanish food. (Let's be honest-I pretty much love all food...I just learned what Spanish food actually was while at Dali). Many of my recipes draw inspiration from or are my interpretation of their tapas.

One favorite tapa was "queso rebozado con miel," caramelized honey-onions with lightly fried goat cheese balls. The sweetness of the onions complimented the bitterness of the goat cheese. A glass of sangria or dry red wine is the perfect finishing touch.

Ingredients:
2 large onions
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
6 ounces fresh goat cheese
Panko bread crumbs
Olive oil

Wash and peel onions, cutting away the top/root sections. Slice in half (top to bottom) and slice onion halves into long, thin strips.

Melt butter in large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and brown sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally about 5-10 minutes, or until onions are soft. Turn heat to medium low, stirring occasionally, cook 30-45 minutes, until golden brown. Check every 5 minutes of so to stir, and to make sure onions are not cooking too fast (you want them to slowly caramelize-not burn!).

Remove saute pan from heat.

Form small goat cheese balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Press in Panko bread crumbs and flatten slightly.

Heat up olive oil in clean saute pan over medium heat. Add goat cheese patties, cooking about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden (if they start to brown, take pan off heat and cool down a bit to medium low).

Cover small plate with caramelized onions. Top with 2 or 3 goat cheese patties. Enjoy!


(I ate my perfect Panko-covered patties...these are sans bread crumbs)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Valentine's Dinner

So this year I decided to cook dinner for my boyfriend for Valentine's Day.

On The Menu:

Blood Orange, Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese & Spinach Salad
Roasted Asparagus with Lemon-Garlic Butter
Pan-Sauteed Duck Breast with Berries
Chocolate Chip Cookie & Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwiches

So I have been playing around a lot with my

enormous bag of blood oranges from Trader Joe's...
I wanted to make my salad with ricotta salata, but it is a trek t
o the North End to buy it, so I decided to switch things up a bit to accommodate what I could get in my neighborhood.

Blood Orange, Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese & Spinach Salad

Ingredients:
1 can roasted beets (not pickled), rinsed well with water and drained
3 blood oranges

1 shallot
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons evoo

2 ounces goat cheese
1 cup packed spinach, rinsed and dried

Mince shallot and place in deep Tuppe
rware dish. Add vinegar, olive oil and juice of 1 blood orange. Whisk together. Slice beets into 1/4 inch thick discs. Add to vinaigrette. Slice blood oranges into round discs horizontally. Slice away peel. Place blood orange circles above beets. To serve, place spinach on top of salad plate. Add beets and oranges to spinach. Drizzle a little of the remaining vinaigrette. Crumble goat cheese to salad, and serve.



While the duck tasted delicious-I couldn't get a good photo of it to save my life.

Luckily, taste trumps appearance, at least it did
last night.

You can check out an old post
for my
Duck Breasts with Be
rry Sauce
recipe.





For dessert, I made my favorite
Chocolate Chip
Cookies
and served them as an ice cream sandwich.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Winning Recipes

Navita won 1st place in my Valentine's Recipe Competition. Her recipe is as follows...enjoy!

Persimmon Trifle with Walnut Croquant



"“A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”

I am a nuts-about-fruit girl ...anything with fruit in it can lure me easily. I am game for all kinds of fruits...the rarer and more exotic it is...the more I crave it...lol. And if the fruit is in a dessert form...nothing beats it! As you know from these-fruit custard, choco-strawberries in a jiffy, going bananas over banana, jamming with strawberry.... my surrender to desserts with fruits is a common instance. I even start my day, sweet....so lets continue the sweet-celebration.
The latest two fruits added to the long list of 'fruits I have eaten' are-dragon fruit and persimmon. And as you guys must have guessed I did make desserts out of both. :)
However we will stick to 'persimmons' today. Persimmons are a mysterious, surprising fruit, unknown to many, eaten by few.
When I first saw a persimmon at the fruit stall here, I thought they were tomatoes....just not very ripe ones. I kept wondering why they were selling it with the other fruits and not vegetables, till one day I couldn't stand it any longer and in broken cantonese-cum-english-cum-sign language I managed to understand that they are fruits and not vegetables. Came back home hurriedly and googled for pictures/information on this queer fruit. After much research, I bought the fruit. Let it ripen for two days before I sliced it open....and the fruit was luscious and sweet ...it tastes like a mix between Rhubarb and Toddy Palm fruit/Palmyra (which is also referrred to as Taad or Taad-Gola in India). The fuyu, non-astringent variety of this fruit has got a heady...almost sweet alcoholic taste.
Native to China thousands of years ago and then introduced in Japan, the persimmon has become Japan’s national fruit and one of the traditional foods of the Japanese New Year.
Persimmons are well worth trying not only for their exceptional flavour but also for their beta carotene; they also have some vitamin C and potassium. There are two types of persimmons: astringent and non-astringent. As novice persimmon eaters often belatedly discover, the astringent persimmon has two personalities. When ripe, it possesses a rich, sweet, spicy flavour. The unripened fruit, however, tastes so bitter that biting into it causes the mouth to pucker.

The astringency is due to the presence of tannins, a group of chemicals that occur in tea, red wine, and in a few other fruits, such as peaches and dates, before they ripen, though the quantity in a persimmon is much greater. As the fruit ripens and softens, the tannins become inert and the astringency disappears.

It tasted great as a fruit and immediately I thought of pairing it with chocolate and chantilly...with may be a dash of rum.

Caution: Never eat this fruit on an empty stomach and the fruit should be extremely ripe before it can be eaten.

You can read more about this fruit here and here.

Chocolate Persimmon Trifle
(with Walnut Croquants & Creme Chantilly)

Ingredients-
(for two cups of trifle)
1 persimmon fruit, pulp/cubed
1 recipe of your favourite chocolate cake, 1/2 pound (you can keep half the cake in the fridge for later use)
1/2 cup chantilly-(1/2 cup whipping/heavy cream mixed with 4 tbsp of sugar + 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract)
4 tbsp of melted dark chocolate
2 tbsp of light rum with 1 tbsp sugar dissolved

For walnut croquants-
a handful of crushed walnuts
5 tbsp brown sugar
5 tbsp water

Method-
First warm the cake for half a minute. Use half the cake. Then pour the sugar-rum syrup over it. Break/crush the cake with your fingers. Set aside.

Make the creme' chantilly using the heavy cream, sugar & vanilla extract.

To make the walnut croquants--
Mix the sugar and the water over a medium flame till its sticky but not too viscous. On a foil lined cookie sheet, spread the walnuts and pour the sugar syrup on top. Bake in the oven for a minute or less. Allow to cool to harden a little.

For the assembly--
In a glass, first layer with the cake, then the melted chocolate, followed by persimmon fruit and the walnut croquants. Top this with chantilly.
Repeat these layers once more. Serve chilled with a chocolate cake slice,if desired.

Now for my signature interesting facts-

Persimmon, known to the ancient Greeks as "the fruit of the gods" is the edible fruit of a number of species of trees of the genus Diospyros in the ebony wood family (Ebenaceae). They are high in glucose, with a balanced protein profile, and possess various medicinal and chemical uses. While the persimmon fruit is not considered a "common berry" it is in fact a "true berry" by definition.

The sexuality of persimmons is particularly baffling. Some trees are male, some are female, some have flowers of both sexes, some change their gender in midlife, no doubt for personal reasons. Some are self-fertile, some need a pollinating tree. Some have no seeds. The most important distinction for the cook is that some taste horrid all the way up until the moment they ripen, at which point they become so soft inside they are like little jellied balloons. Others -- the so-called "non-astringent" types -- sweeten while still firm.

Folklore..
It is said that you can predict the winter by taking the seeds out of some persimmons and then slicing the seeds. The shape that shows up the most inside each seed will tell you what kind of winter to expect. The three shapes resemble three eating utensils.
A Knife shape means there will be a cold icy winter (as in the wind will slice through you like a knife).A Spoon shape means there will be plenty of snow for you to shovel.A Fork shape means there will be a mild winter

Culinarily, persimmons have fared less well. Many people remember their first taste as a form of persecution: an unripe sample offered by a teasing grandfather, a wicked older sister or the neighborhood bully. Had they persevered and tried one ripe, they might have grown up prizing them as much as the native tribes prized their Diospyros virginiana or the Japanese their Diospyros kaki.


If ever you get a chance try this fruit...its worth it! I am in love with this exotic fruit and you will see more concoctions here...soon."

Runner up is 5 Star Foodie, for her Truffled Langoustine Ravioli and Frizzled Leeks


"One of the highlights of my dining experience at Joel Robuchon at the Mansion was Les Crustacés, which included truffled langoustine ravioli with chopped cabbage, sea urchin with coffee-infused potato puree, and a coral and ginger perfumed tea with a shrimp and caviar "ball".

Since the langoustine ravioli in particular was my personal favorite, I wanted to re-create this dish at home. In my version, I serve the langoustine ravioli on top of frizzled leeks. This langoustine ravioli would be perfect as part of a romantic Valentine's Day dinner, and I am submitting this recipe for The Alchemist Chef's Valentine's Day Recipe Competition.

Ingredients:

2 stick butter, room temperature
2 ounce truffles
Pinch of fleur de sel

Homemade pasta dough
1 cup flour plus additional flour as needed
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water

2 cups chicken stock
1 carrot
1 green onion
1/2 cup leeks
2 leafs mint
Salt to taste
2 langoustines, heads and shells removed

1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup cream
2 tablespoons black truffle oil
2 tablespoons of truffle butter

2 cups leeks, chopped
Vegetable oil


Directions:

Place butter and a pinch of fleur de sel in a small bowl. Grate the truffle and mix gently into the butter. Form into a ball or a log, wrap, and refrigerate for at least a few hours. Note: You can also make the truffle butter by combining truffle oil and butter or purchase prepared truffle butter such as D'Artagnan and use it instead. Do ahead :The butter can be made up to three days in advance and refrigerated.


Prepare your homemade pasta dough. For these ravioli, I used my old-fashioned recipe without the pasta maker; however, any homemade pasta dough recipe can be used. If you would like to use my recipe, follow these directions: In a large bowl, mix flour, egg, salt, and water until a soft dough forms. On a floured surface knead the dough adding flour if necessary until the dough is smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Do ahead :The dough can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

To a pot, add 2 cups of chicken stock, carrot, green onion, leeks, and mint. Bring to boil. Season with salt and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain and discard the vegetables. Do ahead : The stock can be made up to three days in advance and refrigerated.

Reserve 1/2 cup of stock liquid. Bring the rest of the stock back to boil, then place langoustines in the liquid and poach for 1-2 minutes. Take the langoustines out of the liquid, cool, and slice into small chunks.


Roll out the dough with a rolling pin or pasta maker until very thin. Cut out small round shapes using a round cookie cutter or a wine glass. On each round, place a tiny dollop of truffle butter and a chunk of langoustine. Fold in half and seal. The filling will be enough to make 16 ravioli. Do ahead : Arrange ravioli on a baking rack and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.


In a separate small pot, combine 1/2 cup of reserved stock and white wine and boil until reduced by half. Add cream, 2 tablespoons truffle oil, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Fold in truffle butter. Do ahead : The sauce can be made about two hours ahead and kept in a warming drawer.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat, add leeks and fry, stirring occasionally for about 8-10 minutes.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. Season with salt and cook ravioli for 2-3 minutes for al dente.

On a plate, arrange ravioli on top of leeks, pour the truffle cream sauce and top with a dollop of truffle butter."

CONGRATULATIONS again to both winners!

Now I am off to prepare my Valentine's Dinner for my boyfriend, Carlos. A few weeks ago, Carlos bought me a present. I think you will all appreciate my gift....a 1/2 lb of Manchego. Now that's romance! ; )




Thursday, February 12, 2009

My First Hello Cupcake! Cupcakes




So if you have not heard of the cookbook, Hello Cupcake!, you need to check it out. It breaks down cupcake decorating into simple steps using ingredients you can find in most candy/grocery stores. These are not perfect, but I am still happy with my first attempt at making Owls!


The History of Cinnamon

I received the book Food in History this Christmas and slowly have been working my way through its pages. I studied anthropology as an undergrad, and really enjoy understanding why we do what we do, and more specifically-the evolution of food.

My favorite dessert spice is cinnamon, maybe because I am allergic to allspice, nutmeg and possibly cardamon-it makes sense that I wouldn't like something that makes me sick! But I am rather obsessed with using cinnamon both in dessert as well as savory dishes.

So apparently, back in "the day," the Roman empire was all about spices. At that time, Arabs controlled much of the spice trade, including cinnamon, which they harvested in Madagascar and then carried up the coast of East Africa to the Red Sea, where they sold its bark.

The Romans, being conquerors of basically everybody, wanted to cut out the middleman and get their own cinnamon. But the Arabs were smart and created a fantastical story about the origins of the spice.

What was their story? Here it goes. No one knows where the cinnamon sticks grow, only that the dry cinnamon sticks are brought by large birds to their mud nests atop unclimbable mountain precipices. To procure the cinnamon sticks, the Arabs cut up dead oxen and donkeys and left large chunks of animal on the ground, underneath the birds' nests. Of course, dead animal flesh proved irresistible to the birds, which carried the meat to their nests. The nests could not support the added weight and would break, falling to the ground. The Arabs then gathered the cinnamon to export to other countries.

And that is how we get cinnamon to this day! ; )

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Raspberry-Almond Cream Tart with Chocolate Ganache

For Cashew Crust (crust recipe from Epicurious):
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk

To Make Crust:
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Wrap outside of 9-inch-diameter spring form pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with 2 layers of heavy-duty foil. Finely grind cashews and brown sugar in processor. Add flour and spices; blend 5 seconds. Add butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk; using on/off turns, blend until moist clumps form. Press dough over bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of prepared pan. Pierce crust all over with fork. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool crust. Maintain oven temperature.

For Almond Cream:
1 7-ounce package almond paste
1/2 cup whipping cream
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup raspberries

To make Almond Cream:

Blend almond paste, cream cheese and whipping cream in processor until almost smooth. Sprinkle 1 cup raspberries over crust. Spoon almond cream into center of tart and spread evenly. Bake 7 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

For Chocolate Ganache Topping:
1/2 cup whipping cream
6 ounces chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup raspberries

To make Chocolate Ganache Topping:
In medium sauce pan, heat cream over medium heat. Add chocolate and stir as it melts. When mixture is smooth and shiny, add vanilla and remove from heat.
Cool 10-15 minutes, so that it is not hot but is still very pliable. Spoon chocolate ganache over almond cream and spread smoothly so that it covers entire top and touches the sides of the crust. Arrange raspberries atop chocolate.

Let stand until until chocolate reached room temperature, then refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Eating Local Food

Lately I have been thinking more about the sustainability of our food supply. For those who live in the Boston, the Metro last week had a blurb about how we are going to run out of seafood by 2048, with the exception of jellyfish, if we continue our current habits. I love meat and shellfish, but I am trying to incorporate more meatless food into my diet (it is cheaper and healthier).

I also have started to learn to make things like creme fraiche and ricotta cheese-products that I used to buy imported from Europe on a big 'ole plane (ship?). I am not the most environmentally-friendly person that I know, but I am trying to change that. I got this list from www.eatlocalchallenge.com and liked it a lot. Thus, I am sharing it with you.

10 Reasons to Eat Local Food

Eating local means more for the local economy. According to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London, a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. When businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction. (reference)

Locally grown produce is fresher. While produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks, produce that you purchase at your local farmer's market has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. This freshness not only affects the taste of your food, but the nutritional value which declines with time.

Local food just plain tastes better. Ever tried a tomato that was picked within 24 hours? 'Nuff said.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because the produce will be handled less, locally grown fruit does not have to be "rugged" or to stand up to the rigors of shipping. This means that you are going to be getting peaches so ripe that they fall apart as you eat them, figs that would have been smashed to bits if they were sold using traditional methods, and melons that were allowed to ripen until the last possible minute on the vine.

Eating local is better for air quality and pollution than eating organic. In a March 2005 study by the journal Food Policy, it was found that the miles that organic food often travels to our plate creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic. (reference)

Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons. By eating with the seasons, we are eating foods when they are at their peak taste, are the most abundant, and the least expensive.

Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story. Whether it's the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal.

Eating local protects us from bio-terrorism. Food with less distance to travel from farm to plate has less susceptibility to harmful contamination.

Local food translates to more variety. When a farmer is producing food that will not travel a long distance, will have a shorter shelf life, and does not have a high-yield demand, the farmer is free to try small crops of various fruits and vegetables that would probably never make it to a large supermarket. Supermarkets are interested in selling "Name brand" fruit: Romaine Lettuce, Red Delicious Apples, Russet Potatoes. Local producers often play with their crops from year to year, trying out Little Gem Lettuce, Senshu Apples, and Chieftain Potatoes.

Supporting local providers supports responsible land development. When you buy local, you give those with local open space - farms and pastures - an economic reason to stay open and undeveloped.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Vegetarian Moussaka

Ingredients:
1 cup lentils
3 large potatoes peeled
1 large eggplant
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions
6 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper
12 oz baby bellas
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 400.

Rinse lentils well and add to large sauce pot. Add water to cover and boil 20-30 minutes, until soft, adding additional water if needed. Drain lentils.

While lentils are cooking slice eggplant into 1/2 inch thick discs, removing peel, and salt generously. Let sit about 10 minutes then rinse well with water and let drain. Place on oiled baking sheet and cook 15 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven.

Also while lentils are cooking, scrub potatoes clean under running water. Peel potatoes and slice into thin discs. In large sauce pan, cover with water and bring to boil. Add a little salt and simmer about 15-20 minutes, or until soft. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Dice onion and mince garlic. Heat up olive oil in large saute pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and onion, turning heat down to medium. Saute about 5-7 minutes.

Chop mushrooms and the red bell pepper and add to the saute pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, cinnamon and cayenne, and cook at a simmer until the mixture thickens, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

In large bowl, mix 1/2 of saute pan mixture with lentils.

In 9 by 13 pan, spread out lentil mixture. Cover the lentils with overlapping potato slices. Spread 1/2 of remaining mushroom-tomato sauce over potatoes. Cover with eggplant slices, using the remaining sauce to cover eggplant.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Cook for a couple of minutes until golden, then whisk in milk. Whisk constantly until the roux boils and begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the white sauce over the pan, smoothing so that the entire top is covered with white sauce. Bake on middle rack of oven for about 45 minutes. The top should be turning golden brown when finished. Remove from oven. Let sit about 10-20 minutes to let moussaka firm up before serving.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blood Orange, Ricotta Salata and Fennel Salad

Do you ever come up with a recipe in your head and feel totally bad ass about it, only to realize that someone already thought of it? That's what happened with this salad. I was all cocky about my culinary creation until I googled blood orange salad and found a very similar recipe. It's a great salad, although I remain a bit bitter over its pre-existence.

Ingredients:
3 small blood oranges
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
1 tablespoons evoo
4 oz baby spinach
1/2 of 1 small fennel bulb
1 tablespoon ricotta salata
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Juice one blood orange. Add the champagne vinegar, freshly ground pepper and whisk in olive. Salt to taste.

Wash spinach thoroughly and dry in colander.

Slice oranges in half vertically. Cut into 8 wedges and carefully cut away from peel. Place in bowl.

Cut off the fennel bulb's stalk. Cut in half lengthwise, removing the core. Shave 1/2 of the fennel with a vegetable peeler to form long fennel strips.

Whisk vinaigrette. Toss fennel, spinach and vinaigrette together. Plate salad, adding blood orange wedges to the tops of the salad greens. Crumble the ricotta salata over each salad.

Blood Orange Martini

I'll admit...I am a little obsessed with blood oranges right now. And these are such a refreshing break from the traditional martinis!

To make 1 blood orange martini:
3 oz orange vodka

1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz simple syrup

7 ounces blood orange puree or blood orange juice

Orange twist

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Spinach

Ingredients:
2 sweet potatoes
2 Idaho potatoes
2 medium eggs
1 cup 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (plus more for later, when rolling out dough)
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 oz baby bellas, washed well and sliced
1 cup packed spinach, washed
Parmesan cheese (in wedge form)
Olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon truffle oil
Salt
Pepper

Turn oven to 400.

Wash sweet potatoes and roast until tender, approximately 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

While sweet potatoes are roasting, boil the Idaho potatoes until a fork pierces them easily.

After all of the potatoes have cooled, peel and mash them in a large bowl. Add the eggs, flour, salt and pepper. Mix with hands to incorporate all of the ingredients. Kneed a few times on a clean, floured counter. If really sticky add a little more flour to make dough workable.

Divide dough into large balls. Roll into long snakes, about 3/4 inch thick. Cut dough every 3/4 inch or so. Using the tips of your forefinger and middle finger, put slight pressure on gnocchi top and push down lightly to roll the gnocchi towards you. This should just make a slight indent in gnocchi. (Don't worry if it doesn't work at first, rolling gnocchi takes practice!)

In large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook about 5 minutes, or until soft and juice has mostly evaporated. Add white wine and cook 3 minutes (make sure it is simmering/sizzling to evaporate alcohol). Add spinach and wilt.

Boil large pot of water. Add gnocchi to water. Cook about 2 minutes past point when gnocchi being to float. Test one when they float to get a better idea if they are done.

Drain in large colander.

In large serving dish, toss gnocchi with spinach, mushrooms, and truffle oil. Shave Parmesan curls generously over pasta. Salt and Pepper to taste.



Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Valentine's Day Recipe Competition

Hello all! I am very excited to be holding my first Valentine's Day Recipe Competition.

The Rules:

1) Post the recipe on your blog (or re-post/bump up an old recipe).
2) Add the following contest link to the body of your recipe:
The Alchemist Chef's Valentine's Day Recipe Competition
3) Add a comment below, posting the name of your blog, the name of the submitted recipe and a link to that recipe.
4) Only one recipe per day may be submitted

Recipes will be judged on:

Creativity
Presentation
Use of unusual or exciting ingredients

The Timeline:

Recipes may be submitted until Midnight, February 10th (Eastern time) and winners will be announced at Noon (Eastern Time), Friday the 13th. Prizes will be shipped the following Monday.


The Prizes:

The 1st place winner will have their choice of 1 of 2 prize options: Vanilla Beans or a KitchenAid Food Chopper. They will also be featured on my website for the month following the competition.

The runner-up will be featured on my website for the month following the competition.

Unfortunately, prizes may only be shipped to those living within the United States. If you want to enter, live outside the U.S. and your recipe is best, you
will be featured on my website, but I cannot mail you a prize.

A Stress-Free Valentine's Day - Part 2


Try to plan your Valentine's Dinner Menu a week or so ahead of time. Look through circulars to see what is on sale for some inspiration/savings. Bookmark recipes found on the internet or in your cookbooks and write down your menu so that you can look them up later, once you have begun cooking.

Once you have your ingredients and menu, buy your ingredients 2 days before you plan to cook (this includes wine, champagne or booze). If you are making something like beef stew, which can sit overnight and develop further flavors, then just buy your ingredients 1 day ahead. You do not want to buy meats too early as they will go bad or need to be frozen. Vegetables should be kept in the refrigerator with the exception of tomatoes-these need to ripen outside of the fridge and turn starchy rather than sweet if refrigerated. An additional benefit to early shopping is that you may need to go to more than 1 grocery store to find your ingredients, and that extra day will cut down on your stress. Nothing worse than find out last minute that you are lacking the integral ingredient for your dish!


Clean serving dishes, silverware (especially if you are using good silver!), wine glasses etc the day before the big meal. Clean champagne flutes and rise extremely well; any leftover soap residue will inhibit bubbles from forming, making the champagne appear flat. Using a cloth napkin and a little water, you can remove residue from other glasses and silverware for a clean and shiny appearance.

The night before, prepare ingredients. Chop any onions, garlic, celery, etc and store in plastic baggies or Tupperware. If cooking with chicken, wash with cool water and cut off gristle/fat. Cut meat into desired pieces, place in bowl, cover and refrigerate. Most sauces or soups can sit in the fridge overnight until needed the next day. If you can, make you dessert the night before. Get as much "prep work" done as you can, and do all of your dirty dishes the night before!!!!!

The morning of your Valentine's meal, tidy up bedroom area and bathroom. Check to see that you have enough toilet paper, soap, a hand towel and tissues available. Make sure your or your roommate's items are not laying about the apartment, put them in their proper location.


Set your table! Clean surface of dining table and cover with tablecloth. Set table with plates, napkins, silverware and glassware. Place vase in middle of table and add flowers later. Put salt, pepper and any similar items on table. Arrange centerpieces and candles. Setting your table the morning of will decrease stress as the clock ticks down. Have red wine on the table or white, rose or sparkling wine in the fridge.


Prepare your dishes so that you can saute/bake/fry them as soon as your guest arrives. Clean and put away dishes. If preparing a salad, have this ready and covered in your fridge. Have saute pan, soup pots, stirring spoons or spatulas ready on stove top with olive oil and spices.
Try to have the above done 2 hours pre-meal time.

Take a shower and get ready at a leisurely place. It might be a good idea for you to have ONE glass of wine while you are awaiting your guest. Once they arrive, take their coat and offer them a drink. You do not need to rush into the kitchen, rather this may seem hurried or even rude. Socialize for a bit then start cooking.
And don't forget, smile and enjoy yourself and your company. A pleasant demeanor adds more to a meal than a perfectly cooked steak.

Have a Happy Valentine's Day!