Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Challenging myself

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S.
She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I had very mixed feelings about this challenge.
I was curious to see what the fuss was all about with macarons, I wanted to see if they were really so hard to make and so delicious to taste.
But I couldn't fight reality, which is that my interest was all rational and I'm not quite attracted to these kind of sweets, so I ended up baking just the last day of the challenge month.

I'm so unfamiliar with them that I don't even know how close to the real deal mine turned out.

Given all this, of course I kept to the basics.
I went with 2/5 of the given recipe and made pinkies with white and dark chocolate ganache.

Next time I have the occasion to taste a professional one I will make sure to do that, to have an idea.

In the meantime, check for some more enthusiastic Daring Bakers in the DK Blogroll

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Black Tart

It's been a while since my last post.

Maybe for the revamped relationship with my treadmill, that gives me less motivation to bake, maybe for the limping relationship with my new oven. Don't get me wrong, it is a perfectly fine oven, but once you get used with the timing of an inefficient gas oven, baking with a new convection one often leaves you with overcooked and mgnah stuff. We're getting there.

Anyway. I've been wanting to try a couple of things for quite a while, one being a chocolate tart dough, the other a banana jam.

The chocolate dough recipe came from the baking lessons I took last spring:

- 2 cups flour (250gr)
- 3/4 cup sugar (150gr)
- 1 stick + 6 tbsp butter (200gr)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (50gr)
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg

Process in a mixer all the dry ingredients and butter, then add the egg. Form a ball and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight before rolling it out.

As for the banana jam I had made kind of an approach mixing it with raspberries, but as much as you could taste it in there, it was not *only banana* jam.

So I followed this recipe, from a booklet found on the remainders' shelf at the supermarket, mixing and cooking

- 6 medium size bananas
- 1/2 rennet apple
- 1 cup sugar
- juice from 2 lemons

Only recently I was aware of the notion that not everyone madly loves bananas.
The concept can't quite sink in my head, really.
How can you not love bananas?

And, as for everything I love, it just gets better if paired with chocolate.
It's to be tasted in moderation: both the dough and the jam are a concentrate of their respective tastes, one small piece and your tastebuds have quite a party!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Great Expectations

These Dark Chocolate Muffins were the opening of my new oven (electric, with fan).
Or should I say ovenwarming, as in housewarming?
Anyway, it was about time, hope this is the begininning of a productive collaboration!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Balance is hard

A friend of mine who lives in NYC was telling me that she was going to Felidia, one of Lydia Bastianich's restaurants in New York, for a family celebration.
I always like to give a look to Italian restaurants abroad.

Checking on the online menu, an antipasto caught my eye: Le Barbabietole, marinated beets, goat cheese, peach, watercress, balsamic vinaigrette.
I've never been a fan of beets, until this summer, when I felt the urge to buy some and I actually ate them!
So, instantly, I needed to know how a similar combination would taste.

I took some of the last peaches around, some beets, goat cheese, basil instead of watercress.
Goat cheese here in Italy is not as tangy as the one you normally find in the US, so I should have known that the balance came all down on the vinaigrette.
But for some reason, I decided to divert from the balsamic vinaigrette and put together something that could probably be called a "Bellini Vinaigrette": champagne vinegar, a hint of peach syrup (home made), olive oil, a dash of salt, pepper and Dijon mustard.

I had to work on that dash and on the proportions of the vinaigrette quite a lot, because all the other ingredients were on the sweet side.

The result wasn't too bad, but not exciting either, that's probably why my name is not Lydia.
I think I'll try that vinaigrette on something more appropriate.

But as for now, I'm still curious to know how those "Le Barbabietole" taste.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Zol-au-Vent and Vol-au-Rocher

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

This was a nice challenge, but I had an accidental shortcut to it.
September has been pretty hot here, not exactly the right climate to make puff pastry.

I had in the freezer some I had made in late spring. I kept it there as a last resort, waiting until the last moment to see if I had a cold day to document the entire challenge, but the cold day never came (and I can't say I'm sorry for that), so I hope that my word on being the maker of the pastry is valid enough as for the accomplishment of the challenge.
It must be, because if I had bought it, it sure would have risen much better!

Vol-au-vents are tricky to eat: the puff pastry crumbles a lot (at least, you hope it does!) and when they are big you risk The Big Splash Of Content.
That's why I went for bite-size.
Maybe too much, but in my opinion this is a case where smaller is better.

I made an appetizer and a dessert.
The appetizer involves one of my family's all time favourites: gorgonzola, which was paired with pears.

Nothing else: the pears were ripe and juicy enough to give out the right amount of liquid and only a few seconds of heat were needed to melt the zola in order to mix the two.

The dessert was a reinterpretation of a Ferrero Rocher, the puff pastry playing the part of the wafer.

A quick ganache with Nutella and whipped cream, added with ground hazelnuts.

In my intentions, a whole hazelnut was to be in the center of the vol-au-vent, but a whole hazelnut didn't fit in the bitesize structure without pulling the balance with chocolate too much.

I wish my husband took some classes of creative food writing: asking for an opinion and just getting "MMMMHHHH!" for an answer, as much as participated it is, is starting not to be enough for me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

To Arthur!

Today is the 250th birthday of Guinness.
250 years.
A quarter of a MILLENNIUM!
That's a lot.

Of course I have some connection to Guinness and to Ireland in general.
Ireland was my first destination when I started to travel, I went there two summers in a row as a student to attend English classes and it was the first gateway through which I saw what was in the world other than my neighborhood.
A few years later, when I was 23, a series of events led me to go there for a month by myself, I went wherever my nose led me and learned how to muddle through public transportation, B&Bs reservations and unforeseen events with noone's help.
I felt truly at peace for I think the first time in my life sitting on a bench in Galway, looking at the ocean.
It has been such a rewarding experience!

The family that hosted me the first time I went to Dublin was so young and funny that we kept in touch for some years to follow. The guy was a baker, known in the area for a very special brown bread, the recipe coming from the wife's family.
I miss them a lot, and I miss that bread.

When I got married I picked Ireland as a honeymoon destination because I wanted my husband to see the places and meet the people that had meant so much to me, I felt like he couldn't fully know me if he didn't go there.
And in our honeymoon, being finally not alone and of age, Guinness played quite a part. Above all, I learned that it's true what they say, a pint tastes different depending on the pub in which you're drinking it.

Oh, and now I really wish I could hop on a plane and go there once again!

To celebrate Sir Arthur Guinness, I baked two desserts, one from a cookbook I bought in Ireland and one I spotted on a blog a few months ago but kept for the occasion.

The first is a Guinness cake, it resemble a lot one of those British puddings, it envolves melting butter and brown sugar in some beer

then adding a ton of fruit peel and pinenuts and mixing with flour

It's not something you can do one day for another: after the cake is baked, it has to be kept in aluminum foil and for 3-4 days it will be washed down with a few spoonfuls of THE dark beer.

In the end you get this fully flavoured pudding cake that will spin your head at the first taste:

Maybe even too fully flavoured: we are not afraid of a good glass of beer, but a full slice of it really goes straight to your brain. So what I did was to cut it in big french fries size pieces and roll them in a mix of sugar and cinnamon.

The second baking tribute were some Guinness cupcakes I found on the Big City, Little Kitchen blog, an adaptation of a Nigella's recipe.
I just had to twist slightly the recipe using whole yogurt instead of sour cream, but as for the rest I followed it.

Unlike the pudding/cake, these are not at all strong, you barely taste the beer in there (there's so much cocoa!), and they are soft and smooth like few cupcakes I've had before.

Now, my 6yo was a bit disappointed he wasn't getting the usual muffin for his snack at school.
He kept asking why on Earth did I put beer in it, so that he couldn't have it.
And actually all this celebration isn't all that family friendly, we'll probably have to wait after bedtime. The fact that my kids are good in not pushing for what they know is seriously not for them doesn't mean that we have to wave and display the stuff under their nose.

But you'll have time, son, your time will come even too soon!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dare to confine

This month's Daring Cooks Challenge is hosted by Debyi of healthyvegankitchen.com. She chose Indian Dosas from the refresh cookbook by Ruth Tal, and you will find the detailed recipe and procedure on her website. I'll just say here that they have a chickpeas filling and a coconut-curry sauce.

Dosas weren't that hard to cook, but the challenge was to go and see how you can have a delicious meal while going vegan. And lactose free. Am I forgetting something? Oh, yes, about 99% oil free, considered that you will need some oil to grease the pan while preparing the dosas.

The dosas were very quick to prepare, and not harder than panning crepes.

What I loved most of going into this challenge was the mise en place.

I find it very relaxing to prepare all the things I will need to cook or bake something, the more the better. I love checking the ingredients on the recipe and marking them off, lining up all the bowls, even washing them afterwards (if anyone living with me is reading, he's invited not to comment the last one).

Besides, what's not to love in handling such vivid colors in a late summer Sunday morning?

I do not like it when garlic's flavour is too strong, so I leave the whole cloves in my recipes while they're cooking, then pull them out in the end, so that there's just a hint and I don't pay it forward too much.

All the colors melt in a golden and fragrant concoction of mildly spicy and tangy fragrances:

Coconut milk was required to prepare the sauce, which usually I find here, but not the morning I decided to take the challenge.
Did it stop me?

I'm afraid the coconut's are the only pics of the saucy part.

When it came to assemble the dosas with filling and sauce, I made what I often do with normal crepes: pile them up.
Maybe it was the Dobos Torte of teh last Daring Bakers Challenge that wasn't letting me go.

This configuration was very convenient when it became clear that I would be the only consumer of my hard work.
I should know by now that my husband has a very low spicy-ness threshold: the first meal I cooked after getting married was a pretty hot chicken curry. After 3 bites he politely asked if he could stop eating; he was all red in the face and some tears were rising in his eyes. I couldn't swear it but I clearly remember some smoke coming out of his ears.
The kids were not that enticed, either.

And that's how I ended having my own Indian week!

(Thanks Lisa Michele for kicking my butt! It was the first day of school yesterday, and with all the excitement I was forgetting to post this!)