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!)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fresh from my replicator

Star Trek has always been a continuous and subtle presence in my life.
I wouldn't miss a single episode when I was a child, I was fascinated by Mr. Spock's logic, and tried ever since to be as logic and rational as he was.
Sometimes it works.
Of course the side effect is that my mood wrecks havoc in the other 23 hours of the day, but hey, I'm only human!

When I got to work in Pharmacy retail, my boss' husband had his own "ship", he organized themed meetings, had a newsletter about the group activities, produced some merchandise.
I never ranked higher than Ensign, and it all ended on some question about Wesley Crusher's IQ.

When the guy-that-would-become-my-husband asked me out formally for the first time, it was to go to a Convention of Star Trek. We never got there, and to this day I don't know if there actually was such a Convention that day.
It wasn't until six months later that we actually got together, but I remember quite a few long phone calls that summer, late at night, right after reruns of Deep Space 9, my favourite of all series, while he's totally faithful to the Next Generation.
Today is our 12th anniversary, which brought me to this nostalgic-futuristic post.

The first time we went to Vegas, we spent a full afternoon at the ST Experience that was at the LVHilton. In the gift shop I found this:

Guess what, I bought it.

It's not an easy book to consult.
It has a section for every series, and then the chapters are about the members of the crew of that series, the recipes organized with the only criteria of being the favourite of some character.
You don't want to look for "a dessert" or "an appetizer", there. You will look for Mr. Tuvok's favourite dishes. Or someone else's.
And the only pictures are shots taken on the set, so you don't even have that visual help; quite a challenge for my TIMOC #4

I went to the Deep Space 9 section, looking for my favourite character's dishes. Comes out that Jadzia Dax and I don't share the same taste at the table (or about men, as it is).
So I picked an Icoberry Torte, Captain Sisko's favourite dessert at Quark's.
Icoberries are not easily found on Earth, but we're allowed to substitute raspberries for them.

1 cup/100gr ground almonds
1/2 whole wheat breadcrumbs (I used white)
6 eggs
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 cup raspberry preserve
confectioners' sugar

Beat the yolks with sugar, add the cinnamon, the lemon and orange extract, then the dry ingredients, then delicately incorporate the whipped egg whites.
Bake at 350F/180C for 45 minutes.
When it is cooled, spread it with raspberry preserve (well, I had some!) and then sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.
You can add whipped cream, too.

There is also an Icoberry Drink, consisting of icoberry sauce in apple juice; I still had some raspberry pulp frozen in iced cubes, it was a no brainer.

Do you feel 24th century-ish, yet?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Filling the blanks - Award(s)

So, I had told you about my cooking teacher coming for dinner.
That was the day after the Berry Fair so, foreseeable enough, I put together a mainly-berry-themed menu.
If you have read me this month, you have seen pretty much all I served that night:

- Rasperry/Blueberry and Lard Crostini
- Blueberry Cjarsons
- Roastbeef and Yogurt Nests
- Raspberry mousse

Appetizers, first course and dessert were berry based. I didn't want to go all the way with it, and the second course was a light and fruit-free dish.
It was the easiest to put together, and as sometimes happens, was the most appreciated.

These are Roastbeef and Yogurt Nests, I found the recipe in a special issue of La Cucina Italiana (Italian edition); 4 times a years they print a monographic issue, could be about eggs, potatoes, chocolate, pasta... this was focused on healthy food.
They are basically rolls of a very light potato salad and roastbeef.

For 4 servings, you need 12 slices of roastbeef (store bought, they have to be thin).
For the filling:
- 2 medium sized potatoes, boiled
- 4 pickles
- 4 tablespoons of greek yogurt
- parsley

I put a lot more than 4 tbsp of yogurt, about 3/4 cup, and added a good 1/4 of minced chives.
Dice the potatoes and the pickles, mix the vegetables with all the other ingredients and then roll about 1 tablespoon in a roastbeef slice.
They are called "nests", so I made a base on one side of the roll and stuck a toothpick in it to keep it in shape, then served them on a bed of green salad and cherry tomatoes.

Quick, easy, and really, really appreciated!

Now, the award(s).
I actually got two in the last two weeks, and I was really surprised, amused and flattered.
When you get an award you're supposed to spread the joy and pass it to other people you think deserve it.
The problem is that, as it often happens to me, I took things backwards with this blog thing.
I opened this blog to be able to join the Daring Kitchen Challenges, then I ran away with it and THEN became involved in reading other blogs.
So I didn't open a blog because I was enjoying the blogosphere, but it was the other way round for me.
Being still a newbie, I feel like I'm still opening a thousand doors a day, with all the remarkable blogs out there, but still feel a little lost and have a hard time remembering who wrote what.

That's why when Jill from JilliciousDiscoveries awarded me with the "One Lovely Blog" award I was quite overwhelmed to see that I had to pass it on to 13 other people, with all that she was already awarding 90% of the blogs that I knew!

This is to thank Jill very much, it's not that I didn't appreciate your gift!

I was thinking and researching for the list, when Laura of Tiramisu gave me another award. But this time I would have to nominate only 7 blogs, so thank you Laura, and here I am to spread the joy of the Kreative Blogger Award.

The rules, copied a pasted from Laura's blog are the following:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

7 things about me:

- My weight at birth was 10lbs sharp (4.550kg).
- I stay up late for no reason, I'm just one of those kids who never wants to go to bed, I easily stay up until 2 or 3 am. I repent every morning, then every night is the same old story.
- I never wanted to study history at school. Obviously, for the Law of Large Numbers, I married a guy who is totally into history and tries to pull me into conversations where I just smile and try to divert the topic.
- Said guy first held my hand while we were visiting a Museum of Torture. We are oh, so romantic!
- My Italian teachers were never that thrilled about my essays (keep in mind I ended up studying Chemistry, I wasn't a total failure at school!); which is funny, considering that now I'm taking so much fun writing this mini essays in a language that's not even mine. I told you, I hardly take things the easy way!
- I'm a procrastinator.
- I'm the only woman on the planet who thinks that shoes are just something you use to protect your feet.

And now, the 7 blogs (some of them are in Italian, and they are worth the use of an automatic translator):

- Audax of Audax Artifex: he blogs mostly about his Daring Kitchen Challenges, but he treats the given theme in so many different ways, it just blows my mind!
- Alex of Ombra nel Portico.
- Julia of Melanger to mix: I love the way she looks at things.

The next 4 I find connected, in some way; they are assertions, on how applying a principle (healthy diet, intolerance to gluten, or having to go most locally possible because of a remote residence) do not necessarily stop you from living a full and enjoyable life.

- Angela of Isolated Foodie
- Em of Kitchen M; she's a dietitian and food photographer.
- Jeanine of The Baking Beauties
- Petula of La Cuoca Petulante, a macrobiotic blog. I'm particularly grateful to her because it was through her blog that back in 2007 I discovered anobii.com . I have never told her, now she knows.

That's all, folks!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Daring Bakers August 2009 - Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caff├ęs of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.
You will find the detailed recipe at their blogs.

Boy, you do have to love eggs, when you have this torte!!
Between the dough and the buttercream you will find 10 whole eggs. And little else: this dessert, despite the rich appearance has a lot to do with fluffy stuff and incorporating air.

The fun thing about this cake is that the layers are not cut from a one cake, but are baked separately, oven-pancake style, and then trimmed to the same size and shape to be assembled with the buttercream.
This scared me a lot, every layer has to be baked just a few minutes, so you basically have to stay around the oven for about an hour. Not exactly thrilling when the weather is hot and humid and the thermometer scores 43C/110F! I took advantage of one afternoon when it "chilled" down to 39C/102F and did my duty of Daring Baker.

The weakest link for me in this recipe was the caramel part. I suck at caramelizing, I always seem to miss the right moment (or never get there, that is).
This time it was not so bad. Not perfect, I could have waited a little longer because the sugar was a little too liquid and soaked in the cake instead of building a layer of its own on top, but it's good enough for me!
By the way, I have to thank Angela for the suggestion of cutting the top layer before pouring caramel: as things went, I would have never been able to have those nice triangles!

I hadn't any whole hazelnuts at hand, so I used bits of chocolate as (not quite) hidden support.

The only problem is, my kids are a bit disoriented; they keep asking whose birthday is it, and won't accept a "Nobody's" for an answer.
They have cut about 20 construction paper sheet into confetti, and are waiting for daddy to come home to start the party.

You will find a lot of other Dobos torte and lot of rivisitations at the Daring Kitchen website.