Friday, November 25, 2011

White beans and tomatoe (it should have an e...)

"no, not with spinach. no not in that soup. no... Just cook it with some tomatos! No, not with cauliflower soup and beet"

Fine, nice french lady who was trying to help me. I'll cook them with tomatoes.

In an effort to add something to the blog that is neither baking nor sugary, I hereby offer you a few of the dinners we have been eating. Local, in season, and delicious :)

Added bonus, I think they're much easier than my usual baking recipes!!

1-2 cups white beans, soaked in ample water at least over night.
1 onion, chopped
1 can whole tomatos, tomatoes cut up and juice reserved
(or if you have fresh ones, boil them just long enough to break the skins and peel them off)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp marjoram
salt and cracked pepper
olive oil
The water from cooking your beans, or broth if you're using canned beans.

Open the can of beans. Or cook the soaked beans. This, I'll admit, I have not yet conquered. But it seems lots of water, a tight lid, and a long medium heat are the key - but bay leaves and salt make the difference! Your water should taste like salt water. Make sure to check them often to make sure there is still enough water. Don't drain these into the drain!! When you boil beans, think of it as cooking water as much as beans! The water should be delicious, which will make your final dish a deeply flavored affair.

Maybe an hour? Or there is always canned beans...

Directions: Sautée the onions in the oil - or butter!! Once they start to turn clear, but before they brown, add the spices and stir well. Throw in some garlic if you'd like! Add the tomatoes and the bay leaf. Simmer a few minutes and add the tomato juice and beans and cooking liquid/broth aaaand anything else you think will flavor it. Like olive oil!!!!

Sautee until the acidity from the tomatoes mellows out.

Gets better over the next day or two - good hot or cold or luke warm! over rice and with a fried egg on top is my favorite.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chocolate Fondant: Cake...? Brownie...? Heaven.

Forget everything you ever knew about chocolate cake. Leave your brownie recipes behind. Fudge? psh. Follow this pide piper of chocolate into a fluffy, yet dense chocolate luxury.
Its like laying your head on a firmly packed down pillow and still sinking just enough. But its your mouth. and chocolate.
Or biting into the deep chocolate flavor of fudge, but finding instead a truffle sitting lightly on your tongue
I'll admit that the recipe is slightly advanced, with two non-standard techniques for the usual box-cake lovers, but they are two skills that will really open up your recipe options in the future, leaving you will more fine deserts and more complicated palates of flavor.

200g baking chocolate, or about 7 oz
125g butter, 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon
150g sugar, or 3/4 cup
6 eggs separated
a tad bit of butter and flour for preparing the pan
a pinch of salt for beating the egg whites

a cakepan somewhere around 9x9 inches

*There is lots of wiggle room with the size/shape of your baking pan. I made a half recipe with a bread pan and it was perfect, I made one full recipe and put it in silicone muffin pans, which was great, and even made a half recipe in a 9x9, which was also great, though it made much thinner pieces. So play as you will, and just be conscious to take it out of the oven a few minutes early (really, just a few, once it passes the toothpick test) if it is spread thinner. 15 minutes did it for my half recipe, but my oven is really strong.

1. Take the eggs out of the fridge at least an hour ahead of time and let them warm to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/390ºF and butter and flour the baking pan.

2. Double boil your chocolate and butter, melting until homogeneous. Set aside to cool.

How to: To melt chocolate, people-in-the-know use a double boiler, or a baine marie. It melts the chocolate without changing the liquid ratio. Not to mention, putting your chocolate straight in a pan on the stove will lead to a way-too-thick, gooey texture, often with lovely little chunks to boot.

Instead, heat a pot of water to a low simmer and find a bowl that fits nicely over top of the first, almost or just barely sealing the rim. Put your chocolate and butter in this second bowl. The french actually float their bowls in a low 2 or 3 inches of water, but if you try this be SURE that not a single drop of water gets over the sides of the bowl and into the chocolate! The steam from the heating water in the bottom bowl will heat the second, melting the chocolate gently. Melting the butter with the chocolate also gives you more room for error.

Remove the chocolate as soon as it is 90% melted, or so, and continue stirring. It will all smooth out nicely within a minute or two of pulling it off the heat, ensuring that you dont overcook it.

Alternatively, but not preferably, you can break the chocolate into small chunks, throw it in a microwave safe bowl and add a tablespoon of water per 100g of chocolate. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring vigorously with a fork after each 30 seconds until it is almost completely melted. Then stir till homogeneous. If you are using the microwave method, melt the butter and chocolate separately, mixing afterward.

3. Separate your eggs, placing the egg whites in a large bowl for step 3. Mix the sugar with the yolks and once well-blended, stir in the melted chocolate and butter.

4. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the egg whites that you placed in the very large bowl and beat them into soft peaks, or into "snow" as the french call it.
How to: Annoyingly tiring for the arm, and kind of intimidating, but really not that hard if your bowl is big enough. This video (yes, I know its in french, but I am about to tell you the only important parts, and his method is simple and pretty to watch) is a great tutor. And after you learn the technique, you can use it in almost any other baking recipe you have if you want a lighter, fluffier texture! This is also THE secret to French Mousse...

It is important to use egg whites at room temperature. Sprinkle them with a pinch of fine salt (aka table salt), tilt your bowl with your non dominate hand so that the egg whites pool on one side, and begin beating with a whisk at a steady rhythm. Listen to the beat that develops in the video - it is a little slower than I was using when I failed at this method the first couple times. Not quite as vigorous as when you beat eggs for an omelet. Instead, it keeps the egg whites moving, but allows them to pool in the bottom between beats so that you get it all moving together. They should start forming fairly quickly.

There are two versions: soft peaks and stiff peaks. The only difference is that soft peaks form first, and if you keep going, stiff peaks form. If you keep going too far past stiff peaks it all starts to break down. Not good. To test, stop beating and using your whisk, use a scooping motion to lift some of the egg whites out of the bowl. If they barely hold onto the whisk and melt back into themselves in the bowl, its soft peaks. If they pull apart and hold a very distinct peaks, its stiff. Thats what she said.

If there is ANY liquid left in the bottom of the bowl, you are not done. Keep going. In fact, they shouldn't move at all if you turn the bowl upside down.

Alternatively, a hand mixer will do this for you in just a few seconds.

5. Whip the batter from step 3 into the egg whites, pour in the buttered and floured pan, and throw it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Test to see if it is finished with the toothpick test: stick a toothpick, or a knife, in the middle (stuff is always more cooked around the edges) and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.5. LET THIS CAKE COOL for at least an hour! It puffs up majorly during cooking and you want it to sink way back down before cutting into it. You can see the cool shapes it made in my oval muffin pans when it sank down!

Our consensus was that the larger pans made for better desert because the outside gets flaky, but it is really the fluffy yet fudgy middle that is so amazing. Therefore, cutting squares out of a larger pan yields the perfect chunks of heaven.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Smoked Salmon, Goat Cheese and Zucchini Lasagna

Ill admit, this is a lot of work, but if you make each component in a medium quantity, you will have a TON of lasagna on your hands that you can freeze, or great sauces to make a bunch of leftover meals. And the soft, creamy lasagna with the slight flavor of smoked salmon permeating the entire dish is SO worth it.

Or... just buy your tomato sauce and lasagna (cook before assembling!), and use fresh cream instead of the béchamel. I feel I am obligated to prefer the from-scratch version, but that would cut about 2 hours out of the prep time for this recipe. Hannah's got your back.

Step 1: Make the tomato sauce

1 1/2 white or sweet onion, chopped
2ish cloves garlic, cut up
4-ish tomatoes, diced. Perhaps a can of whole tomatos, diced?
basil leaves
italian seasonings of choice
salt and pepper
a tsp or two of brown sugar and/or baking soda to cut down on the acidity of the tomatoes.

Sauté the onion in butter or olive oil and when they are almost translucent throw in the garlic for a few more minutes. When this is well cooked, but not burning into crisps, throw in your seasonings and give it a good stir before throwing in the tomatoes. Simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes or more until the tomatoes soften into a "sauce" texture. Sprinkle with baking soda and enjoy watching it fluff up (who knew sauces could fluff!?) and then salt, pepper, sugar it until the desired flavor is achieved.

Set aside for layering.

Step 2: Zucchini

1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 medium sized zucchini, diced

So simple. Sauté the shallot in butter or olive oil then add in the diced zucchini over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon every 5-10 minutes until they are soft with translucent edges.

Set aside for layering.

Step 3: While this cooks, the pasta!

Alternatively, boil lasagna strips, cut into desired shapes, and set aside.

Fresh pasta is really, absolutely wonderful and fairly easy in a lasagna. Since there is practically no cutting/shaping, you don't need an expensive pasta machine and it is also a good chance to practice your dough-making skills before moving up to spaghetti or linguini!

2 eggs
2 cups of flour, or so
a pinch of salt
any fresh herbs you'd like to throw in

There are suggested flours for making pasta and pizza dough, but I enjoy adding density of whole wheat, or the nuttiness of country wheat, etc. As you like!

There are plenty of wonderful online tutorials for making pasta, so I won't pretend to be an expert here, but do google the process if it is your first time. Here is my favorite.

In any case, using a well in the flour and a fork, slowly whip together the eggs and flour

Let sit 20 minutes, covered, to let the flour soak up the moisture.

Knead the dough and roooool out into large sheets, half the dough at a time, making sure to use plenty of flour to keep it easy.

Cut dough into the shapes of the pot you will be using to bake your lasagna, and keeping in mind that it so does not have to be perfect in any way what-so-ever. I suggest making all your shapes before making the béchamel in step 4 because it will start to get lumpy if you leave it sitting while you roll out more dough.

Set aside for layering. (see a pattern here? makes this long and complicated recipe much more manageable...)

Step 4: Assembling

Sauteed zucchini (above)
a chunk of goat cheese
Tomato sauce (above)
Pasta (above)
one package smoked salmon
frozen spinach, thawed, slightly cooked, and salted
béchamel (below) or about 3/4 c cream
swiss cheese, grated (or cheese of choice)

The béchamel sauce in step 5 is finicky and won't stay smooth long after cooking, so its best to set up and start the assembling beforehand, making the sauce only at the last second.

layer the bottom of your baking dish with the following:

1. zucchini
2. chunks of goat cheese
3. pasta layer

Go ahead and assemble your work space with the smoked salmon, cut into strips, the tomato sauce, and any other vegetable layer you want to use (I highly suggest sautéeing and salting some spinach leaves... ahem... I just thawed some frozen ones...), cheeses and lasagna strips.

Step 5: le béchamel

This sauce makes the lasagna, I do believe. It is a basic French sauce, and an unfathomable boon to your cooking repetoire. It inexplicably has that thick, cheesy flavor despite the fact that it is made with butter, flour and milk, and it is eternally flexible for any genre of sauce you want to make. Curry, basil, fish sauce, veggie sauce... n'importe quoi!

50g butter, or a little less than 1/4c
50g flour, or a little less than 1/2c
50cl milk, or about 1/4 a cup
~actually, i've been converting this wrong and adding more like 2 cups of milk, and its great! same thing, but with a lot more of it!

In a sauce pan, melt the butter. Then, while whisking furiously, plop all the flour in at once.

This will create something of a greasy ball of flour that should also be consistant and smooth. This much can be made earlier and set aside.

Off the heat, whisk in the milk one good splash at a time, whisking until it is homogeneous before each consecutive splash. Once all is incorporated and homogeneous, put the pot back on the stove and continue whisking - without stopping! - for about 5 or 10 minutes and all the sudden you will literally feel it start to thicken.

Continue whisking until it is the consistency you desire. As a basic level of reference, when a wooden spoon dipped in and lifted out of the sauce keeps a thick coating, and when swiping your finger across this coating leaves a distinct tract, it is sufficiently thick.

Salt and pepper, and if you want to be french, a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg. I am not french.

Immediately start spooning it into your baking pan over the first layer of lasagna.

Continue layering.

Below is the sequence of layers that I used, but honestly, I don't think you could go wrong, with the one exception of having an uncovered lasagna layer on top. Finish with a veggie layer, and cheese!

(already layered:
zucchini and shallots
goat cheese
lasagna layer)

smoked salmon
swiss cheese
tomato sauce
zucchini and shallots
generous swiss cheese

Bake @ 395ºf (200ºc) for 30+ minutes, uncovered. The time could vary, so go until the cheese starts to brown and the liquid bubbling on the sides starts to subside, leaving a dark edge. I highly suggest these little serving size ceramic cups! They're (imagine the pinched voice) high fashion right now in Paris, but I like especially like them because you can cut out the circles of your pasta with the lids, they keep all the liquid in so they cook perfectly, AND you can just pop them in when your guests arrive and they're done just 20 minutes later!

This recipe makes a TON, so just keep layering till you're out of ingredients, or keep some tomato sauce to the side for pizza, or some pasta for spaghetti night, or just freeze the extra portions!

Sharing: Bagels, Brownies, and Pizza Dough

These recipes need no input from me. The directions are thorough, the ingredients are specific yet supple, and there is the added benefit of sharing some of my favorite sources of cooking brilliance. Oh the wonderful world of food bloggers which is also rich, and diluted. I share these because that perfect recipe is very hard to come by. And each of these is exactly that.

Classic Brownies from Smitten Kitchen

Bagel recipe and tutorial from Peter Reinhart, the modern king of baking, author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which I have seen cited in more baking blogs/tutorials/articles than any other source.

This was the most luxurious feeling, perfectly measured dough I have ever touched... simply silky! okay, I need to back away from baking for a few days...

Note: VeganDad has baked through the entire book, making each recipe vegan, which makes him not only a good source for inspiration, but a great place to find substitutions.

I also discovered between Smitten Kitchen and Peter Reinhart's blog that he has been on a "Pizza Quest" to find the perfect pizza. Though I got bored with the site, I tried his Country Pizza Dough last night with absolutely WONDERFUL results. So good I forgot to take a picture. But here is the beautifully smooth dough while rising. Maybe I'll catch a photo later this week on round two. I made a half recipe and got three pizza crusts that are the perfect size to feed the two of us dinner with a side salad.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Pumpkin Soup with fall flavored croutons

Think, "pumpkin pie in soup form." Or, a french velouté version of classic American fall cooking.

1 small cooking pumpkin
2 medium sized sweet onions
light cream to garnish
2 bay leaves
and any other bouquet garni herbs you might have around

your bread of choice, preferably the day-old versions that you would probably throw out otherwise

a combination of the following to taste:
pumpkin spice
salt and pepper


1.Use a peeler to skin the pumpkin, then cut it in half and scoop out the seedy middle. Cut the pumpkin flesh into large chunks, preferably in fairly even pieces for easy boiling. Peel and cut in fourths one of the onions.

2. Throw the pumpkin in a soup pot with the quartered onion, the bay leaves and bouquet garni, salt and cover with cold water. Bring this to a boil and simmer for about 10-20 minutes, or until the pumpkin is cooked, testing it with a fork.

3. Drain the pumpkin, preserving the water that the pumpkin was cooked in to add later. Remove the herbs.

4. Dice and sautée the second onion with a tablespoon or two of butter. When the onion is translucent and starts to brown, sprinkle your chosen spices over top, give it a good stir, and throw in the drained pumpkin and onion.

5. About 2 minutes later, add a cup or two of the stock rendered from the boiling of the pumpkin and start blending, preferably with a stick blender. Add more water per your ideal thickness of soup and continue blending until the soup is utterly silky.

6. Return the soup to a low heat and keep it at a low simmer for about 30 minutes. When ready to serve, stir in the cream and garnish with croutons. Never let a soup boil after having added cream/milk/cheese!

Fall Flavored Croutons:
A great way to add layer to this flavor and to use otherwise old-tasting bread!

1. Preheat the oven to about 400ºF or 205ºc. Cut day old bread into 1 inch or smaller cubes using a bread knife without smashing the bread.

2. Toss cubes in a bowl with a good few splashes of vegetable oil and the spices that you also used in the soup. Then spread the cubes on a baking sheet in an even layer.

3. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until browned and the desired crunchiness, tossing the croutons once or twice mid-way through cooking. These will keep for a good couple weeks in an airtight container.

Garnish soup and serve!

My apologies for the sideways photo... I can't figure out how to turn it, or just don't have the patience to figure it out, but thought the photo was worth posting.