Sunday, July 21, 2013

Monk heads: Caramelized Cherry tomatoes in sesame seeds

I recently learned that Tete de moine (monk's head) is already a French cheese... but a name can't be changed once assigned so these shall forever remain, mes tetes de moine. If you don't get it, just turn one upside down and imagine it bobbing through a monastery.

I first tasted something of this sort outside the Chatelet Opera as an accompagnement to a pre-show glass of wine. The crispy caramel that just might cut the inside of your mouth melts along with the juiciness of the cherry tomato and honestly, I still can't decide if I love these or just think they're another silly byproduct of cooking experimentation.

In any case, they always draw comments at a dinner party, so I continue to serve them.

Tetes de moine
a dozen cherry tomatoes
1c sesame seeds
about 1+ c sugar

The making of these is fairly simple, with the one huge catch that you must already have an eye for making caramel.

Rinse the tomatoes, dry them thoroughly and spear each one just opposite of its little brown spot so that said brown spot (you know... where it connects to the vine) will 1. be covered by caramel and 2. create the perfect bottom surface so that they will sit up on the serving plate.

Lightly brown your sesame seeds (a couple minutes under a high heat oven, stirred often, just until you start to smell a nutty scent rising through the room) and pour them into a small bowl with at least 1/2 inch depth of seeds for dipping and rolling.

Now you can start your caramel. I am not an expert on this. I mess up frequently and have developed strong disposing-of-hot-burning-caramel skills (tip: do not pour in plastic trash bag. empty egg cartons dont burn, so they're a great receptacle) . But the basic idea is simple: heat sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat without stirring until it begins boiling and starts to darken to juuuuuust the light brown color that you want. The melting will begin around the edges of the pan and slowly engulf all the sugar. If you stir before it is liquid, it clumps, but sometimes you can tilt the pot around if you just cant resist the urge to melanger. Once the sugar is all liquid, you can feel more confident stirring, but it is not highly recommended.

The tips are:
1. Dont get your heat too high or you will have half burned caramel and half still-crystal sugar
2. If you can help it, do not stir as it heats or you will have lumpy caramel
3. Watch very carefully once it starts to brown because it will quickly turn black and stinky
4. Remove from heat BEFORE you think it is done by just a few moments because it will continue to cook itself after.
5. Some recipes suggest a squeeze of lemon etc. with the sugar to make it cook slower, ie make it less likely to burn. I haven't experimented with this.
6. Next time I am also going to experiment with a pad of butter in the caramel just as it comes off the heat to make a softer crunch of the caramel. This is what they do for caramel sauces.

Assembly: just as your caramel finishes, tilt the pan to the side, pooling the caramel with one hand, grasping the toothpicks, dip and roll the bottom half of each cherry tomato in the caramel, removing the excess by dragging it along the surface of the caramel in a zig zag motion for 2 seconds, and quickly roll in sesame seeds to cover the sticky caramel surface.

Place on plate. serve. bask in comments.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Beehive Honey in Wilmington

A huge thanks to Ed Beck, my favorite Beemaster for showing me around the stacks last summer!

It has been far too long since I started this post, and sadly the details have escaped me since then, but I found it in my drafts and wanted to share some of the mad knowledge that Ed dropped on me one fine day last summer in Coastal Carolina.

The Bees are dying... which is troubling considering that they pollinate... everything.

I found it distressing to learn from Ed that natural hives of bees are dying off of mysterious reasons... literally just falling out of the sky.

Ed told me about bee keepers needing to apply 3-5 antibiotics and other medicines to the hives just for the bees to survive through the season. This has only been true, apparently, for the last decade or two.

This is even more upsetting to learn of apple growers having to hire traveling bee-circus-hives around the country to pollenate their fields.

My final lesson from this crash course: It will be hard to keep cooking from scratch if ingredients keep disappearing.

Brazilian Carrot Cake & Redneck chocolate glaze

It might be a bit of an exaggeration to call this a carrot cake ... but apparently the half a cup of grated carrot constitutes a carrot cake in Brazil. The cake is especially soft and spongy, which I would like to say is thanks to the vegetable matter (think: zucchini muffins), but is more likely thanks to the generous serving of oil to go with your vegetable of the day.

Like in so many moms and grandma recipes, "measure" has no meaning here. But fear not, there is at least a system of comparison. Each 'cuppa' is based on the glass below, which is exactly 3/4 a cup in American measure.

"Cuppa" Carrot Cake
cuppa vegetable oil (3/4 cup)
2 cupps-a sugar (1.5 cups)
4 eggs
1 carrot, shredded
2 cupps-a flour (1.5 cups0
1 tbsp baking powder

"Caipira" Redneck chocolate glaze:
4 heaping spoons of sugar
4 spoonfuls of milk
2.5 tsp (one hunking scoop) butter
2 heaping spoons of cocoa powder

For the cake:
With a good mixer, or idealy an immersion blender, mix the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil and shredded carrot.

Stir together the baking powder and flour and whisk into the liquid mixture.

Butter a cake pan (the one in the photo is the only pan we have... but it is best in a traditional 9x13 flat pan)

Bake at 180ºC for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 150ºC until lightly golden and you can see the cake starts to pull away from the edges. 

Caipira Chocolate Glaze
Note: this sauce needs to finish at the same time that the cake comes out of the oven. 

The sauce will thicken as it cools, but if both the sauce and the cake are warm when it is poured, the sauce will find all the right nooks and crannies to impregnate the cake.

SO, in the last 10 minutes that the cake is baking, make your redneck glaze: 

In a sauce pan, stir together all the ingredients for the glaze and place over medium heat. Continue to stir as it all melts together, then let it cook a bit... until it thickens and starts to leave traces in the pan as you stir.

As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, use a knife to poke holes all over the top.

Poooouuur the glaze over top and watch lovingly as it disappears into the cake and all around the sides. 

As an extra, you can grate chocolate over the top, wait until it starts to melt and spread with a knife. If you cover the cake well, it will harden into a nice, lightly crunchy crust.