Tuesday, May 20, 2008

tomato pesto sandwiches

Since I haven't done any baking yet this week, I bring you tonight's dinner: tomato pesto sandwiches with havarti on toasted bread.

We live off tomato sandwiches in one form or another, as I'm always too busy cooking dessert to bother with dinner.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

lemon brulee (sugar-high friday)

I made lemon brulee and lemon tart for a work potluck today. The lemon tart didn't survive my post-midnight baking tactics, so I'll save that one to post another time. The lemon brulee was a little battle scarred, the crust having been forgotten in the oven while I was out buying extra cream cheese, but it still tasted good. I made extra crust this time, so I made a couple of minis in ramekins.

This is going to be my first contribution to Sugar-High Friday. It's lemon cream on a soft cheesecake filling with a shortbread crust. The whole thing is finished with a bit of bruleed demerara sugar.

Lemon Brulee

Shortbread (from The New Best Recipe, by the editors of Cook's Illustrated):

1.75 C unbleached, all-purpose flour
.25 C rice flour
.66 C superfine sugar (baking sugar)
.25 tsp salt
16 TB unsalted butter, cold

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix dry ingredients. Cut butter into pieces. Cut or rub into dry ingredients, using pastry cutter, food processor, or fingers. Stop when you have a bowl of pea-sized crumbs. Press into 9 x 13” pan.

Place in oven. Immediately turn heat down to 300 F. Bake for 40-60 minutes, until pale golden in color.


2 packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 qt heavy whipping cream, chilled
4 tsp vanilla
1-1.5 C sugar

Whip cream. Add vanilla and sugar to taste. Mix in cream cheese. Mix until smooth. Spread over cooled shortbread.

Lemon cream (from Baking, by Dorie Greenspan):

1 C sugar
zest of 3 lemons
4 large eggs
.75 C fresh-squeezed lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
2 sticks + 5 TB unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into TB-sized pieces

Rub zest into sugar until sugar is fragrant. Mix in lemon juice. Add eggs and mix thoroughly. Put in metal bowl over a pot of boiling water and whisk constantly until mixture thickens and reaches 180 F. Whisk will leave tracks in cream at this point. Remove bowl from pot. Pour cream through strainer (to remove zest and any egg bits that didn’t mix properly) into blender. Allow to cool about 10 minutes. Add butter pieces and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender occasionally.

Spread over filling. (This layer will be very thin, so spread carefully.)

Chill for a couple of hours. Before serving, sprinkle with demerara sugar and brulee sugar with torch. (You can probably stick it very briefly under the broiler if you don’t have a torch. I haven’t tried it, though.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

cream of spinach soup and creamy rosemary potato soup

I had the best soup ever last night. I hate spinach, but I love cream of spinach soup. I had it for the first time at a little bakery while we were on our honeymoon. I eat it every chance I get. Unfortunately, the bakery once serves it once a week, on a Tuesday or Wednesday, when it's usually impossible for us to drive out there. I've been meaning to learn to make it for months now, but I'm always intimidated by cooking real food. Moreover, when I get home from work, I'm starving and I want something that tastes good *now*, not something that might taste good in an hour or two. So I almost never cook dinner. We live on tomato sandwiches, toast, and cold cereal.

Anyway, I picked up some spinach last week, intending to make soup on the weekend. I just never got around to it, though. Hanging out with B and J and eating curry and then celebrating Mother's Day all sounded like more fun than cooking soup.

Last night, though, I had a major craving for cream of spinach soup. So I decided to give it a try. I pulled out my faithful America's Test Kitchen Best Recipes and was dismayed to find that they had no cream of spinach soup and no real cream soups to speak of. I decided to give my Julia books a try, even though my irrational fear of Julia's recipe is far greater than my irrational fear of cooking dinner.

If all of Julia's recipes are as straightforward as that soup, my fears were entirely unfounded. I have never cooked a dinner that was so fast and easy and tasted so good. A little sauteeing, a little boiling, a little mixing, and I had a wonderful, creamy, buttery bowl of spinach soup, every bit as good as the bakery's. It was so easy that I went ahead and used the base to make a batch of rosemary potato soup, as well. Julia's recipe says it serves six, so I doubled both batches.

Cream of Spinach Soup (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, Julia Child)

5 TB butter
1/3 C onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
3-4 C spinach leaves, chiffonaded
5 1/2 C chicken stock, boiling
3 TB flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 C cream

Saute onion in 3 TB butter until soft and translucent but not browned. Add spinach leaves and salt. Cover and cook on low until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in flour and cook over medium for 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in chicken broth.

Mix together egg yolks and cream in large bowl. Temper by whisking in 1 C of hot soup. Whisk in remaining soup in a steady stream. Finish by mixing in remaining 2 TB of butter (should be room temperature). (If you are planning to serve soup cold, do not add remaining butter.)

Rosemary Potato Soup (adapted from Julia Child's cream of spinach soup)

5 TB butter
1/3 C onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
6 regular potatoes, peeled
3 TB flour
5 1/2 C chicken stock, boiling
2 egg yolks
1/2 C cream
2-3 tsp. fresh rosemary (or to taste)

Saute onion in 3 TB butter until soft and translucent but not browned. Stir in flour and cook over medium for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Chop two of the potatoes into chunks. Cook in broth until soft. Remove from broth. Rice into onion mixture. Add salt. Mix well.

Slice remaining potatoes and add to broth. Add rosemary. Cook until potatoes are soft.

Gradually whisk about half of the broth into the potatoes. Pour this into the remaining broth and stir.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

curry and caramel-peanut-topped brownie cake

B and I got together to make dinner this weekend. We made massaman curry and Dorie's caramel-peanut-topped brownie cake.

The curry was great. The cake was okay. I really liked the salty peanut caramel topping on the cake--it reminded me of the caramel and peanut wrapped nougat bars I used to eat as a kid. The cake itself was remarkably blah. It's entirely possible that I'm just too accustomed to eating rich foods and I've deadened my tastebuds or something. But it just didn't do anything for me. Its entire purpose was to provide a place to put the caramel; the cake tasted like neither chocolate nor brownie to me. It was a cinch to make, though, and since the caramel provided flavor, it was an okay dessert.

I melted the butter and chocolate while B did everything else. Then B made the curry while I made the caramel topping.
Since I'm not confident in my caramel-making skills quite yet, I brought along a strainer to take care of any lumps or burned bits. The caramel came out nicely, with only a few small lumps. (I think next time I'll skip the water, since you have to boil it out anyway.) I threw the peanuts on top of the cake and then we poured the caramel through a strainer onto the peanuts. (Dorie says to stir the peanuts into the caramel, then spoon them back onto the cake, pour on the caramel you want, and save the rest for later. My pan is bigger than 8", though, so we used all the caramel. And adding peanuts to caramel just to spoon them back out immediately seems like a waste of time, so I didn't bother with it.)

caramel-peanut-topped brownie cake (Baking, Dorie Greenspan)

1 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 sticked unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
5 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1/2 C (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 C sugar
3 TB light corn syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla

2 C sugar
1/2 C water
1 1/2 TB light corn syrup
2/3 C heavy cream
2 TB unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 C salted peanuts

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8" round springform pan.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.

Heat butter and chocolate together in a double boiler until just melted (do not let butter separate).

Whisk togther eggs and sugars until well blended. Whisk in corn syrup, then vanilla. Whisk in butter and chocolate. Gently stir in dry ingredients with whisk until just incorporated. Pour batter in pan and jiggle to even out batter.

Bake 40-45 minutes, or until cake passes knife test (there may be a few moist crumbs on knife).

Transfer pan to a rack and cool for 15 minutes. Then remove side of pan (you may need to run a blunt knife around the edge). Cake may sink; this is normal. Cool to room temperature. When completely cool, remove bottom of pan. Return cake to pan and refasten sides.

Put sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan. Stire to combine. Place over medium-high heat. Heat, without stirring, until caramel turns deep amber, 5-10 minutes. As sugar is caramelizing, wipe down splatters on the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.

Lower the heat a bit and add the cream and butter, standing back from the pan to avoid being splattered. After splattering subsides a little, stir to dissolve lumps. Stir in peanuts and pour caramel and peanuts into a heatproof container.*

Pour mixture over cake. Allow topping to set at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Mother's Day chocolates

I made homemade chocolates for the first time for Christmas last year, and I thought it would be fun to make more for Mother's Day and mail some to Mom-in-Law and Mum-in-Law, since we didn't plan far enough in advance to send them any for Christmas.

I decided to make the process easier this time by making the ganache fillings farther in advance (and making plenty extra) since they have to be frozen anyway. I made the following flavors:

plain milk chocolate
milk chocolate coconut
milk chocolate strawberry
milk chocolate cardamom
milk chocolate earl grey
milk chocolate jasmine
milk chocolate chai
milk chocolate buttermilk
milk chocolate hazelnut
milk chocolate balsamic
milk chocolate lemon
milk chocolate rum

white chocolate strawberry
white chocolate raspberry
white chocolate chai

plain dark chocolate
dark chocolate buttermilk
dark chocolate raspberry

dark chocolate balsamic

It was an interesting experiment. I learned many things. The biggest being that I still am not tempering my chocolate correctly, as it develops little spots that make it look like aliens with the plague. I also learned that white chocolate ganache is marvelously easy to handle if you skimp just a touch on the cream. White chocolate ganache that is creamier, though, makes pleasantly gooey fillings, even though it's nearly impossible to freeze sufficiently or to handle when dipping. Ditto on the rum ganache. (The white chocolate raspberry and milk chocolate rums came looking rather monstrous. They were also the tastiest chocolates by far.) Milk ganache without enough cream refused to be molded. The earl grey came out nicely; the jasmine and chai were a bit strong for my taste. (All three were done two bags to half a cup cream.) The cardamom was pleasant (ten pods to half a cup cream, nuked repeatedly for brief bursts). Buttermilk was nice in milk chocolate but not in dark. Balsamic came out tasting too sweet. (What my husband learned from this process: Balsamic vinegar is not for drinking.) The lemon milk chocolate was very nice. The coconut remains one of my favorites. Imitation strawberry flavoring is horrid; strained, pureed raspberries are wonderful.

I apologize for not including recipes; I just sort of throw these together, so some of the consistencies are a bit off, and I have no idea how much of anything is going in. I'm going to start keeping track, though, so someday when I have things figured out, I'll post proportions.

This one was my favorite. I think it looks like a gargoyle.