Here it is! This month's Daring Bakers' project!
Every month, a group of bakers of all levels are assigned a secret recipe to bake, then post their results at the end of the month! This month's host, Mele Cotte chose the wonderful Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream. Luckily, I was in need of a cake this month to celebrate my birthday!
So, the question is how does this:
... make friends with this:
The first picture is hazelnut praline paste--basically, pralined hazelnuts ground down into a paste. That paste was mixed into a luscious and decadent Swiss buttercream. While that was tasty, I gave my gold star to the cake itself, made of ground hazelnuts (see the recipe behind the link to Mele Cotte's blog).
The recipe called for a 10" round pan, but I have only two 8"s, so that's what I got.
I love how flat the cakes baked up! This is a baker's dream, since there's no leveling to worry about before stacking and decorating. The only thing one might worry about, if they were picky, is a brown line showing from the "skin" of the cake when viewing a slice (see lovely brown lines in slice below). I'm not that picky, at least, not for my own cake. If you are, you can easily remedy it by just slicing the "skin" off the top and bottom layers.
Since I had two cakes, instead of making a three-layer cake as directed, I made four layers, filled with just a little icing and just a little whipped cream. I'm not a huge fan of lavish cake filling, so I went light. I lightly masked the sides of the cake, since I'd be pouring chocolate ganache over the top and wanted it to flow easily and smoothly without getting all rumbly and ripply.
After pouring the ganache on and letting it flow down the sides, I did a quick, though admittedly not too fussy job, tapping the cake to bring up the air bubbles, then running over the top and sides with an offset spatula to smooth out the worst of any drips and ripples (you know--dripples).
The cake example we DBers saw had a beautiful ribboning motif made out of piped icing, but I decided to stick to simple shells and, my favorite, summer berries--raspberries and blackberries. Swiss buttercream is pretty sweet, and the tart berries were a welcome change with both the buttercream and the lovely toasted nut-based cake.
My potluck party guests helped finish off most of the cake (notice the brown lines from the cake's "skin"--that's what you'd slice off with a torting knife or bread knife--any long serrated knife you might have handy).
I'd had just a sliver of cake since I wanted to make sure I tried all my potluck guests' dishes, but once I'd sent everyone home and cleaned up the mess, I indulged in a lovely slice along with a glass of the watermelonade my Hunny had made using the epicurious recipe.
How'd I like it? I loved it. It was airy and light, but had a nutty flavor and a texture with just a bit of bite and a teeny bit of chew, both of which gave away easily once you put the yumminess in your mouth. I'm glad I treaded lightly with the filling, and the tart-sweet fresh berries really did go wonderfully with the dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut flavors. All in all, a happy success!
You can check out my fellow DB nut cakes at our blogroll!
· Recipe ingredient exception allowed if allergy or an ingredient not available or cost prohibitive in your region. Otherwise, the recipe does need to have nuts…..You can use another nut, should you prefer, but carry it throughout. Don’t eat or enjoy nuts? You can be like me – make it and give it to an appreciative recipient. If allergic/too costly, please refer to the Alternative bakers for assistance.
· Alcohol is optional
· You may use a buttercream or whipped cream filling under the ganache. But, make sure you cite your source. If using a whipped cream filling, refrigerating to chill during assembly becomes extremely crucial. (I didn’t have this originally, but humidity, rain, and 3 attempts made me change my mind.) Whatever you choose, the end result must be praline.
· Buttercream garnish/decoration (see the latter part of the cake assembly) can be however you choose, but it should be on the cake in some form.
· Apricot glaze – use whatever flavor you choose, like orange or raspberry. Fresh fruit is okay for the garnish only.
· I don’t have the pan size that is noted. Use whatever round size you prefer, just know you may need to make adjustments, accordingly. This means, you may halve (not 1/3) the recipe, or make mini-cakes. But, no cupcakes and it must be round.
Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter
1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Filbert GenoiseBecause of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.
1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned (¾ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned)2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted (1/3 cup cake flour, unsifted)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch (1 Tbsp. cornstarch)
7 large egg yolks (4 large egg yolks)
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups (½ cup sugar)
1 tsp. vanilla extract (½ tsp. vanilla extract)½ tsp. grated lemon rind (¼ tsp. grated lemon rind)
5 lg. egg whites (3 lg. egg whites )
¼ cup warm, clarified butter – 100 – 110 degrees (1/8 cup warm, clarified butter)
Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.
Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.
Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.
Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.
Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.
With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.
Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.
*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur
In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ – 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)
Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla
Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.
Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*
On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.
Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.
Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.
Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.
Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.
Good for one 10-inch cake
2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water
In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.
Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake
**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.
6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ – 1 tsp. hot water, if needed
Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.
Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.
Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!
Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.
Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.
Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.
Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.
To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.
Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.
Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Read more!
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Here it is! This month's Daring Bakers' project!
Friday, July 25, 2008
I know that a lot of people don't care for whole wheat pasta, but it really has come a long way in the past few years--it's not the same muddy, muggy, chewy, overly nutty stuff I first tried a few years back, the first time I was on the South Beach Diet. And oh my gosh, does it make an awesome mac 'n' cheese ...
Basically, I cooked the noodles (and, in this case, carrot medallions) to al dente while I made the sauce--mixed up and seasoned a roux (equal parts butter and flour with some paprika, salt, and pepper), added four times the milk and brought it to a simmer, then melted in twice as much cheese (some leftover sharp cheddar and colby). I've never quite made this recipe the same way twice, since I've gone along according to what type of pasta and cheese I've used and whether I've added anything, like veggies. In somewhat more careful terms, for a half dish (I usually cook to serve one and have leftovers, and I have smaller dishes to match--a pie plate should work here):
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Cook 2 cups of whole wheat pasta to al dente.
3. Melt 3 Tbsp butter.
4. Stir 3 Tbsp flour until smooth.
5. Season with a dash of paprika, a pinch of salt, and a dash of pepper (and minced garlic, diced onions, whatever else is around ... and edible).
6. Stir in 1 cup milk until smooth and just starting to simmer.
7. Stir in 2 cups (about 8 ounces--not all cheeses are created or shred up equally) of shredded cheese until the mixture is smooth and saucy.
8. Pour into baking dish and spread bread crumbs over the top.
9. Bake 45 minutes to an hour, until crumbs are toasty and cheese is bubbly.
Then there's the optional egg. It adds good richness and helps with binding. If you want it, temper an egg into the bechamel (butter, flour, and milk sauce) before adding the cheese. Read more!
Friday, July 11, 2008
Earlier in June, in the midst of the tomato crisis where I was nervously stocking my cupboards with canned tomatoes, a friend of mine offered up some of her bountiful tomato harvest. As soon as I could, I made a beeline to her place and picked up a big bag of round and cherry tomatoes. My favorite were those sweet, plump, mildly tart little cherry tomatoes she offered. I ate an even dozen of them in one meal.
For me, chicken and tomatoes is the peanut butter and chocolate of the savory world--comforting, satisfying, and mouth-watering. First, it was Mom's chicken gilly (chicken wings cooked in tomato sauce) with white rice, then a friend's chicken paprikash with nokedli, then another friend's chicken cacciatori with egg noodles. Now, an impromptu sauted chicken with sauted tomatoes. It's tame, quick, tasty, and healthy.
Prep was easy--butterfly the chicken breast so its mostly a uniform width, rub it down with some olive oil and fresh herbs and spices (basil, oregano, salt, pepper), cook it through, and tent it to keep it warm on a plate. Then, in the same skillet, toss some halved cherry tomatoes with minced garlic and onions and more of the same herbs and spices used on the chicken. Let the tomatoes juice out a little, then pour the impromptosauce over the chicken and serve with brown rice.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I'd kind of been wanting a bundt pan. I'd always considered stuff like that an excess and a luxury, but I'd been coming across more and more of those rich, dense cake recipes that were designed for a bundt pan. I've never read anything alluding to a recipe's ruin if a baker made a bundt recipe in a non-bundt pan, but I was paranoid--maybe that little tube did something to bring heat closer to the center of the cake to help it bake evenly. *shrugs* All the bundt pan history I've read have said that bundt pans were invented in 1950 for some ladies who wanted an aluminum pan for their Jewish kugel cakes. I've never had them, but I read that they're dense, so maybe there is something to that "bake it from the middle" idea. It doesn't seem to have any relation to the angel food can, whose tube gives the center of the cake something to "climb up" during baking, and whose straight-edged shape makes for an easy release after cooling.
Anyway, I was going to forget about the bundt pans until I ran into a nice one for sale at Sears. When I brought it home and into my kitchen, one of the first things I saw were some ripening bananas. And that's how I came to make a banana peanut cranberry cake.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who's experienced the new pan/old banana phenomenon. I wonder how many other people have celebrated old bananas with new bundt pans, and new bundt pans with old banana cake.
To be honest, I didn't make a cake right away. It was after I read about the Aravaipa Farms bed and breakfast banana bread from a gourmet food magazine that I decided to find the recipe online and give it a shot. The article's writer was gushy about the BnB, and she made it sound as if the moist, delicious banana cake sealed the deal. I'm glad I was able to Google the recipe, and even gladder I'd waited for such a fine recipe to break in my bundt pan.
The final product was banana cake with dried cranberries and peanuts. The peanuts were my own addition; I like peanut butter and bananas, so it made sense to use up some leftover peanuts I had sitting around. The cake really is moist and delicious. I used part 2% milk to replace some of the buttermilk so it wasn't as rich, and it worked out fine. The cake had just enough fresh banana taste without being overwhelming, and it wasn't too sweet, though I probably could've gut the sugar, especially with the sweet dried cranberries I added. The cranberries added a gentle tang to the cake, and I think better-quality cranberries would've cut through the sweet a bit better. In all, it made me happy, especially with a cup of Lady Grey tea.
- 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour $
- 1 cup pecan or walnut halves $
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 cup mashed ripe banana
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 large eggs $
- 1 cup (1/2 lb.) melted butter or margarine $
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Mix flour, pecans, cranberries, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a large bowl, mix sugar, banana, vanilla, and eggs until well blended. Add butter and buttermilk; mix well.
- Add flour mixture to bowl and stir until evenly moistened.
- Butter and flour-dust a nonstick 10-inch decorative tube pan. Pour batter into pan.
- Bake in a 350° oven until a long wood skewer, inserted in the thickest part, comes out clean, and cake pulls from pan sides, about 1 hour
- Cool cake in pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Lay a rack on top of pan. Holding pan and rack together, invert to release cake. Lift off pan. Serve cake warm or cool.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I didn’t grow up eating salads. At least, not in the traditional American sense. I don’t think my mom ever even bought a head of lettuce until I was in my teens and she’d succumbed to the influence of food presented on TV. She did have wonderful standards such as the fresh and vibrant seaweed salad, using seaweed she pulled with her own two hands from the rocky beaches near our house, or her sweet and creamy fruit salad. These had nothing to do with the boring, ho-hum iceberg salads I came to associate with what a salad was supposed to be.
During my freshman year in college, my roommate was a vegetarian. She was the first vegetarian I ever knew. She ate Raisin Bran for almost every meal except for when we’d go out; then, it was always salads. I’d follow suit, and I ate more salad that year than I had in the 18 years leading up to that. I was probably one of the few freshmen who lost 15 pounds instead of gained them. In truth, I hated those salads. Whatever those places treated their produce with to keep it green and fluffy would make my stomach clench. Even now, some places’ salads will make my physically ill. Then there’s my irrational fear of getting a plate of contaminated produce.
In cooking school, I’ve learned that every chef instructor has his or her own series of horror stories. While most of them have stories about kitchen accidents that leave fellow chefs maimed of eviscerated (the moral of this story, kids, is don’t run with your chef’s knife), my chef instructor for my Food Service Safety and Sanitation class had a lot of sanitation stories. One of her favorite morals was “a good percentage of foodborne illness comes from contaminated raw produce.” I won’t even start on her salad dressing stories.
Thus, I very rarely order salads when I’m out to eat. Plus, I so rarely eat out, that I always try to get a dish that I wouldn’t be prone to make at home. Despite my shaky introduction to salads, salad dishes don’t fall into that category.
June’s Savories and Sweets party went back to its roots as the Salad and Sweets party. I thought about some cool summer salads and decided on four to serve with my Daring Bakers project, my Danish Braid. And, following my personal preferences, I stayed away from lettuce. I ended up serving variations on Heidi Swanson’s Spring Panzanella, Epicurious’ green bean and hazelnut salad, a brown rice and cucumber salad with asparagus tips, and an approximation of the El Salvadorian drink Agua de Ensalada. I really enjoyed all of these and will be adding them to my go-to. I’m also inspired to play with variations since they’re all so easy to make and easy to alter depending on what’s on hand. I also always seem to have the right stuff to make a decent dressing: a little acid, a little oil, some herbs and seasonings, shake or whisk, and I’m good to go.
For my panzanella, I’d planned to bake a rustic Tuscan loaf, but I ran out of time, so I ended up making a quick milk bread. I liked the richer bread with the greens and the lemon vinaigrette I ended up winging to dress the salad. I steamed the peas and asparagus; cubed the bread and fried it with the shallots, garlic, and thyme; and wilted the spinach. Then I combined some lemon juice and salad oil, seasoned it, and dressed the salad.
The green bean and hazelnut salad dressing included white wine vinegar, some extra virgin olive oil, mustard powder and grainy mustard, and a couple drops of sesame oil. I think toasted hazelnuts can make almost anything taste good, and I loved them with the blanched green beans. The mustards added a nice, muted heat and tang, and the white wine vinegar added a nice, bright zip. It was all topped off with the olive oil’s floral and fruity notes.
The rice and cucumber salad, inspired loosely by this season’s Top Chef competitor Antonia, included cooked brown rice, chopped English cucumber, and lightly steamed asparagus tips. It was dressed with some extra virgin olive oil and white Balsamic vinegar. Just as Antonia commented, the warm and cold combo was appealing, and I liked the flavor and texture combos this dish gave me, too—nutty, crisp, juicy, slightly chewy, with all of it blending together easily. To be honest, it was comfort food. It was the only salad that didn’t make the best leftovers, though; brown rice always seems to toughen up after being in the drying environment of my fridge.
The idea for Agua de Ensalada came from the actual drink I had at a local El Salvadorian restaurant called Eliana’s. It was so lovely—fruity and refreshing without being overly sweet. Their recipe seemed to be pineapple juice, a not-too-sweet simple syrup, and chopped fruit that included apples, pineapple, and carrots. I used just the pineapple juice and added apples, pineapple, and quince, then finished it off with some agave nectar.