Sunday, August 31, 2008

Daring Bakers, August: Chocolate Éclairs by Pierre Hermé

It's Daring Bakers time, it's Daring Bakers time, it's Daring Bakers time, it's Daring Bakers time (sung to the tune of the Howdy Doody theme song).


At the beginning of the month, the designated DB host(s) assign a register to be worked on secretly by the growing ranks of Daring Bakers. At the end of the month, on an assigned day, the DBers reveal their projects on their blogs! This month's hosts, Tony Tahhan and MeetaK assigned Pierre Hermé's chocolate eclairs!

This shot makes me want to watch "Hunt for Red October."
Daring Bakers August: eclairs

This wasn't my first time with choux paste--that piped pastry dough that you bring together in a pot over heat then pipe onto sheets and bake so your forms puff up and dry out. In fact, one of my first baking projects when I first came to realize that cooking and baking could be enjoyable was cream puffs and eclairs.

I went on to make more in a couple of my baking classes. Observe my pate au chouxstriches:
Bless my patient chef-instructors whimsy-appreciating heart.

And at home the one and only time I made those stinky gougères, but we needn't speak of those. On to the project!

I try to be good and pipe my choux paste with enough room around each piece.
Daring Bakers August: eclairs

And so they have room to puff up (I piped two lines, one on top of each other, so they'd come apart, sorta like hot dog buns).
Daring Bakers August: eclairs

But then I get impatient waiting for sheets to cool and only baking a few pieces at a time, so I just plop as many out as I can fit on a sheet.
Daring Bakers August: eclairs

Because I know that, unless it's a runny cookie dough, I won't have many, if any, problems (yet).
Daring Bakers August: eclairs

I served them on a sushi platter. Four inches was just the right length! It made me realize how gargantuan a lot of bakeries make their eclairs these days--they remind me of long john donuts (maple bars, for your more refined types).
Daring Bakers August: eclairs

Sometimes, eclair glaze is a bit dull or stiff (see below); this is usually because it's allowed to cool too long, and it sets up into a frosting. If you dip them while the chocolate glaze is still warm and flowing, it will come out shiny.
Daring Bakers August: eclairsv

When life hands you choux paste and some homemade honey vanilla frozen yogurt, make profiteroles. See the chocolate frosting. Yom.
Daring Bakers August: eclairs

In truth, as much as I want to love choux paste, I usually don't. The dough is usually pretty bland, and all too often, soggy from sitting around with its feeling's moisture seeping into the crust. If you're going to have things like eclairs, making them at home is, hands down, the best way to do it. You get the crisp shell that you're supposed to, the delicious pastry cream, which I do love, is fresh and cool, and you get the flavors and textures you should without sacrificing them to time spent in a display case. Try at the recipe, available at the hosts' blogs (way up top). I know for a fact that choux pastries also make for good shells for tuna and chicken salads and the like!

Check out the other Daring Bakers' blogs here!

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Friday, August 29, 2008

One-Wall Kitchen's Hundred

From VGT.

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

My 100 are behind the cut:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake
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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

August's ice cream recap

I've been making more ice cream than any one person has any right to have stuffed into their freezer unless they're writing a cookbook. Part of my excitment was fueled by this year's Best Lick ice cream contest hosted by the kitchn. I decided to jump in head first and make up two recipes for my first ice creams. I wanted ice creams that were unique but tasty. I decided to submit the first ice cream I made--Blueberry Brie Tart. I love brie cheese with fruit, and I love blueberry tarts. I decided an almond "crust" would go best with the blueberry and brie pairing. The result was sweet with punches of fresh, tart berries and a wonderful, nutty pop of taste and texture from the crust bits stirred in.


The recipe is connected to my ice cream entry's post. There have been so many amazing looking entries--they're all worth checking out!

I stored that batch in a repurposed plastic soup container from my favorite Chinese delivery.

The second ice cream that I considered entering was the White Peach and Honey Hazelnut Praline Ripple. This was also inspired by seasonal fruit, as well as the hazelnut praline leftover from July's Daring Baker challenge. It had a great flavor, but when I saw that the first entry the kitchn posted was also a stone fruit praline, I decided it would be kinda tacky to submit my own. Claire Clark had written in her cookbook 100 Perfect Desserts that her favorite ice cream recipe excluded eggs, especially with fruit ice creams because she believed that leaving out eggs allowed more fruit flavors to shine through. Since white peaches can have such a soft flavor, I went with an eggless recipe and was very glad for it. White peach, through and through!
peach praline ripple

I tried two chocolate peanut butter ice cream recipes--David Lebovitz's from The Perfect Scoop and Joy the Baker's. My favorite by far was Joy the Baker's--built like a starch-thickened, eggless gelato, this ice cream was so rich and creamy, and both the chocolate and the peanut butter show through instead of blending muddily into each other. Don't get me wrong--I also enjoy chocolate peanut butter mud, but this ice cream reminded me that punches of each flavor separately is what makes the pairing so perfect. The Lebovitz recipe was also a bit too icy and almost flat in comparison. Joy's baker is a little more labor intensive, but it's worth the work, which is still pretty negligible compared to a custard-based ice cream.
double chocolate peanut butter ice cream

The easiest and healthiest recipe I made was the honey vanilla frozen yogurt--a riff off David Lebovitz's, but without the sugar. It's basically three cups of plain yogurt with a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract and a quarter cup of honey stirred in, then frozen in the ice cream maker. Unlike the overly sweetened commercial frozen yogurt, this has all the tang of plain yogurt. It also doesn't have any of the weirdo additives. I really want to start experimenting with healthier ice cream recipe along this line. Especially since eating "regular" ice cream is one of the best ways to mainline fat and sugar into your body. *sigh* Anyway, the pleasant zing made this frozen yogurt a great accompaniment to all the fruit-flavored ice creams I'd made, especially the next ice cream I made: ube ice cream.
honey vanilla frozen yogurt

The first time I had ube ice cream was a few years ago at my Mom's house, home of other such strange ice cream flavors as avocado ice cream and sweet corn ice cream. She'd found ube ice cream popsicles at a local Asian grocery, and I quickly became addicted. Unfortunately, ube ice cream was hard to come across out here in Phoenix, and I've only recently been able to find it. I saw a recipe for it in one of my favorite food blogs, Burnt Lumpia, where Marvin the blogger writes painful details of trying to figure out how to get the ube into the ice cream. I cheated.
ube ice cream

I basically used Joy the Baker's starch-thickened base and added a heaping half cup of ube jam from the local Asian supermarket into some hot cream so the ube "grains" would melt down.

Ube Ice Cream
with respect and admiration to Joy the Baker and Marvin's heroic efforts

2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup Splenda
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup ube jam (available at many Asian markets)

1. In a sauce pan over medium heat, stir together 2 cups whole milk, sugar, Splenda, and salt. Heat the milk until it steams, but before it starts to boil.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup of whole milk and the cornstarch. Stir until no lumps remain.

3. Add the cornstarch mixture to the heated milk and bring to a low boil. Boil until thickened and remove from the flame.

4. In a small sauce pan, heat 1/2 cup of heavy cream to a simmer. Add ube jam to the jam and stir until smooth.

5. Stir the cream and ube mixture into the cooling milk mixture. Place in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a lid, and put in the fridge until cool.

6. Once cool, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the ice cream maker to churn ice cream. Transfer the ice cream into a freezer safe container, cover, and freeze until solid.

Maybe next time, I'll swirl some ube jam ripple through the ice cream, though some of my dinner party guests strongly recommended I swirl it with my frozen yogurt since the sweet ube and tart yogurt went so well together.

Over at the kitchn, there was a thread about where to get ice cream pint containers. I used random tupperware and, as mentioned above, empty soup containers. My favorite containers, though, were empty Laura Scudders peanut butter jars, which were especially appropriate for the chocolate peanut butter ice cream. If you use glass, just be extra careful to leave some head room so that the container's contents don't expand and cause a glass bomb to explode in your freezer! I left about 3/4 inches at the top, and it worked out just fine.

I wonder what September's ice cream roundup will look like. Luckily, ice cream season in Phoenix lasts all year around!
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Friday, August 22, 2008

July's SAS party, and crackers matter

When building the cheese plate for my birthday potluck, Hun didn't hesitate to choose Triscuits for the cracker part, and he was pretty gleeful when he saw the market had cracked pepper. "They really do taste like cracked pepper!" Seeing him made me giddy. He usually doesn't care about brands, and sometimes, he sorta balks about flavor options. I was glad for the cracked pepper Triscuits, though--they were like midnight crack for this late-night snacker for a full week after my party. But the cracker I don't want to forget came to life after the party, with a bowl full of Mark Bittman's leftover edamame salad (perfect for picnics), the memory of the kitchn's dip, which they'd made from Bittman's salad, and a package of Sesmark's brown rice crackers.

edamame dip and cous cous salad

By the time this month's SAS party rolled around, I was craving the stuff. In the true style of Mark Bittman, it's so easy, I didn't even bother to look up the recipe: boiled edamame, some asiago, olive oil, salt, and fresh mint all ground up in a food processor and served with crackers. Once my friends got over how bright and neon green it was, they seemed to enjoy it, too.

SAS August 2008

As always, it was fun picking new salad recipes for this month, and the recipes I made were quick and easy, so lunch was actually on time this month. Of course, my friends, by now accustomed to late lunches, all arrived at least 30 minutes after I was done. ;)
SAS August 2008

I usually have at least one or two vegetarian friends over, and they, along with the growing number of reports and news items I've been reading about how detrimental meat products are to our environment, inspired me to try out some Quorn (faux chicken style). I remembered how one of my favorite Top Chefs--Harold--once offered up a chicken and grape sandwich for one of the show's challenges, and I always thought chicken and fruit made good friends. Here, I combined Quorn and seedless red grapes with some curry powder dressing, then served them in endives for a little green crunch that only crisp leafy greens can give. This was one of the day's favorites.
SAS August 2008

The marinated potato salad was just a riff off the potato salad in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Since a friend asked for the recipe, I actually wrote it down with quantities.Potato salad (a.k.a., German Potato Salad of sorts, a.k.a., Marinated Potato Salad)


4 red potatoes

4 tablespoons of sushi vinegar (though really, ANY vinegar would work)

4 tablespoons of olive oil (though really, something like vegetable or canola oil would work)

2 teaspoons tablespoon of lemon juice

¼ teaspoon mustard powder

½ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

A pinch of paprika

1. Put the potatoes in a pot and add enough water to cover them.

2. Bring the water to a boil, add a tablespoon or two of salt, and boil the potatoes for 25 minutes, until you can slip a knife into the potatoes without them screaming in pain (they should be soft, I mean).

3. Drain the potatoes, and while they cool enough for you to handle them …

4. … put the other ingredients in a little container, jar, or something and shake it up. Taste it and see if you want to add anything else, like salt or pepper.

5. Slice up your potatoes into bite-sized pieces. They shouldn’t have cooled completely; hot potatoes will absorb the flavors of your dressing better.

6. Toss the potatoes with your dressing.

7. Let the potato salad come to room temperature and then refrigerate for an hour or so. Just don’t put the hot potato salad in the fridge (it might become a breeding ground for bacteria). Chilling it will let the flavors to meld together.

8. Eat the potato salad cold or not so cold (room temperature).
SAS August 2008

This month's SAS gave me an opportunity to play with the Israeli couscous I picked up at the local Safeway. I love the smell, texture, and the hint of toasty flavor. I usually use regular small-size couscous in couscous curry salad, but this time, I went minimalist and just grilled some zukes and dressed the salad with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon, tossed with some salt, pepper, paprika, and some chopped fresh parsley and basil.
SAS August 2008

Dessert, which, as always, included this month's Daring Bakers (to be posted later this month), consisted of all the ice creams I've been making in my new little Cuisinart: the blueberry brie tart, roasted peaches with hazelnut praline ripple, two kinds of peanut butter and chocolate, and honey vanilla frozen yogurt. The frozen yogurt was the simplest recipe--just some whole milk plain frozen yogurt, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and about 1/4 cup of honey--enough to make a nice sweet tang.
honey vanilla frozen yogurt

It turns out, the frozen yogurt has made a good compliment to both the blueberry brie tart ice cream and some ube (purple yam) ice cream I made.
Read more!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chocolate and ricotta mousse with a granola cameo

We need more healthy food in our diets. At least, I know I do! With that in mind, I'm glad I'm lucky enough to know someone who's willing to share healthy recipes! You can visit Chef Rachel at her blog for recipes like chocolate and ricotta mousse.
chocolate ricotta mousse

It was delicious, but I dressed it up with some homemade granola--a version of this one, using the same cooking method and just using the quick oats, nuts, and dried fruit I had on hand. I traded the butter and brown sugar for 1/4 cup canola oil, 1/2 cup honey, and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to make it a little more waist line friendly:

It made for a great texture and flavor addition!

chocolate ricotta mousse
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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ice cream, I did

July's DB challenge left with with a nice bit of leftover hazelnut praline paste. It's good stuff, but I didn't foresee making a cake in the near future, and I wanted to make sure it didn't go to waste.

peach praline ripple

LUCKILY, though the magic of knowing me too well, one of my birthday gifties was a little bit of dough (the money kind) to buy an ice cream maker for myself.

This wasn't my first ice cream maker. When I was someone in the single-digit ages, 6, maybe 8, one of my brothers gave me a Snoopy ice cream maker for Christmas. I was pretty happy, even though cooking or any type of food making was still far from my list of fun things to do.

My mom was the one who really hit that heightened glee point, though. Always experimenting and loving new flavors and gadgets and experiments, it wasn't long before she was churning out pint after pint of frozen concoctions. I think I quickly lost interest as an entire half of my body started to burn from the agony of churner's elbow. But my mom, who had the upper body strength of all home cooks who cook three meals a day, every day, for seven people, churned out ice cream as if she were spinning straw into gold. Thus, my brother and I would fall into giggle fits when we'd open a reused margarine of cool whip container in the freezer, only to find avocado ice cream, using fruit from one of our many avocado trees, or a soft cream-colored ice cream, whole kernals of corn dotting the surface. I enjoyed it, though. I was well on my way to becoming an ice cream addict. Frighteningly, by college, I could tell by taste and texture what brand I was eating.

I think a lot of it was fueled by fond ice cream memories. My parents would pie cones of Thrifty's ice cream for us, and I'd almost always get pecan praline, or else the chocolate chip, with the thin, crisp flakes of chocolate laced throughout. My college best friend and I would flee the Arizona heat under the local Dairy Queen's covered patio--I'd always get peanut butter cup blizzards, and she'd get chocolate chip cookie dough. Later, we discovered the ice cream vending machine in the math building, and there'd be comedic times when we'd find ourselves trying to fulfill our ice cream fix there, scrabbling for coins that had rolled under the machine when we found ourselves short for some generic ice cream sandwich or sugar cone.

I think it was my fear of lack of willpower, and later, straight up lack of funds, that kept me from ever getting my own ice cream machine. True to my nature, a week after I bought the thing, I've made ice cream three times.

What do you do when you have leftover hazelnut praline paste? You buy some ripe white peaches, toss them in some orange juice, roast them a bit, heat some cream and milk, process the peaches into it, sweeten the whole pot with honey, and drizzle and fold that paste right in.

peach praline ripple

peach praline ripple

Okay, back up--don't get your nose into my ice cream, buddy.

peach praline ripple

Want a bite?

peach praline ripple

The basic process comes from Alton Brown's Burned Peach ice cream, but I changed a lot of the ingredients.

White Peach and Honey Hazelnut Praline Ripple
(or, Peach Praline Ripple)

2 cups cream
1 cup milk
3 white peaches
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup hazelnut praline

1. Halve and pit the peaches, and toss the peach halves in the o.j. and roast them at 400 degrees for 5-10 minutes, til soft, but not obliterated.
2. When cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and reserve them, and puree the peach flesh, leaving a few yummy chunks intact. Then set it aside.
3. Combine the dairy and peach skins in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to just boiling, about 170 degrees.
4. Remove from heat and strain into a container.
5. Stir in honey pureed peaches, and combine well.
6. Cool mixture in an ice bath, then chill in refrigerate.
7. Pour mixture into ice cream maker's bowl, making sure you get all the honey out if any of it sunk to the bottom of the bowl (miraculously, none of mine did).
8. Freeze mixture in ice cream freezer according to instructions.
9. During the last few minutes, squeeze in half the praline paste. I used a piping back to stream it in.
10. When you stop the machine, you can fold in the other half of the praline paste.

If you want to harden the mix, harden the mix in the freezer until it reaches the desired consistency. This ice cream stayed wonderfully scoopable, unlike my first batch of ice cream. Which is another story for another day. Probably next week. ;)

I know, I know, you want chocolate. The third recipe I tried, which I saw over at the kitchn, was Joy the Baker's Double Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream. Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream in its many variations has always been one of my all-time favorites, and this one's definitely a keeper! It's super easy, has no eggs to fuss with, but is still wonderfully rich. The only part that requires any skill is getting the peanut butter in at the end, just right, so you get chunks and ribbons of it here and there.
double chocolate peanut butter ice cream

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Birthday Food and the Essence Bakery Cafe

For my birthday potluck, I made July's Daring Bakers project, the filbert gateaus with praline buttercream. For my actual birthday, though, I took Hun to one of my favorite local bakeries and picked up a tasting box from Essence Bakery Cafe:

Essence birthday dessert

As well as a heavenly caramel macaron that was as big as my cell phone.
Essence birthday dessert

The tasting box held a Mexican wedding cookie, chocolate macaron, honey vanilla muffin, chocolate espresso cookie, and white chocolate cherry cookie. I split everything in half and shared the plate with Hun after my birthday dinner of lamb chops with asparagus, brown rice, and lamb gravy. Yom!
Essence birthday dessert

I didn't take many photos of my actual potluck. In fact, I barely took any once guests started arriving, but there's one of my garam masala sweet potato frittata (recipe below).
sweet potato frittata

Special thanks to the other dishes: Eggplant frittata, pancit bihon, hummus, marinated artichoke hearts and fresh mozzarella, edamame pecorino salad, Robert’s beautifully styled cheese, pita, and cracker trays, couscous curry salad, Robert’s watermelonade, Lady Grey tea, PGTips tea, Jen G’s fruit salad, Bill’s chicken and rice, Heather and Patrick’s Chex party mix, Nikki’s tepary bean dip, Tabor’s garlic hummus, Wendy’s gelato (which I hoarded for myself), Chris D’s cheesecake, Chris W’s many soda varieties, Matt’s spaghetti, Marcus’ praline madeleines, Jesse’s meatballs, Fabio’s salsa and chips, and Elizabeth and Matt’s lucky black eyed peas. And Robert's wonderful cracker trays. Seriously. These things were like mandalas after he got through with them. I ate until I couldn't sit down. I couldn't really stand up, either. Such is a consequence of growing older!

I do have a photo of a plate of Robert's leftovers from the following day, though: pancit bihon (like Filipino lo mein using rice noodles, Mark Bittman's edamame salad, and couscous curry salad).
potluck sampler platter

People seemed to enjoy my garam masala frittata:
1. Peel, dice, and roast two cups of sweet potato (at 375 for 20-30 minutes, stirring halfway through). Let cool slightly as you continue.
2. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a large nonstick frying pan and saute to soften half a diced onion. Set aside and keep frying pan hot.
2. Lightly beat 6 large eggs.
3. Add and stir together a dash of salt, the sweet potato, sauted onion, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, and a dash of cayenne pepper.
4. Add 1/2 Tbsp olive oil to the pan, then pour egg and sweet potato mixture to the pan. Cook until bottom is lightly browned, lifting edges so uncooked egg can run under, until frittata is well set.
5. Now the fun part, and the part that might make you wet your pants. Once bottom is cooked, flip frittata onto a plate and slide back into pan, uncooked side down. Make sure your pan is big enough to hold the frittata, and when you flip it, don't hesitate--just do it. ;)
6. Cook until (new) bottom is lightly browned, 3-4 minutes.
7. Slide frittata onto plate, wedge with a pizza slicer, and serve.
Optional: Top lightly with some chopped parsley.
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