Monday, April 26, 2010

Rhubarb, Rhubarb, Rhubarb

I used to be an actress.  When I first arrived in L.A. one of the most ridiculous pieces of advice I got was this one, "If you're an extra in a background scene, just keep saying rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb and it will look like you're having a real conversation."  Umm....are you kidding?  For this, I majored in theater?

Now when my beloved rhubarb comes in season, that's all I can think about.  And now I've poisoned you and you will forever make this association.  You can thank me later.

Actually, I hope you will thank me for this recipe.  This is a rhubarb compote that can be put on waffles, french toast, pancakes, served over ice cream, oatmeal or pound cake.  My current favorite snack is a piece of toasted baguette with a smear of ricotta and a dollop of rhubarb compote.  If you're a bit cheeky, add a grind of black pepper to the top.   Here's another good thing-you can freeze it so when the rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb is out of season you'll still have some.  And scene.

Rhubarb Orange Compote
Makes 2-3 cups

1 lb. rhubarb
3/4 c. sugar
2T orange liqueur, like Triple Sec
zest of one orange
2T butter

1.  Trim the ends of the rhubarb and split it lengthwise down the center. Cut across in 1/2 inch pieces. 

2. In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb with the sugar and orange liqueur and orange zest. Set aside.

3. Melt the butter in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sugar coated rhubarb. Let this cook over a medium heat, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. When the rhubarb has started to release juices, gently stir.

3. Continue cooking the compote over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices are all released, then begin to thicken. Cooking time is about 10 to 15 minutes total, until the compote looks thick and the rhubarb is tender.
 For you cheeky eaters...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blackened Fish

Here's an Earth Day fun fact for you via Mario Batali.  The cattle industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than our transportation vehicles.  His point being, if we all ate a little less meat and a little more vegetables or fish, we could help the Earth as well as ourselves.  Interesting food for thought.

In the spirit of that, I should be bringing you a vegetable dish but alas, I felt like fish.  It's my blog and I can cook what I want to.  I love teaching my clients how to cook fish because I find more than any other food group, people are intimidated by fish.  Most people have one or two fish recipes they can pull off and then they're stuck.

This is simple.  3 ingredients. 1 pan. Done and done.  Blackened fish, it's highly seasoned but not spicy (at least my blend wasn't).  A little Cajun seasoning for flava.  Boo-yah!  You have the spiced crusty outside contrasting with the tender fish inside.  This is an especially good dish for people who are on the fence about fish since the bold spices are the star.  One note, this smokes up the joint so open the windows or you could cook it outside.

Here's a tip of the day:  Fish takes about 8 minutes per inch of thickness to cook. 

Blackened Swordfish
Serves 1-2

1 Swordfish steak
1T unsalted butter, melted
2T Blackened Cajun seasoning (I used Paul Prudhomme's)

1.  Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat for 10 minutes.
2.  Using a pastry brush, brush melted butter on both sides of swordfish.
3.  Coat fish with seasoning.  Pat it on and be generous, you should not see fish peeking through.
4.  Add to hot pan and cook about 4 minutes on each side if steaks are around an inch thick.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cake Gallery

More recent cakes from our kitchen...

This was done for a runner who loves to fish.  Instead of catching a fish, he catches a running shoe.

A rainbow cake, inside and out...
Rainbow cake innards

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Espresso Cheesecake

For those of you who are lactose intolerant, look away.  This ain't gonna be pretty.  For the rest of you, take notes because if you bring this to your next gathering you will be a total rock star.  It's got a lot of steps but it's not hard (but no one has to know that).  If you play your cards right, you won't have to lift a finger for the rest of the party.  You'll just sit there, basking in the glow of your lovely cheesecake.

This is a New York cheesecake which means its a denser, dryer cheesecake.  A little slice goes a long way.  All the better to feed a big crowd, right?  It's got 7, yes SEVEN packages of cream cheese and it uses those chocolate wafer cookies that I've only ever used for cookie crusts or an icebox cake.  Does anyone buy these just to eat out of hand?

If you take the basic cheesecake recipe you could dress her up in any way you like, i.e. add a fruit or caramel topping or a different cookie crust.  For me, I wanted a little espresso flavor married to my chocolate.  I think they're going to be very happy together.  It also makes more filling than your crust will hold so do what you will with the rest-make an extra crust, bake the filling alone or just eat it out of the refrigerator at midnight...who's going to know?

Espresso Cheescake
Feeds a multitude

6T unsalted butter, melted
1 9 oz. package of chocolate wafer cookies
3T + 1t sugar
pinch of sea salt
1t espresso powder

7 8 oz. packages of Philadelphia cream cheese (at room temp!)
2 1/4 c sugar
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c sour cream (at room temp!)
5 large eggs (at room temp!)
1t vanilla
1t coffee extract (if you don't have this, increase the vanilla to 2t)
1/2t fine sea salt

1/2 t espresso powder
4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

1.  Bring your sour cream, cream cheese and eggs to room temperature.  This is crucial to the success of the cheesecake.  It will take at least an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the sides of a 9 or 10-inch springform pan.  Line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper.
3. Finely crush the wafer cookies until they are crumbs.  I pulse them in the food processor.  Combine them with the 3T of sugar, 6T of melted butter, a pinch of sea salt and 1t of espresso powder.  Mix until combined.
4.  Press the cookie crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared springform pan.
5. Sprinkle the remaining 1t of granulated sugar over the cookie crust.  Now use a measuring cup to level the crust and pack it into the pan.  Press the crust slightly up the sides of the pan until even all around.
6. Put on baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool completely.
7.  In the bowl of a mixer, beat the cream cheese until very fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
8.  Whisk together the flour, sugar and sea salt.  With the mixer on low, gradually add the dry ingredients to the cream cheese.  Mix until smooth.
9.  Add sour cream, vanilla and coffee extract and mix until smooth. Scrape down sides of bowl.
10.  Add eggs one at time.  Add the next egg as soon as the first yolk breaks.  Scrape down the mixer for a final time.
11.  Wrap springform pan in two sheets of heavy duty tin foil.  Have a large roasting pan ready.
12. Pour the cheesecake filling into the crust until it's 4-5 inches high.  DO NOT SCRAPE THE BATTER OUT OF THE BOWL OR YOU WILL HAVE A LUMPY CHEESECAKE.  Sorry, didn't mean to yell, it's just important.  No scraping of the spatula, mixer beaters or bowl.  More leftover batter for you!
13. Transfer cheesecake into the roasting pan and into the oven.  Carefully pour boiling water into the roasting pan until it reaches about halfway up your springform pan. 
14. Bake for 45 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue to bake another 30 minutes or until cake is set but still slightly wobbly in the center.
15. Turn oven off but leave door propped open with a wooden spoon.  Leave the cheesecake in there for an hour.  Transfer to wire rack to cool.

1.  Melt chocolate for topping by microwaving chopped chocolate at 50% power for 30 seconds at a time.  Stir until melted and combine with espresso powder.  Pour melted chocolate into a ziploc bag and seal.  Cut a small hole in one corner of the bag.
2. Squeezing the bag, pipe straight lines across the top of the cheesecake.
3. Perpendicularly drag a skewer or toothpick through the lines of chocolate and batter.  Alternate directions each time.  (see photo below)
4. Refrigerate cheesecake overnight but don't cover it with plastic wrap or foil.  That will cause condensation and ruin all your hard work.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Elderflower Cocktail

Do you have an Ikea near you?  The next time you're there buying bookshelves, pick up some of this elderflower syrup.  Cause we all know that by the time you're done trying to put together those bookshelves with that tiny little Allen wrench and instructions in Swedish, you're going to need a drink.

The syrup is herbal and citrusy and blends really nicely with gin.  Don't confuse this with Elderflower liqueur which is also lovely, but not the same.

Elderflower and Gin Cocktail
Makes 1 cocktail

1 1/2 oz. Elderflower Syrup
1 oz. Gin
6 oz. Club Soda
squeeze of lemon

1. Combine and serve over ice.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Breakfast, It's What's For Dinner

Pssst.  I've got a parental tip for you: breakfast for dinner.  It's the biggest scam going.  Easy for you and the kids think it's all kinds of awesome.  If you don't have kids, make it anyway and feel like a kid.  Plus, it's great for a hangover, illness, the blues or general malaise and laziness.

Potato Hash and Eggs w/ Cardamom Streusel Muffins

Spicy Potato Hash with Eggs
Serves 4

1 large Russet Potato scrubbed and cubed into 3/4 inch dice
3T olive oil
1/2 medium onion finely diced
1 orange pepper, medium dice
3 oz. Cajun tasso ham (you can use chorizo, bacon, salami, you choose)
1/4 t Smoked Paprika
1/2 t garlic powder
Salt & Pepper
1/4 c. shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
8 eggs

1.  Boil the cubed potatoes in salted water until about 3/4 of the way done.
2.  Drain and let dry.
3.  Preheat oven to 400.
4.  In a skillet heat olive oil until shimmering.  Add onion, paprika, garlic powder and salt and pepper.
5.  Cook until potatoes become browned with some crispy edges.
6.  Add diced pepper and tasso ham.  Saute 5 more minutes.
7.  Divide potatoes into 4 oven safe bowls or large ramekins.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Crack two eggs over potatoes in each dish.
8.  Cook in oven until whites are set but yolk is still soft, about 7-10 minutes. 

* If you don't want to divide these into individual dishes, you could cook the hash in an oven safe skillet.  Crack the eggs right into the skillet and transfer it to the oven to finish the eggs.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter Egg Bread

You've got a day left before Easter and that's plenty of time to whip up this braided Easter egg bread.  My friend (Hi Leen!) introduced me to this.  It is a great project to do with your kids.  The dough only needs 2 hours to rise plus an additional half hour.  It's got cinnamon and I added some orange flower water for a hint of floral and citrus notes.

All the braiding of my hair while my girls play "beauty shop" has finally paid off.  These kids can braid like nobody's business.  As for the garnish of icing and sprinkles, well...they haven't quite learned the "less is more" design concept yet.  But you know what, I kind of like it.  One recipe note, if you use Easter eggs in your braided wreath they need to be dyed but NOT hard-boiled.  The eggs will actually bake along with the bread.  Another option-use your hard-boiled dyed eggs but nestle them into the finished baked bread before serving.

Oh and let me save you from one other "Doh!" moment-if you've been keeping your raw dyed eggs in the refrigerator, let them come to room temperature before putting them on the bread and baking.  I found out the hard way that the condensation from the chilled eggs will make the dye run onto the bread.  Look kids, tie-dyed Easter egg bread!

Easter Egg Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 T active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup warm milk
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 t kosher salt
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1 t orange flower water
7 to 9 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
5 dyed uncooked eggs
egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water)

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Stir in the sugar and add 1/2 cup flour. Let this sit for 10 minutes to give the yeast a chance to get going. 
2. Add the milk, eggs, butter, salt, cinnamon and orange flower water. 
3. Stir in 5 cups of the flour. Add more flour, until the dough starts to form a shaggy mass. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough has formed a smooth and satiny ball. The dough will be a little tacky, but it shouldn't be sticky.
4. Put the dough into a clean bowl and coat it with a little melted butter. This will help prevent the formation of a skin on the dough due to exposure to the air. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let the dough rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it's quite swollen and puffy-looking. 
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it gently to expel any air bubbles. You don't need to actively knead the dough at this point. 
6. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and set one aside. Divide the first piece into 3 even pieces. Roll each piece into a rope that is 1-inch in diameter. Braid the set of ropes and shape the braid into a large circle. Place the circle on a greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
7.  Cover the loaves with damp towels and let the wreaths rise for 30 minutes.
8.  Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the eggs on the wreaths and gently press them into the dough. Brush the dough with the egg wash. 
9.  Bake the loaves for 35 to 45 minutes, until nicely browned. Occasionally, an egg will split in the oven. Use a sharp knife to remove it from the wreath and substitute a dyed hard-boiled egg. 
10.  Cool the wreaths on a rack and ice when fully cool.  

Icing Glaze
    1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar  
    3 T orange liqueur or 2 T orange juice
Beat the sugar and the liqueur or juice together. The icing should be the consistency of a thick salad dressing. Use a fork to drizzle the icing on the wreaths. 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pretzels and Beer

I did it.  I couldn't help myself.  I tried to wait, tried to be patient and then I went ahead and did it anyway.  I made ice cream.  This is usually an activity I pursue in the summer when it's sunny and warm and the days are lazy.  Not so much when you're still wearing a fleece, turning up the heat and slogging through 10 inches of rain.  But you know what, I'm a rebel.

I'll let you in on a dirty little secret which made me very unpopular in college.  I hate beer.  I've tried and it ain't happening.  A cocktail or a glass of wine? Yes, please!  Beer?  Yuck.

However, if I'm going to be a rebel, I might as well go all the way.  Pretzels and beer in ice cream.    This is so good I may have to go back to my college campus and bring a plastic cup of it to the next kegger.

I bought some Chocolate Stout and some milk chocolate covered pretzels and added them to a milk chocolate ice cream base.  The bitterness of the beer balances the sweetness of the milk chocolate.  It adds a depth of flavor that is sophisticated and intriguing.  Don't be tempted to sub semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate.  It just won't be the same.  The ice cream base is adapted from A Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.  If you don't have this book, run out and get it.  It's great. 

Chocolate Stout Ice Cream with Pretzels
Makes 1 1/2 Quarts

7 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 t kosher salt
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup Chocolate Stout
1 t vanilla
5 oz. milk chocolate covered pretzels, roughly chopped

1. Finely chop milk chocolate and set aside in a bowl.  Set a strainer over the bowl.
2. Combine milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and warm on stove.  Do not let it boil.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks until combined.
4. Very slowly, add the warmed milk, sugar and salt to the egg yolks, whisking the whole time.  You don't want to make scrambled eggs so go slowly and whisk constantly.
5. Now add the whole mixture back to the saucepan and return it to the stove over medium heat.  With a spatula, stir mixture constantly.  Keep scraping the bottom of the pan.  The custard mixture is done when it thickens and starts to coat the spatula.
6. Pour the hot custard mixture through the strainer and into the bowl with the chopped chocolate.
7. Gently stir until chocolate is melted and combined with the custard.
8. Add the cream, vanilla and chocolate stout to the custard.
9. Cool and chill mixture 4 hours or more.
10.  Freeze in your ice cream maker.  Stir in the pretzels only when mixture is finished churning in the ice cream maker.  Transfer to containers and freeze.