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Eastern Shore Edition: Seafood Stock *and* Crab Bisque

20 Aug

Joe and I somehow got it into our heads last night that we could eat 2 lbs. of steamed snow crab legs. Several clusters in, we realized that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. But there was no way I was going to let the remaining meat or the MOUNTAIN of shells go to waste. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to try my hand at making a creamy, delicious crab bisque and build it from the seafood stock on up. Let’s get to work, shall we?

Seafood Stock

Ingredients

  • Shells from 2 lbs snow crab legs
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5-6 carrots, diced
  • 5-6 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 sprigs thyme
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. black peppercorns

Method

Roast the crab shells in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.

Place a stock pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute until the vegetables start to soften. Take a selfie maybe?

Add the shells, white wine, thyme, peppercorns, and tomato paste. Then add water until the shells are covered by about 1 inch.

Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 and a half hours. Skim the grease and foam from the surface every so often during the cooking process.

There will be a decent amount of evaporation. The first picture is the beginning of the cooking process, and the second is the end.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much as possible. Yields about 2 ½ quarts

The stock is now ready to use for our delicious…

Crab Bisque

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ qts. seafood stock
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup cooking sherry
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3-4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz. crab meat (I used snow crab legs)
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh chives, chopped (for garnish)

Method

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat and then add the celery, carrot, and onion. Saute until the vegetables soften and give up their juices. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes more.

Deglaze the pan with the sherry, and then add the tomato paste.

Add the seafood stock, paprika, thyme, and bay leaves.

Bring the soup to a gentle boil, and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream.

Puree the bisque in batches, and then return to the stove, season with salt, pepper, and the lemon juice.

I prefer to add the crabmeat to the individual bowls when serving, but you can add it to the pot of bisque if you like. Garnish the soup wish fresh chives and enjoy!

So next time you “accidentally” order too much shellfish, toss your shrimp, crab, or lobster shells in a pot and get that stock going. In addition to being a wonderful base for soups and sauces, it is also delicious cooking liquid for rice and other grains.

I might just have to let my eyes get too big more often. 😉

Ciao for now,

Neen

 

Recipe Megapost: FRACAS 2012

6 Dec

Each winter I go completely overboard and cook a bizarre amount of food in the span of 2-3 days for the Folger Recycled Arts and Crafts Annual Show (FRACAS). The Green Committee holds the event each December and displays creative art pieces made from recycled objects by Folger employees, family, and friends.

After I’m home from the first ingredient run, I have a brief “you are out of your mind” moment, get that five minute panic out of the way, and then move forward. Once prep lists are made and I’ve worked out what needs to be done when / how things should be stored, it’s go time.

I may not be a trained chef, but I’ve been cooking for groups since I was old enough to reach the counter. One of the benefits of being the location of choice for most family holidays was / is getting to spend days in the kitchen working on party food with my family. We put on music, everyone picks a task, and sometimes a bottle of wine even starts floating around. Sometimes grandmothers or aunts even appear, ready to help. We’ve been a pizzelle factory, ravioli assembly line, cookie shapers, manicotti fillers and just about everything in between.

It’s different to do it alone. Fortunately, I never feel alone, because when I’m in the kitchen my family is with me whether they’re physically there or not. There may be several less pairs of hands, but all of their experience sticks right with me. So when this once-a-year madness comes around I go at it with everything I’ve got.

This year, the FRACAS tasting plates were primarily influenced by dishes from France and the Mediterranean. I was inspired by the spirit of our Green Committee to think about being a responsible steward of the earth and used each ingredient in as many ways as possible. I also considered the sustainability and seasonality of what was planned and consulted with friends from the local Arlington County Farmer’s Market in order to prepare a thoughtful, respectful group of dishes. My most sincere thanks go to those purveyors for making available the many local herbs, meats, vegetables, and preserved foods (i.e. dried cherries and strawberry jam). Special thanks to the fine folks at Smith Meadows, Cibola Farms, Toigo Orchards, and Twin Springs.

We begin with the plate of tapenades, spreads, and rillettes…

Smoked Salmon Rillettes
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 8 oz. wild salmon filet, bones removed.
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • Juice of half of one lemon
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chives, chopped.
  • 4 oz. of smoked salmon, cut into thin strips and then diced.
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika

Season the fresh salmon lightly with salt and steam for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mash together the olive oil and butter until very smooth and then stir in the lemon juice, chives, and smoked salmon.

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Remove the skin and flake the cooked, fresh salmon over the top of the mixture then fold it in gently until well combined. Season with chili powder and salt if needed. My smoked salmon was quite salty and so I did not add any extra salt.

Cover and chill for at least two hours. Allow the rillettes to come to room temperature before serving them. They will stay fresh covered in the refrigerator for up to three days or tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to two months.
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Pork Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 3 lbs. fatty pork shoulder
  • 8 oz. rendered pork fat (lard)
  • 1 leek, thoroughly washed and split lengthwise, leaving one inch intact at the root end.
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small bunch fresh thyme
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 qt. water or veal stock

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Dice the pork into 1 in. cubes and place in a pot. Cover with water by 2 in., bring to a boil, and drain the pork. Return the pork to the clean pot.

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Stuff the thyme and bay leaves into the split leek. Take the celery stalk and put it alongside the leek, then tie everything together with a piece of cotton twine. This is called a bouquet garni.

Stud the onion with the cloves.

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Add 2 qts. of water or stock to the pot with the pork in it, add the bouquet garni and clove studded onion, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook until the pork is very tender and falls apart when poked with a fork.

Remove the pork from the cooking pot and transfer it to a plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid into a bowl and set aside.

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Once the pork has cooled to slightly above room temperature, put it in a mixing bowl and mix on low speed, adding reserved cooking liquid as needed until it is a smooth, spreadable consistency. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

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Put the spread into individual containers and refrigerate until chilled.

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Melt the lard over low heat and then pour a 1/8 in. layer of it on top of each container of rillettes. This seals the containers and keeps the rillettes fresh. Put the rillettes back into the refrigerator and chill until the layer of fat has solidified. Remove from the refrigerator two hours before serving.

Covered, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

Mediterranean Olive and Vegetable Rillettes
adapted from Michael Ruhlman

  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into ½ in. discs.
  • 4 oz. mushrooms, quartered.
  • 2 medium sized tomatoes, quartered and seeded.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pits removed.
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced.
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup basil, chiffonade cut.
  • Salt and black pepper

Broil or grill the red and yellow peppers until the skin is black all over. Put them in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to cool.

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Once cool enough to handle, remove the skin, core, and seeds and then ½ in. dice.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini, yellow squash, mushrooms, and tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Saute the onion and garlic in 2tbsp. of the olive oil until soft, but not browned and then set aside to cool slightly.

Process the olives, garlic, and onions into a puree. Fold in the balsamic vinegar, roasted vegetables, peppers, and basil.

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Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for up to a week.

Fig and Olive Tapenade
adapted from David Lebovitz

  • 1/2 cup dried black mission figs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup nicoise or kalamata olives, rinsed and pitted.
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 tsp. stone ground mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled and smashed.
  • 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and patted dry.
  • 1 tsp. finely diced rosemary
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and black pepper

In a medium-sized pot, simmer the figs in the water until they are soft and the cooking liquid becomes syrupy. Remove the figs from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve the excess cooking liquid.

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In a food processor, pulse together the olives, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, figs, capers, rosemary until a chunky paste forms. Add the olive oil until the mixture is spreadable.

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The reserved liquid from the figs can be used to thin the spread if needed. Season to taste. Refrigerate for at least one day prior to serving. Covered, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Roasted Garlic with Marinated Dried Tomatoes

  • 1 cup dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Salt and black pepper

Combine the tomatoes and olive oil and set aside for at least 30 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly. If you have trouble getting the tomatoes to soften, you can put the mixture over very low heat for 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Split the heads of garlic in half horizontally and drizzle olive oil on each half. Put the garlic back together and bundle tightly in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic for 40-45 minutes or until soft and lightly caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Squeeze the softened garlic out of the peel and mash in a bowl. Drain and roughly chop the tomatoes, then mix them into the garlic with the lemon juice and thyme. If you like a chunky texture, stop and season here. If you prefer more of a spreadable consistency, you can puree this in a food processor. Season to taste. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

fracas2

…The second plate was full of cured pork tenderloin and parma ham accompanied by a few young cheeses and special condiments to brighten everything up. Everything here mixes and matches pretty well, but my favorite was a toast topped with the cured tenderloin and mustard fruit. Salty, sweet, and a little tangy, yum!

Sage and Thyme Cured Pork Tenderloin

  • 4 lb. pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and sinew.
  • ½ gallon water
  • 1 cup salt
  • 5 tbsp. DQ Cure #1, also known as pink salt or Instacure
  • 1 cup sugar (you can use a mixture of brown and white)
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Combine the water, herbs, salt, curing salt and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Set aside and chill until cold in a container large enough to hold the tenderloin.

Add the pork to the container of brine and place a plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Allow this to sit in the refrigerator for 48 hours.

Remove the pork from the brine, rinse and pat dry. Set it on a wire rack over a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roast the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees, rest, and then wrap and chill. Slice thin on the bias to serve.

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Ancho Chile Spiced Ricotta

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade ricotta. Once the curds have drained, add 1 tsp. ancho chile powder and mix thoroughly. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Queso Blanco with Roasted Piquillo Peppers

Follow the recipe found here for making homemade queso blanco. Prior to pressing the cheese, fold in 1/3 cup diced roasted piquillo peppers. Store well wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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Mustard Fruit
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup stone ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 pear, peeled, cored, and chopped into ½ in. cubes
  • 1 dried sour cherries

Place the dried cherries and chopped pears in a clean, quart-sized mason jar and set aside. Cover and shake to mix.

Combine the wine, sugar, vinegar and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the mustard until thoroughly blended and then mix in the mustard seeds.

Gently pour the hot liquid over the fruit in the jar, cover, and shake gently to distribute the liquid. It should generously cover the fruit. Store in the refrigerator for at least two days and up to one month. The longer it is stored, the more pronounced the flavors will become. The dried cherries will also plump up a little bit and they are delicious.

Giardiniera
adapted from Michael Symon

  • 1 pound celery, peeled and sliced thin.
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, cut into thin rings.
  • 2-3 cherry peppers, diced.
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced.
  • 1 red onion, quartered and sliced thin.
  • 1 tsp. ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. toasted, ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped.
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Pack into a 1 quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month, shaking gently every so often to redistribute the liquid.

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Strawberry Jam Tart with Walnut Crust

Follow the recipe found here for making a strawberry jam tart, but replace the cornmeal with ½ cup finely ground walnuts.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Tart
adapted from the Noble Pig

Tart shell:

  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Zest of one large orange

Filling:

  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup Nutella or other chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts to garnish

Preheat the oven to 325o F.

Melt the 12 tbsp. of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and brown just a touch. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, salt, and orange zest until the sugar is mostly dissolved.

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Put the flour in a large bowl and add the butter mixture. Mix until a soft dough forms.

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To form the crust, roll the dough into a ball and then press it into an ungreased 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom using the heel of your hand. Push the crust approximately ½ in. up the sides of the pan.

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Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake it for 25 minutes or until the edges are just becoming golden. Set aside on a wire rack to cool slightly. Unlike many tart recipes, the crust does not have to be completely cool before the filling is added. It can be warm, but you should be able to touch the sides of the pan.

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Whisk the cornstarch with ¼ cup of the heavy cream. Make sure the cream is cold when you do this.

Combine the remaining 1 ¾ cups cream, chocolate-hazelnut spread, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and mix thoroughly.

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Whisking constantly, bring the filling to a boil and boil for one minute or until it thickens considerably.

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Pour the filling into the tart shell.

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Top with chopped hazelnuts and refrigerate until set for at least two hours before serving. Chilling it overnight is ideal for the very easiest cutting serving. Covered, the tart will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

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Here’s the whole spread waiting to be enjoyed in our photography department. As you can see, I was not the only one contributing delicious goodies. We have a very talented staff, what can I say?

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And that doesn’t even include all of the truly special artwork that was created for the event. Tote bags, planters, wreaths, mobiles, frames, dioramas, models, origami…you name it, my colleagues thought of a creative way to make it. A personal favorite was a giant paper crane made out of a proposed engineering plan. He was pretty cool looking. For my own FRACAS piece I wanted to find a way to save all of the beautiful greeting cards Joe and I received at our wedding, so I made this wreath out of those, fabric scraps left over from making a skirt, a bow from the groomer which Dioji no longer cared to wear, and a broken embroidery ring:

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Well, I hope that this post will sustain you through December, since I’m fairly sure that I’ll go MIA during Christmas baking season. (Dare I try to break the record of 114 dozen treats?) All I’ll say is that a certain grandma gave me a pizzelle iron at my bridal shower and that it’s been calling to me from the cupboard ever since I deemed it acceptable to begin thinking about Christmas.

Warmest holiday wishes to all of you. Remember that what you always have is what you carry in your heart and head, so make it something fun!

Ciao for now,
Neen

Peach Prizewinner

11 Aug

It’s peach season! It’s peach season!

I went to the Foggy Bottom farmer’s market on Wednesday and loaded up a backpack full of them. Cut in half and roasted or grilled with a small pat of butter and a few tsp. of brown sugar in the hole where the pit used to be, they are perfect. Usually I eat one with a dollop of plain yogurt for a cool, tangy topping. If there’s any homemade granola around I’ll throw a spoonful of that on as well. It is the best summer dessert and I love that you can just make one serving.

Delicious little drupes.

Anyway with the Arlington County Fair going on this weekend, I thought making something with the most in-season fruit I could find was the best bet. But somehow I just got stuck. No recipes stood out to me and I finally just started pulling out ingredients in the kitchen and hoped that using some basic proportions would guide me along. We’re currently rich in bourbon that was either gifted to us or left over from the wedding. What could be better than bourbon and peaches? Bourbon, peaches and pecans, THAT’s what. If it will win anything at the fair, I can’t even guess. There are a lot of talented bakers in Arlington and only so many awards to go around. The greatest joy to me is seeing them disappear at work and having colleagues give them a thumbs-up.

Peach, Pecan and Bourbon Streusel Bars

Pastry:

  • 2.75 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped.
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into cubes.
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 tbsp. bourbon
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Filling:

  • 2 peaches, peeled and sliced ¼ in.
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. bourbon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and grease a 9×13 in. pan.

Toss the sliced peaches with the 1 tbsp. flour, 1 tbsp. brown sugar and 2 tsp. bourbon. Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, grind the pecans into a coarse meal. Add the flour, sugar, spices, and baking powder and combine. Add the butter a few tbsp. at a time and process until the texture is mealy.
Beat together the egg and bourbon and then process into the dry ingredients just until the dough is a crumbly texture. Add more bourbon if extra liquid is necessary; an extra egg will make it too doughy.

Press half of the dough into the prepared pan and then top with a layer of sliced peaches. Crumble the remaining dough on top.


Bake for 30 minutes or until the top and edges are lightly browned.

Cool completely (overnight is preferable) before cutting into 24 squares.
Store squares in a sealed container between layers of wax paper and refrigerate.
In between the time I wrote, edited and prepared this post, I got this:

What a weekend!

Ciao for now friends,

Neen

Childhood Candy Becomes a Grown-Up Tart

28 Aug

When I was growing up, I spent nearly every day of the summer at our community pool. In part, this was because I was on the swimming and synchronized swimming teams, but it was mostly because I just loved being there. My friends and I would swim for hours and then play long card games while we ate snacks in the warm sun. It was a pretty sweet life.

One of the best treats at the pool snack bar was the frozen candy. Especially frozen Twix bars. There was a treat worth digging through your bag for 50 cents. I didn’t get them very often since weekly allowance was a precious thing, but when I did I savored every last crunchy bite (well, as much as one could before the chocolate started getting all melt-y).

I was asked to make a dessert for a recent dinner party and thought fondly of that summer treat, so I decided to play with those flavors. I came up with a decadent tart that most certainly tasted like that childhood favorite got all dressed up. Get out your tart pans people, this one’s most definitely worth the effort.

Chocolate-Caramel Tart

Super-duper no-fail tart crust:

No shrinking, no cracking, no problem!

  • 6 oz. unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks)
  • 2 cups flour 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Chocolate filling:

  • 3/4 cup whipping cream
  • 6 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used 70% dark and the sweetness was spot on.)

Caramel filling:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F.

Melt the butter for the crust over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt, stirring until smooth.

Blend the butter mixture into the flour with a rubber spatula and then press the dough into a 10 in. tart pan with a removable bottom.

Freeze the crust for 15 minutes and then bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Bring the cream for the chocolate filling to a boil and then remove from the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until smooth. Spread one cup of filling into the prepared crust, reserving the rest. I put the remaining chocolate in a piping bag and stored it in the refrigerator.

Refrigerate the tart until the chocolate is firm, about 45 minutes.

Stir the sugar and water for the caramel in a heavy saucepan over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Then increase the heat and boil until the syrup turns amber, swirling the pan occasionally (do not stir!) and brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush as needed. This will take about 10 minutes, and the syrup will register at about 300 degrees when it is ready.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the cream, butter, vanilla and salt. The mixture will bubble up. Return the pan to very low heat and stir until the caramel is smooth and the color deepens (see the finished picture) to a rich brown. This will take no more than 5 minutes.

Refrigerate the caramel until cold, but not firm, about 20 minutes.

Spoon the caramel over the chocolate layer in the tart and smooth with an offset spatula. Pipe the reserved chocolate over the caramel to decorate and return the tart to the refrigerator until the caramel is firm. It should firm up within an hour or two, and can be made up to two days in advance (cover once the caramel has firmed up).  Serve chilled.

The crust has a nice crunchy bite, the chocolate is firm but melts in your mouth, and the caramel is creamy and rich. That little bit of lemon in the crust adds a little zing to offset all of the richness. Share with friends and be merry.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Recipe Megapost: Joe’s Birthday Party

19 Mar

Yesterday was a perfectly beautiful spring day, the first we’ve had here in DC thus far. How appropriate that the warm weather decided to show up on Joe’s birthday! We had some friends over for a celebration and spent the evening enjoying wonderful company and (if I don’t say so myself) some pretty tasty food.

Since this bash fell on a Friday, I did a lot of prep in advance so that I wouldn’t have much to do when I got home from work (and so I could enjoy the party). On to the deliciousness…

Amuse-bouche: Caramelized Pearl Onions with Queso Blanco

  • 32 pearl onions, blanched and peeled
  • 1 dried cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • A few spoonfuls of liquid from canned beets
  • Sprig of fresh thyme

*Okay, here’s the thing. The recipes I referenced for this all called for red pearl onions. I can’t find them anywhere. I don’t know why. So, I cheated and dyed them red with some of the liquid from my home-canned beets. It added bonus flavor and made them an awesome color.

Put all of the ingredients into a pot and add water just to cover the onions. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, swirling the pan every so often to keep the onions from scorching.

Reduce until there is about ¼ cup of syrupy liquid left in the pan. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and reserve syrup.

Queso Blanco

  • 1 gallon whole milk
  • ¼ cup white vinegar

Heat the milk, stirring frequently to keep from scorching. When it reaches 185 degrees, add the vinegar in 3 separate additions, stirring between each one. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for five minutes, then stir for another five or until the curds have firmed up a little bit. Strain into a colander lined with cheesecloth and then hang the curds to drain for an hour.

You can salt to taste and use this as is, but I really wanted it to be firm so that I could cut it into cubes. So, if you have a cheese press, line a mold with cheesecloth and press the curds at 10 lbs. for 10 minutes, redress the cheese and then press at 25 lbs. for 3 hours.

Put it all together: Thread one onion and one cube of queso blanco onto a skewer and drizzle with the reserved syrup.

Appetizer: Crostini Duo

  • 2 baguettes, bias sliced and toasted

For Spinach, Artichoke and Caramelized Onion Crostini

  • 1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 3 oz. Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 10 oz. fresh spinach
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp. dried cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a wide pan, sweat the diced onions in olive oil until soft, translucent and sweet. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spinach and cook just until it has wilted. Set the pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the yogurt, cheese, sour cream, artichoke hearts, thyme, mustard, pepper, and a few pinches of salt. Pulse to combine. Add the spinach, onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until it has a spreadable consistency.

Top each toasted baguette slice with the spread and serve at room temperature.

For Fromage Blanc, Basil and Roasted Red Pepper Crostini:

  • Roasted red peppers
  • Fromage blanc
  • Basil, chiffonade cut

To make the fromage blanc, heat 1 gallon of milk to 85 degrees and add a packet of fromage blanc starter. Stir vigorously for a minute or two and then cover the pot and allow the milk to ripen at room temperature for 12 hours. Scoop the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth, and then hang them to drain for 6 hours. It should have the consistency of cream cheese. Salt to taste.

Top each toasted baguette slice with a layer of fromage blanc, diced roasted red peppers, and chiffonade basil.

Appetizer: Mushroom Strudel (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

I am sorry that I didn’t get more pictures of this process, but my hands were covered with butter most of the time and photography got the shaft. These are so good and you can make them in advance, freeze, and then bake as needed. Handy.

  • 1 package phyllo dough (40 sheets)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cook the onion in the butter until translucent and then add the mushrooms and nutmeg. Saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until liquid has been released and has partially evaporated. Add the sherry and evaporate the alcohol by cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and let cool. The mixture will be moist.

Take one sheet of phyllo at a time from their package; cover the remaining sheets with plastic and then a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Brush one half of the sheet lengthwise with butter. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side, carefully, smoothing out as best you can. Again, brush one half of this lengthwise with butter, and fold the unbuttered side over it again. You’ll end up with one long column.

Place spoonful of the mushroom filling near the end and sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan over it. Begin folding one bottom corner of the phyllo strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, as if you were folding a flag. Place the triangle seam side down on the baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake for 15 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.

Main Course: Porchetta

Normally, this is seared and roasted, but oven-space was at a premium and so I went the crock pot route.

  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 4 lb pork loin roast
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth

Herb rub:

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tbsp. lemon pepper
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. dried fennel seed
  • 1/2 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

Combine all of the ingredients for the rub in a food processor and pulse until they form a paste.

Cut several inch-deep slits in the roast and stuff some of the rub inside of them. Slather the roast with the remaining rub.

At this point, I vacuum sealed mine to let it marinate for a few days.

In a large pan, sear the roast on all sides and then move it to the crock pot. Dioji was hypnotized by the smell of meaty goodness:

Add the broth to the pan to deglaze (scrape the bottom to get all of the bits of herby piggy goodness) and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then pour the liquid onto the roast in the crock pot.

Cook on high for 5-6 hours or on low for 7-8 hours. The roast ended up so tender that I shredded it and served it with the reduced cooking liquid.

Main Course: Cheese Manicotti with Zucchini Cayenne Marinara Sauce

I made the ricotta and mozzarella for these and you can find photo tutorials for them here.

Manicotti:

  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 tbsp. water

Filling:

  • 1 lb. ricotta cheese
  • ½ lb. mozzarella cheese, grated
  • A handful of grated parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • Fresh thyme and parsley to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 2 zucchini, ¼ in. dice
  • 4 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 4 dried cayenne peppers, diced
  • Dried thyme
  • Fresh parsley

To make the pasta dough, beat together the eggs, oil and water and then stir them into the flour. Get your hand in the bowl and begin to knead the dough together.Knead until it is smooth and then flatten into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and rest at room temperature for 30 min.

Roll the pasta into sheets, and then cut into 5 in. squares.

Boil the squares in salted water for 1-2 minutes. Drain and leave these to rest on damp towels.

Combine all of the ingredients for the filling and taste for seasoning.

Spoon a row of filling along one end of a pasta square and then carefully roll up into a tube shape. Place this, seam side down on a baking sheet while you prepare the others. If you are freezing them as I did, freeze them individually on a baking sheet before moving to a bag.

To make the sauce, sweat the onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until translucent. Add the zucchini and garlic and sauté until everything is soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes, peppers and spices and simmer for a few hours or until the consistency is to your liking. Add seasonings as needed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spoon a thin layer of sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 in. baking dish. Arrange the manicotti in rows and then top with the remaining sauce (and some extra cheese if you like).

Bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through. Cover with foil and rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Bread: No-Knead Bread (from Splendid Table)

I like this because you can make the dough, throw it in a bucket in the fridge and forget about it for several days before baking.

  • 1-1/2 tbsp. granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 6-1/2 cups unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting dough
  • Cornmeal

In a large plastic resealable container, mix yeast and salt into 3 cups lukewarm water. Using a large spoon, stir in flour, mixing until mixture is uniformly moist with no dry patches. Do not knead. Dough will be wet and loose enough to conform to shape of plastic container. Cover, but not with an airtight lid.

Let dough rise at room temperature, until dough begins to flatten on top or collapse, at least 2 hours and up to 5 hours. (At this point, dough can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; refrigerated dough is easier to work with than room-temperature dough, so the authors recommend that first-time bakers refrigerate dough overnight or at least 3 hours.)

Place a broiler pan on bottom rack of oven. Place baking pan on middle rack and preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Sprinkle a little flour on dough and on your hands. Pull dough up and, using a serrated knife, cut off a grapefruit-size piece (about 1 pound). Working for 30 to 60 seconds (and adding flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands; most dusting flour will fall off, it’s not intended to be incorporated into dough), turn dough in hands, gently stretching surface of dough, rotating ball a quarter-turn as you go, creating a rounded top and a bunched bottom.

Place shaped dough on a piece of parchment and let rest, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Dust dough with flour.

Using a serrated knife, slash top of dough in three parallel, 1/4-inch deep cuts. Slide dough onto preheated baking sheet. Pour 1 cup hot tap water into broiler pan and quickly close oven door to trap steam. Bake until crust is well-browned and firm to the touch, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool completely.

Dessert: Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Layer Cake

The guest of honor requested an ice cream cake with vanilla cake layers and Oreo ice cream.

  • Two layers of vanilla cake, cooled completely, wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen. I used this recipe.
  • Two layers of ice cream
  • Whipped cream

To make the ice cream layers, line two 9 in. pans with plastic wrap and scoop softened ice cream into each. Flatten out the ice cream by pressing another pan on top of it. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer to harden.

Stack the layers as such (from bottom to top): Cake, ice cream, cake, ice cream. Again, cover this in plastic wrap tightly and freeze. Before icing your cake, trim the sides as needed to make them even and neat. Frost the cake with whipped cream and return to the freezer. I decorated this one by piping tempered chocolate designs onto wax paper, letting them cool, and then applying them to the cake.

Dessert: Strawberry Jam Tart

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dry cornmeal / polenta
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • ½ tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/3 cup jam (I used strawberry, but anything will do)
  • 2 tbsp. coarse sugar

Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.

In a stand mixer, mix the butter and 1/2 cup sugar together until smooth. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla bean paste and beat until combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until the dough just comes together.

Transfer about one-third of the dough to a lightly floured counter and shape it into a log about 2 in. diameter. Wrap it in plastic wrap freeze for an hour.

Transfer the remaining dough to a buttered 9-inch spring form pan. Press the dough evenly into the bottom, going about 3/4-inch (2-cm) up the sides of the pan. Freeze the dough-lined pan until firm, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread the jam or marmalade evenly over the dough in the pan. Cut the chilled dough log into very thin discs with a sharp paring knife. Arrange them in overlapping concentric circles over the jam to form a top crust.

Whisk the remaining egg white with a teaspoon of water until frothy; brush evenly over the tart lid and then sprinkle with the coarse sugar. Bake until the top crust is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool completely before unmolding.

This holds up well and can be made up to 3 days in advance. Keep wrapped in plastic at room temperature.

The Final Treat: Pecan-Walnut Caramels

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 12 tbsp. butter
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract, or one vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 12 oz. nuts (I used half pecans and half walnuts), toasted and chopped

Generously butter a 9×13 in. pan.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, butter, sweetened condensed milk, water, and vanilla bean paste. Stirring often, cook this mixture until it reaches 245 degrees F.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salt and chopped nuts. Pour the caramel into the buttered pan and cool completely (about 2 hours).

Turn the slab of caramel out onto a cutting board and use a pizza wheel to cut into squares. I usually get 128 pieces of candy from this recipe. Wrap the candies in pieces of wax paper and store in a cool, dark place.

Hope you enjoyed checking out the menu. Thank you to everyone who joined us and made the party so much fun.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Black and Goldies: Super Blondies

1 Feb

Two entirely different things inspired this post. First, there was the February 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. If you haven’t seen the cover of said magazine, it was a siren calling, “Look at these delicious cocoa-walnut brownies, don’t you want them right now?” To use a Bourdain-ism: Total food porn.

Then there was January 23rd. It was the day that my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers valiantly defeated the New York Jets to secure their spot in Super Bowl XLV. I can’t wait for the big game this weekend vs. Green Bay. It has potential to be one of the best ever: Two teams so well-matched that it’s the lowest Super Bowl point spread in 27 years.

Having already made and devoured Bon Appetit’s dark and decadent goodies last week, I decided to switch it up this week and go for the gold. This one’s for you, Steelers.  Good luck in the big game!

Black and Gold Blondies

Black and Goldies

These are a one pot wonder, so make sure that your saucepan is big enough to accommodate all of the ingredients. I used a 4qt. to account for whisking space.

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup light or golden brown sugar, packed
8 tablespoons (4 oz.) unsalted butter
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. coconut flavoring (optional, but soooo good)
¼ tsp. salt
2 oz. dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

Method
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line an 8×8 in. pan with parchment or buttered foil.

To toast the pecans, spread them out on a sheet pan and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until lightly fragrant.

Cut the butter into 1 in. pieces and melt in a saucepan over medium heat. Stirring gently, allow it to cook for about 5 minutes or until the foaming subsides and the butter browns just lightly.

Take the pan off of the heat and beat in the brown sugar until the mixture is smooth and shiny.

Beat in the egg and extracts until thoroughly combined.

Slowly beat in the flour and salt until no dry spots remain and then add the pecans and dark chocolate pieces.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick poked into the center comes out mostly clean (a crumb or two is fine). The top of the blondies should look shiny and set. This may take up to ten minutes longer depending on your oven, but start checking for doneness at 25 minutes.

Here’s the hard part: Wait. Let them cool in the pan on a wire rack for an hour and a half and then gently lift the whole slab out of the pan (this is where your foil/parchment is so handy). Let them cool out of the pan for an hour more and then cut into squares. Yield: 16 blondies.

Cook’s note: There is no leavening agent in this recipe, so these will be more fudgy and less cakey than some brownie/blondie recipes. The edges (especially if you use buttered foil) are lightly crispy. Personally, I love a gooey cookie so I have no complaints.

Enjoy the treats and GO STEELERS!

Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark after the AFC Championship

Ciao for now,

Neen