April 30, 2011

Strawberry Surprise

This afternoon I had left the Italian bakery and went next door to the fruit & vegetable stand with the intention of buying a tomato for a sandwich and the smell of sweet, ripe strawberries wafted up and smacked me right in the face.   The smell was so sweet and fragrant I couldn't resist buying two big containers of them.

Strawberries aren't exactly in season quite yet,   but these ruby beauties glistened in their plastic shell and beckoned me to take them home...  I was more than happy to oblige.

While the majority of these will be eaten just as they are, a few lucky berries will be swimming in a cloyingly sweet syrup drizzled over top of a strawberry shortcake.

There are two schools of thought where a shortcake is considered...  some prefer more of a "biscuit" type shortcake that isn't sweet at all.   My insatiable sweet-tooth however, won't stand for it.   The "shortcake" part of my dessert is a rich buttery cake that is sweet and good enough to eat on its own.

There is one thing that I must insist on when making this:  make fresh whipped cream.  This is an incredibly easy thing to do and it consists of 3 ingredients (heavy cream, sugar & vanilla).  I know some people (Mom) will say that the stuff in the can is just as good or that it is easier to just buy it but TRUST ME, spend the 5 minutes it takes to make the fresh whipped cream because it really does make a difference.

Strawberry Shortcake
- the first thing to get done is the strawberries because they need a little time to macerate and ooze their goodness into the aforementioned syrup.  
- Wash and slice a pound and a half of strawberries. Place them in a bowl that is slightly larger than needed and sprinkle 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar over them and give it a quick stir.  Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes (or until your strawberries have made a lovely rose-colored syrup).

For the cake:
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. flour
1 egg

- Melt the butter in a 9x9 glass baking dish.  Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour into dish.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

-Once the cake has cooled,  cut into squares, spoon over a dollop of fresh whipped cream and the strawberries with their syrup.

This dessert is quick and simple, but even easier to eat.  Make it for your Mom this Sunday and tell her you love her. 

Happy Mother's Day Momma.

April 22, 2011

A little (meat) ball of comfort

Is it just me or does it feel like spring has forgotten to "spring"?  I am desperate to shed my winter coat, fling open my windows and let in the warm breeze...  however it is still hovering around 40 degrees.  Rain is moving in and the temperature is falling. It was, dare I say it...  cloudy with a chance of meatballs.  Days like this need comfort food, the kind that takes time to make.   I have been craving turkey meatballs for about two weeks so today was the day.

There is something comforting about having a pan bubbling away on the stove, making the house smell so delicious.  It's rather soothing to me to cook at a leisurely pace.  I enjoy the process so much more than when it is frenetic.  It allows me the time to really focus on the food.  The tactile sensations of it, rolling a meatball can be mundane but today it was sheer pleasure.  Perhaps because I've been wanting them for weeks,  these were ridiculously good and I enjoyed every single minute of it.  The smell that permeated my kitchen was mouth-watering and the meatballs were absolutely perfect.

There isn't anything particularly spectacular about a turkey meatball, except they are damn good but the sauce is what really makes it.  In lieu of a traditional red sauce to have these with, I went a slightly different route... and today it was the road to happiness.

For the Turkey Meatballs
1.5 lbs ground turkey
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
1/2 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

- The easiest way to make sure the meatballs are consistent in size is to use a small cookie scoop to portion them.  There is a kitchen gadget that is specifically made for scooping meatballs, but I don't own one. 
- Once all the meatballs are scooped, give them a quick roll to make them round & brown them in a few tablespoons of good olive oil in a screaming hot pan to get a nice carmelized crust on them.
- When they are browned on all sides, add in your sauce and let them simmer until cooked through.

April 20, 2011

Fuel to Ride

Those that know me know exactly how I feel about my bike.  I love it.  The very moment I’m in the saddle, the feeling of unabashed happiness floods over me.  It is without a doubt the thing that brings me the purest joy.  When I'm riding,  it's all I think of.  My mind is completely clear of all the stresses life brings.  The wind on my face, the sound of my tires as they meet the pavement, the feel of the grips under my hands...  these are the things that make my soul sing.

Think back to your first bike… that first taste of freedom your bike allowed you.  For me, it was being able to go past the stop sign and all the way around the block.  Knowing that I was out of my mother’s line of sight was both thrilling and terrifying.  It wasn’t that I was up to anything that I shouldn't have been, just that I was alone and free.

I’ll be doing my first big ride in a week and a half.  42 miles through the 5 boroughs of New York City.  The ride starts out in Manhattan winding our way through Central Park, past the Empire State Building and Radio City Music Hall before we head into the Bronx, down the FDR and over into Queens.   In Queens we will ride past Silvercup Studios and then head to Brooklyn (yay!).  Once we're in Brooklyn,  we'll ride along New York Harbor and over the Verrazano Bridge (thankfully NOT paying the $13 that it costs to use) and into Staten Island where the ride comes to an end.

view from the path

To get through this or any ride, you'll need some energy and portable is always best where a bike is concerned.  I love a good smoothie and it's a great way to give your body the fuel it needs.  I particularly like this one because it has a little bit of everything to keep you going,  it's quick & easy and tastes pretty good too.

Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie

4 oz Greek Yogurt
3 TB Agave or Honey
1 ripe banana, cut into pieces & frozen
2-3 TB peanut butter
1 TB wheat germ
1 C. lowfat, soy or almond milk

Put everything into the blender and enjoy!

April 16, 2011

The French Connection

Macaron. (french spelling)  When I mention this most people immediately think of the coconut treat they are familiar with,  but one can't even compare them to this french beauty.  A macaron for me is near perfection.  The crisp outer layer giving way to its luxuriously tender belly is sheer bliss.

I was lucky enough to be shown by a lovely French baker how to make these delicate little sweets.

The task at first seemed rather daunting,  but once it's broken down it really isn't that bad.  Granted this is not something you would do when you're pressed for time.  This is a special treat when you are feeling particularly capable.  The absolute most important thing that I can convey with this is to have everything prepped, ingredients measured out and ready to go.   The last thing you want to do is hunt for a piece of equipment when you have sugar bubbling away furiously on the stove.

I will apologize in advance for the fact that this is in metric measurements and before I get any scathing comments for putting something so complicated here,  it really isn't that difficult.   You will need a good thermometer,  digital is best but if all you have is the conventional one, no worries.

The macarons I made were raspberry white chocolate,  but the filling and flavor combinations are literally endless.

For this recipe you will need:
250 grams fresh egg white, divided in half (roughly 9 ounces)
337 grams almond flour (roughly 12 ounces)
337 grams powdered sugar
337 grams granulated sugar
300 grams white chocolate (10.5 ounces)
330 grams heavy cream (11.5 ounces)
50 grams chambord (raspberry liqueur) (almost 2 ounces)
food coloring (I used petal pink, gel color)
food processor
piping bag & tip
parchment paper

1. Combine almond flour and powdered sugar in food processor,  when completely mixed, remove from bowl and sift to remove any clumps. (food processor MUST be completely clean and dry)

2. Add food color to half of the egg whites and mix to combine.  You will not need alot,  but keep in mind that the color will dissipate when baking so do add enough that it will show up.  The end result will be noticably lighter than it is before you bake.  Add this to the almond flour/powdered sugar and stir to combine.  The color should be uniform,  not streaked with the dye,  mix until it is completely incorporated.

3. Make a simple syrup with the granulated sugar adding twice the amount of water to sugar, so for the 337 grams of sugar, you'll need 674 grams of water.  Put this on a high flame and leave it alone until it reaches 118 celsius (244-245F).   This is where a digital thermometer really comes in handy...

4. Put the other half of the egg whites in the food processor and whip to soft peaks.  When the sugar has reached 118,  remove from heat and SLOWLY add to the egg whites while the mixer is runnning on it's lowest speed.  When all of the sugar syrup is added,  turn it up and let it rip at full speed until the meringue is glossy and forms soft peaks.  The temperature of the meringue should be about 40-41 celsius (104F) at this point.

5. Fold meringue into the almond flour mixture being very careful not to lose the air in the meringue.  Make sure to completely incorporate everything, scraping the bottom and folding over to the top in one smooth motion.  Again,  the color should be uniform,  but do not overmix.

6. A little trick when when piping the macarons is to make a guide for yourself by drawing little circles on a piece of parchment paper.  Trace around something small like the bottom of a spice bottle or a quarter.  Lay that piece of parchment on the sheet pan and place another on top of it.  That way,  if you're crazy enough to ever do this again, you'll have your guide to use over  :o)

7.  Put mixture in piping bag and pipe onto the parchment using the circles underneath as your guide.   When all the circles are piped, lightly tap the bottom of the tray to release any bubbles that may have formed and set the tray in a warm spot for about 10 minutes.  This gives the macarons the chance to dry out a bit before they go in the oven. 

8.  While they are resting, the filling can be made:  Melt the white chocolate in the microwave and let it cool slightly.  Add the the heavy cream and the white chocolate to the food processor and mix to combine.   Pour in the chambord and add a small amount of coloring,  pulse a few times to combine again and filling is done.  Pour into clean piping bag and chill.

9.  Bake macarons for 13 mins at 135 celsius  (275 fahrenheit)

10.  When macarons are cooled,  flip over to pipe filling and finish.  Select halves that are the same size so they will match up nicely.  Pipe a small amount of filling on bottom half, top and eat!  

April 08, 2011

Mussels, Mussels, Mussels

Kari's birthday was this past week and we decided to go out for a bite to eat in the neighborhood.  The place we had decided on had lots of good memories.  It was a very special place to us even though we'd never eaten at this particular restaurant.

You see,  this new place had replaced the hang-out we used to sit at on sunny spring days and warm summer afternoons with the windows fully open allowing patrons inside to lean on the windowsill and people watch.  We had many a good time there but unfortunately as is the case with a majority of restaurants these days,  this one too had fallen on hard times.  It had been bought and sold half a dozen times in the past year,  but this new one seemed promising.

The place serves mussels.  It's what they do...  and they do it well.   We started out her birthday dinner with a dozen raw littlenecks. What they lacked in presentation,  they more than made up for in taste. They were salty and briny like the sea water they had undoubtedly just come out of.  These were without a doubt the best and freshest clams I'd ever had in Brooklyn.  They were amazing.

For dinner we of course had mussels,  but that's where the similarities ended.  She ordered the classic:  white wine, garlic and butter.  I however, not denying the classic is a classic for a reason, decided to go Asian. 
Kaffir Lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro and fresh lime juice perfumed the steam that floated up from the aromatics infusing the mussels.

We were expecting a small pot of maybe a dozen each, but what arrived at the table was a steaming pot of goodness with no less than two dozen of these little gems inside just waiting to be inhaled.

We happily devoured the entire pot, dunking olive oil slicked bread into the broth.  We couldn't have been happier.  A glass of crisp white wine, a loaf of good bread drizzled with the most fragrant olive oil, mussels and the one you love. Who could ask for anything more?

the aftermath 

April 02, 2011

Is Dinner Ready Yet?

One of the things most of us feel we never have enough of (besides money) is time.  Being at work at an obscenely early hour and not returning home until 10 hours later, I rarely feel I can take a leisurely approach to dinner.

Most people say to me "I'm sure the last thing you feel like doing when you get home is cooking" and sometimes they're right,  but a girl's gotta eat...

A common misconception with people who may not have Chefs in their lives is that we come home and make seared foie gras.  Hardly...
Like teachers, fireman, etc. most chefs do it for the love of the job.  Being a chef isn't always a lucrative gig.

One thing a chef learns quickly when creating a menu is food costs.  This translates well into our own kitchens, because like i just said, we aren't all Tom Colicchio or Mario Batali with restaurant empires.

Dinner most nights needs to be quick, not terribly expensive, good for me and most of all NOT leave a mess of dishes to clean up.  If there is one chore I LOATHE it's washing dishes.

Here's one of my old favorites that fits the bill quite nicely:

En papillote is a french term that basically describes cooking something (gently) in parchment paper.  Using aluminum foil yields the same results and is much easier to work with.

This recipe is for a single serving, so multiply it by the number of people you'll be serving.  Each person gets their own little package to open.

For this you will need:
1 piece of aluminum foil,  approximately 18 inches in length
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast or a filet of your favorite fish, season with salt & pepper
1 shallot, finely sliced
1/2 glass white wine
a handful of mushrooms
1 TB butter
1/4 c. frozen peas
1 sprig fresh thyme
a small baking sheet

First, fold the foil in half length-wise and fold up the two sides so that you have a "pocket". Make sure to fold sides two or three times to prevent leaks.
Lay the chicken or fish inside the pocket then add the veggies, wine, thyme sprig and butter.   Fold the top edge like the sides to seal it and gently transfer it to a baking sheet.  This is a precautionary measure in case the package does leak it will be contained.
Place baking sheet on middle rack in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Transfer package onto plate and break open!  Dinner is ready.