January 29, 2013

A Big Bowl of Sunshine

Don't you just love it when you throw a bunch of stuff together in a big pot and it turns out to be one of the most delicious things you've had in a long while?

That is exactly what happened with this soup.  I needed to make supper and wasn't really up for a trip to the store.  I rummaged around in the cabinets and fridge to see what I could assemble and that is how this came together.   I had a few bits of this, a piece of that, a couple of these, etc.

When I set everything out on the counter, it seemed like a good idea in theory, but we all know how sometimes these things tend to turn out... you know, good intentions & all. 

Luckily, this once actually turned out to be pretty awesome. Out of a bit of laziness frugality a great soup was born! This soup was devoured like it was going to be my last meal on Earth.  It is hearty and warming, exactly the kind of thing you want in front of you on a cold day.  Grab a loaf of crusty bread, tear off a chunk and tuck in.

Bowl of Sunshine Soup

1 lg sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 rutabaga, peeled & diced
1 lg sweet potato, peeled & diced
4 medium carrots, peeled & thinly sliced
1 can chickpeas, drained & rinsed
1 cup Israeli cous cous
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tsp turmeric
purple basil for garnish
3 tbsp olive oil
2 bay leaves
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large pot, sweat onion in olive oil over medium low heat.  Let it cook out slowly for about 15 - 20 minutes until it just begins to turn light golden brown.  Add garlic and cook an additional 5 minutes.

Add carrot and sweet potato, cook for a few minutes then add stock and turmeric.  When carrots have started to soften slightly, add rutabaga.   Simmer for approximately 20 minutes, then add chickpeas and cous cous.

Cook for an additional 6 - 8 minutes or until cous cous is soft and chewy.   Sprinkle with fresh herbs for garnish.

January 21, 2013

Blushing Valentine

I know it may seem a bit early to start thinking of Valentine's Day, but it's only a few short weeks away.   If you like to make a special treat on Valentine's Day, this is the cake.  
It is a towering 4 layers high and lovingly encased in the most delicate rose-scented buttercream.  It is outrageously good and worth every. single. calorie.  

This is also the type of cake that could easily become adorned with say a few candles for a little celebratory birthday party?   The colors could be swapped out for any, the flavor of the buttercream could be adapted to whatever you'd like it to be.  Using a vanilla base for both cake and buttercream allows you the flexibility to change colors and flavors to suit the occasion or intended recipient.

Typically, when we think of Valentine's Day desserts we usually think of chocolate.  I won't even pretend that I'm not one of them, but sometimes the "molten lava cake" or "ganache-covered devils's food" is well... a bit played out.

This cake is a show-stopper and you might not even miss the chocolate.

For the cake:
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
3 ½ cups sugar
4 cups King Arthur AP flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
12 egg whites-Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Eggs, room temp
2 cups whole milk, room temp
4 tsp vanilla
Deep pink gel food coloring

Place racks in middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour 4 cake pans.  I used 6", but 8 inch will work as well (the cakes will not be as tall).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together for 5 minutes until light & fluffy.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
Combine egg whites, milk & vanilla together and set aside.

Add roughly 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar, followed by half of the milk mixture.  Scrape down bowl, and then add another 1/3 of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk.  Scrape down again and add the last of the flour.

Divide batter into 4 equal portions.

      One portion will remain white.  In the remaining 3, mix in food coloring.  Add 3-4 drops to the first layer, 6-7 drops for the second and 9-10 drops for the last layer.  Mix thoroughly until color is uniform. 

      Pour into cake pans and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, rotating cakes halfway through baking time.  Cake is done when knife inserted comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from pan and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Wrap in parchment paper and plastic wrap and chill at least 3 hours.  Using a long serrated knife, trim off the domed top of cake to make it even and flat.   Once all cakes have been trimmed, set aside.

For the Rosewater Buttercream
4 egg whites: Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Eggs
1 cup sugar
3 sticks unsalted butter at room temp, cut into tablespoons
½ -1 tsp rosewater

      Set a bowl inside of a pot of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Combine egg whites and sugar, whisking frequently until sugar has dissolved. 

 You can test this by carefully running your finger through a stream of egg white falling from whisk, then rub your thumb and finger together.  If you feel any grains of sugar, it is not ready.

      Once sugar is completely dissolved, transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
      Beat egg white mixture on high speed until it holds stiff peaks and mixture is cooled, about 5-6 minutes.
      Turn mixer down to medium low speed and begin adding butter, a few tablespoons at a time, let butter incorporate before adding more.

      After all the butter has been added, add rosewater and beat for another 30 seconds.
      Set darkest layer of cake on cake plate and apply a layer of buttercream to top.  Following with remaining layers, ending with white layer on top. 

Apply a thin crumb coat of buttercream to entire cake and chill for 30 minutes.

When crumb coat has hardened, apply buttercream and smooth with an off-set spatula.
Cut with a very sharp knife and serve!


January 06, 2013

Dim Sum Good Eats

Unless you live under a rock, everyone is familiar with Chinese take-out.  Let me be the one to tell you that what you are eating isn't exactly Chinese food.  It's like going to Taco Bell and saying you had Mexican food...

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's move on shall we?

Dim Sum.  It's an experience like no other.  For me, it is complete and utter sensory overload and I adore every second of it.  The clinging of metal and ceramic as plates of food go whizzing by and the staccato of a language I don't understand.  The unfamiliar smells mingled with the scents of spices I know so well amidst the hurried movements of the women peddling an array of dishes from the kitchen.  It is an assault on the senses in the very best of ways.

As I take in my surroundings on this particular day, I come to the realization that I am the only non-Asian in the entire restaurant.  This is a sure sign that the food is authentic and it's going to be damn good!

When I go out to eat with friends, some of them tend to defer to me for choosing our menu for the evening given what I do...  this time it was the reverse.   I happily sat there listening to my friends tell the women what we would like from their carts and watched with glee as it was set down in the center of our table.   Of the 8 or so dishes we ordered, there were only a few that I had seen before...  The rest of them had familiar flavors or ingredients, but as a whole were new to me.   (insert squeal here!)

It can be a bit daunting to go to a restaurant and order food that is unfamiliar or in my case, not speak the language.  Luckily for me, I was accompanied by the Lee sisters who took care of that.  During dinner I brought this topic up and the girls were quick to respond that one would simply point at whatever you want to try.  

Being exposed to new things in life is something I thrive on and when it comes to food, it's tenfold. 
I will admit that on occasion when I go out, I tend to order my *favorite* thing from certain places, but when I go to a new place, I always try to order something I've never had.  
I think of trying new food this way: If I don't like it, I can always go home and make a sandwich... at least I tried.
This day was a win on all fronts!

The beginning of a new year offers us ample opportunities to try new things, be a little more adventurous and have new experiences.  I am making an effort to do just that and I hope this year brings you a culinary adventure or two along the way.