Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey Creme Brulee and an Ongoing War with Macarons...

Macarons have become my nemesis. I did A LOT of reading and research before even attempting the adorable (but daunting) French cookies. After a ridiculous amount of recipe comparison, I settled on the most basic recipe I could find, got my Mise en Place together, and went about making my macarons. I had already excepted the fact that my first batch was going to fail miserably, so when I looked into the oven after five minutes of baking, I was pleasantly surprised with the "feet" beginning to appear. Another five minutes later, the cookies were out of the oven and looking gorgeous...we're talking Pierre Herme beautiful (well, not quite)...needless to say, I was ecstatic. All of macaron fears instantly disappeared, birds sang, and the gods smiled down on me. This was three months ago. Since then, EVERY batch of macarons I've attempted have failed MISERABLY. I had some beginners luck, got cocky, and now I can't make a batch to save my life...its beyond frustrating.

Despite many, MANY failures, I refuse to give up. The only thing I can do at this point is keep trying, and keep comparing recipes and technique until I master them. With all this practice, I've been left with lots of egg yolks, so I decided to make Creme Brulee (a safe dessert I could make with my eyes closed, and NEVER fails me).

I recently purchased some Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey - its thick, opaque, very floral, and (I think) a little musky...I could eat it by the spoonful. Having used it in a couple savory applications, I thought it was about time to try something sweet.

Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey Creme Brulee

6 egg yolks
3 cups of heavy cream (use the freshest you can find)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3-4 Tbsp Leatherwood Honey (or any other artisan/non artisan honey you have on hand...but keep in mind that the honey is the star of the show...using the best quality available will behoove you)
1/2 of a vanilla bean

- Preheat oven to 350
- Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil
- In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and honey. Set aside.
- Over medium heat, scald cream and vanilla bean.
- Using a ladle, gradually drizzle the hot cream over the egg yolks, while whisking constantly. Continue ladling until all of the cream has been tempered into the yolks.
- Pour the hot custard into 8 small ramekins- filling the ramekins a little over half way.
- Line a large roasting pan with a dish cloth - this will prevent the ramekins from sliding around in the water bath during transfer.
- Place ramekins on top of the dish cloth in the roasting pan, transfer the pan to center rack of the oven.
- Carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until it reaches half way up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake f0r 20-40 minutes or until set (Give the pan a little shake, once the centers of the brulees jiggle and don't look like liquid- they're done)
- Chill thoroughly, over night is preferable.
- At service, sprinkle a thin, even layer of turbinado sugar on top of the custards and brulee with a small propane torch. If you don't have access to a torch, heat the back of a spoon over the flame of a burner on your oven, then gently rub the hot spoon over the sugar.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Coming Home To An Empty Fridge....

I just got home from a very relaxing (mini) vacation in Glacier National Park. My cousins have a cabin on lower Saint Mary's Lake, and they were nice enough to let Chad and I borrow it for a couple days. We couldn't have asked for nicer weather...the sun shined and the days were filled with lounging, reading, naps, and swimming...even a couple boat adventures (with only one oar mind you!).
Whenever I go out of town, I avoid grocery shopping before leaving- I buy a lot of fresh produce and since it spoils so quickly, it just doesn't make sense. We left early this morning, without breakfast, and by the time we finished the 2 hour drive from cabin to studio, I was starving. Chad headed to work, and I went inside to forage for some food. I came up with a few leftover ingredients that needed to be used, and out those, brown butter-coconut-cranberry muffins were born.

Brown Butter Coconut Cranberry Muffins

2 Cups all purpose flour
2/3 Cup sugar - plus 2 tsp. for sprinkling (I used some spare vanilla sugar)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 Cup dried cranberries
1/2 Cup unsweetened dried coconut
2/3 Cup coconut milk (You can use light if you like)
1/4 Cup brown butter
1 tsp. lime zest
1/2 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
1 Large egg

-Preheat oven to 400
-In a small sauce pan, melt butter over med-low heat. Cook until the butter turns golden brown and smells nutty (keep a close eye on the butter, it goes from brown to burnt VERY quickly) set aside to cool slightly
-In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt
-Stir in cranberries and dried coconut (Break up any clumps of stuck-together berries)
-Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients
-Whisk together coconut milk, egg, vanilla, zest, and brown butter (Make sure to scrape off and add all the brown bits of butter from the bottom of your sauce pan)
-Pour liquid mixture into the well
-Mix with a wooden spoon until JUST combined. Do not over-mix!
-Spoon muffin batter into greased muffin tin (will make 12 medium sized muffins, or 6-7 large muffins)
-Sprinkle remaining sugar on top of the batter
-Bake 15-20 minutes until golden brown

Monday, July 14, 2008

Scones For One...

A few years ago, just after starting Culinary school, my cousin Denise gave me a red, linen-bound notebook for Christmas. The notebook had been passed around to several members of my family, and each member added a few of their favorite recipes. That notebook is probably the best gift I've ever received. Flipping through it I can't help but remember forgotten bits and pieces of my childhood...not the big things that seem to be paramount in most people's memory - family vacations, trips to Disneyland, etc. - but the little things like dinners with Grandma and Grandpa, family celebrations, and lazy summer afternoons with my sister. These are the events that are easy to take for granted, but also the events, the little things, that shape who we are, and who we become.

The notebook isn't full...I throw in special recipes as I acquire them, new and old friends add to it, the jobs I take, and the places I travel, continue to shape it. As I've said before, food is a powerful thing - it connects people, places, and time. It rekindles memories, and soothes the soul. It's easy to forget that, the notebook helps me remember.

I paged through the notebook this morning, and since it was my day off, I decided to make some scones for breakfast. This recipe is the product of the various scone recipes I've used in the different bakeries I've worked in. It's actually the child of two great recipes, with my tweaks. This is one of my "aces" because its tasty, very versatile, and easy to double, triple, or divide.

Because I live alone, I can't justify making a dozen scones- they're so good that I wouldn't be able to control myself, and would ultimately eat the entire batch. Thus, I decided to quarter the recipe and make 6 scones...

The following recipe is the FULL version, it makes two dozen scones. The QUARTERED version is found in the parenthesis. The photos are from several months ago, and don't correspond to the size of the written recipe below - they're from a version that yielded 3 dozen. However, they show the filling/shaping process quite well.

Yield: 2 dozen

2 pounds AP flour (1/2 pound)
6 ounces granulated sugar (1.5 oz.)
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (a pinch)
3 Tablespoons baking powder (3/4 Tbsp)
10 ounces unsalted butter, cut in to 1 inch pieces, chilled (2.5 oz.)
2 cups heavy cream (1/2 cup)
4 eggs (1 egg)
1-2 cups of fruit (fresh or frozen), chocolate, nuts, or desired filling (1/4- 1/2 cup)

-Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix to combine.

- Add chilled butter to the dry ingredients, mixing until the butter is pea sized.

- Crack the eggs into the measured cream and slowly add to the butter and flour mixture. Mix until JUST combined- the dough with be soft and sticky.

- Turn out the dough on to a floured work surface, knead until any dry bits are incorporated.

- Shape the dough into a rough log shape, divide into four equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a seven or eight inch disk.

- Place a quarter cup (or desired amount) of berries/chocolate/desired filling in the center of each round, leaving about an inch of extra dough all the way around the filling. Bring the outside edges in towards the center to completely enclose the filling, pinch together to form a seam

- Flip the disk over, so that the seam faces down, and re-flatten the dough into a seven or eight inch round.

- Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with raw/Demara sugar (Cinnamon-sugar is also tasty, you could even use streusel)

-Bake at 350 degrees for 20-24 minutes, or until golden.


*For the finished scones pictured above, I added 2 Tablespoons of unsweetened coconut to the dry ingredients, and filled them with bittersweet chocolate chips. After brushing with egg wash, I sprinkled vanilla sugar on top.
*For savory scones - omit sugar. Top with cheese if desired.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chilly July Nights...

Much to Northwest Montana's surprise - we experienced a bit of a cold snap last night...and by cold, I mean below freezing. The low was 30 degrees in Whitefish. Yikes. By 9:00 pm my toes were like ice cubes and I had to put on a sweatshirt. I thought this was Summer!

Huddled on my couch under a fluffy down blanket, I thought to myself, "What's the perfect beverage to warm up with on a cold mid-summer night?" (light bulb)...Home made hot chocolate - WITH marshmallows. Much to my dismay, I didn't have any milk, or marshmallows for that matter...so no tasty hot cocoa for me.

Despite the weather last night, this morning when I got up for work, it was quite nice, balmy even. The temperature eventually climbed to a warm 83 degrees. With the brief cold snap gone and forgotten, I decided to for-go the hot chocolate idea - but was still fixated on marshmallows. I've never made them before, so I decided to do a little recipe research, picked one that looked like a winner, and got to work on project marshmallow.

Rose - Coconut and Chocolate Marshmallows
adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini

- 1/2 ounce sheet gelatin - Silver.
- 4 egg whites (save your yolks for Vanilla Ice Cream!)
- 2 rounded tablespoons corn syrup
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 4 teaspoons rose water
- 4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder, dissolved in a small bowl with 5 teaspoons hot water

To Finish:
- 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn starch, sieved
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (Grated, toasted coconut can also be used for either marshmallow)

On day one:

Line a square 8 by 8-inch baking dish with parchment paper (leave some over hang to ease removal on day two)

Place the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water to soften. Have the egg whites ready in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Combine the corn syrup, sugar, and 6 tablespoons of water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve, and keep at a simmer for 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

Squeeze the gelatin sheets with your hands to drain them as thoroughly as you can. Add them to the syrup, and stir with a wooden spoon until completely dissolved. Cover and keep warm.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks just begin to form. With the beater still on, add the hot syrup in a slow, steady stream, and keep whisking until the mixture cools down to just above room temperature. (You may want to transfer the hot syrup into a liquid measure with a spout - this makes pouring much easier).

Transfer half of the egg white mixture in a second mixing bowl, and fold in the rose syrup quickly, being careful not to deflate the whites. Add the dissolved cocoa powder to the remaining egg white mixture and whisk it in without overbeating.

Pour the rose mixture on one side of the prepared pan, the chocolate mixture on the other (they will meet in the middle, that's okay), and even out the surface with a spatula. Cover lightly with a sheet of parchment paper (without pressing on the surface) and let stand somewhere cool for 24 hours.

On day two:

Combine the confectioner's sugar and corn starch in a wide, shallow bowl. Put the cocoa powder (or toasted coconut) in a second bowl of similar shape.

Have a glass of hot water ready. Lift the parchment paper to remove the marshmallows from the pan, and transfer the whole thing carefully to a cutting board. Cut the marshmallow into squares, using a sharp knife that you dip into the hot water to keep the blade hot, and prevent sticking.

Transfer the cubed marshmallows three at a time, using your fingers to separate them delicately, into one of the prepared bowls (I rolled the rose-flavored ones in the coconut ; the chocolate-flavored ones in the cocoa powder), and coat them well. The cubes will have a tendency to stick to one another, your hands, the bowl, and anything else the come into contact with - the top surface is especially sticky - so keep them separate and handle them lightly.

Once coated, set the cubes aside on a plate, and leave them out to dry for 2 or 3 hours, flipping them halfway through. Transfer them in a fine-mesh sieve a handful at a time, and shake over the sink to remove the excess confectioner's sugar or cocoa powder. Enjoy!


* My marshmallows never really dried. This is probably because Whitefish, and my apartment, are really humid. I did place a fan on them for a couple hours just so they could form a skin. This helped a little, but not much.

* The cocoa-powder and water mixture will be pasty, you may need to thin it out with a little extra water.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Behold! The World's Tiniest Kitchen...

...Well, maybe not the tiniest - but certainly the most inconvenient. As you may have noticed, I have ZERO counter space. No where to cut/dice/chop/mince comfortably. Sure, I have about 2 feet of tile between my sink and my oven - however, the oldest, most ridiculous microwave on the planet is oh-so conveniently located directly in front of my face...I can't see my hands...talk about dangerous.

My other gripe? All of my cupboards are full of equipment...plates, pans, ramekins, sheetpans, pots, etc. (I'm a cook! I work in professional kitchens! I acquire A LOT of kitchen equipment...and I have a really hard time parting with things I might need someday) You're probably asking yourself "Where does she keep her food?" The answer? In that tall chest of drawers you see above. That's right, all of my spices, oils, grains, and miscellaneous canned goods (etc.) live in what appears to be, a piece of bedroom furniture (Not that I would know, I found it in the broken sauna that's been converted to "storage"...finders keepers...).

Other fun details:
+The burners on the oven are totally uneven- and you have to jiggle them around to ensure they're in the proper position, or they won't work.
+It's freakin' dark in there! I have a light above the sink, and an oven light - that's it. There is also a ceiling light- but it turns on and off on it's own, whenever it wants. At this point, I don't even bother using it.

When moving into this studio, my first concern was, of course, "Where am I going to put my KitchenAid?" Thankfully, the people that lived here before me left a semi-decent butcher's block table...the perfect place to showcase the heart of my kitchen...my baby...my mixer. The table also serves as home to all of my baking ingredients (As well as parchment, ziplocs, aluminum foil, and cling wrap...oh! and all of the kitchen rags and towels, so basically everything I couldn't fit into the chest).

So while this isn't my dream kitchen...and even though I found it necessary to dedicate an entire blog post to bitching about it...I guess it could be worse, I'm not really sure how- but I'm sure it could be.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Because Caramelized Onions Should Be Enough...

Wednesday night has become mini pizza night. It's the day after farmer's market and I generally have lots of lovely cheese and produce to pile on top of Ceres Bakery pizza crusts. It's also pizza night because Wednesday is my Monday and after a long day at the restaurant, I'm not motivated enough to make a fussy dinner.

Unfortunately, there is serious lack of groceries in my apartment. I missed the market and couldn't bring myself to go an actual supermarket (It's Summer! I'll be damned if I buy fruits and veggies that aren't from the FM!). I looked around the kitchen- 1 red onion, a frozen pizza crust, some Romano, and a little Basil from the herb garden. Looks like caramelized onions had to enough. I'm fine with that. I love onions and I really love them when they're all caramelized and sweet.

So I threw some olive oil in a pan, added the thinly sliced onion, cooked and cooked until golden, deglazed with some white wine, and then blasted them until they deepened in color. Sprinkle them with a little Fleur de Sel (why not?) and your good to go. I was tempted to eat them right out of the pan...thankfully, I was able to resist. Looking back, I probably saved myself from feeling very very guilty.

After brushing the pizza crust with olive oil and drizzling it with a little Malpighi Saporoso, I added the onions, basil chiffonade, and Romano. Popped it in a 400 degree oven until it was bubbly and golden. As if that wasn't enough- I broke out the white truffle oil and gave the warm pizza a quick drizzle. In one word- YUM.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wrinkled Blueberries...

What do you do with blueberries slightly past their prime, but still too beautiful to toss? Make a quick blueberry syrup!

What do you do with several egg yolks that have been hanging out in you fridge for a couple days? Make vanilla ice cream!

Product utilization is a very large part of a successful kitchen- at work I'm constantly thinking about what I can do with left over cake scraps and the last of the fresh huckleberries (or blueberries, or raspberries, or strawberries). Naturally, this practice has translated into my own personal kitchen and everyday life. I hate throwing out food- it's wasteful and expensive...but most of all, using every last bit of something provides me with an excellent challenge. It's exciting to see what I can come up with based on the odds and ends I find hiding in my fridge and cupboards.

So, without further ado, I give you- ice cream made from left over yolks (excessive humidity in the area forced me to test an obscene amount of meringue recipes), and syrup made from slightly wrinkly/mushy blueberries.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

Makes about 1 quart.

1 cup milk

A pinch of salt

3/4 cups sugar

2 vanilla beans

5 egg yolks

2 cup heavy cream

1. Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the milk with the tip of a paring knife. Reserve the bean pods- I throw them into a big Mason jar with organic sugar. Shake the jar around every couple days then use the vanilla sugar for other baking/culinary projects. The aroma and subtle vanilla flavor is hard to beat on cookies...or anything for that matter- go crazy!

2. Stir together the egg yolks in a bowl and gradually add some of the warmed milk, stirring constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.

3. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula. Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Chill thoroughly and freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturers instructions.

Basic Blueberry Syrup

1 cup blueberries
2-3 tbsp caster sugar
1/4 cup water

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan stir together the sugar and water. Add blueberries, turn the heat up to medium and bring the liquid to a simmer while stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved and the berries have split open. Continue cooking/reducing the mixture until it becomes thick and syrup like. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Serve cool or warm.