27 August 2008

Possibly the best broccoli. Ever.

Can be found here. Eat it, because it is KILLER. I promise.

26 August 2008

Salty

It seems to me that every year before I have to got back to school I manage to get sick. (Mind you, this isn't the extra yucky stomach flu or anything like that, just a cold, but really? Who likes a cold?) And if it's not before the beginning, it's that crucial first or second week of class. Honestly, it's not the worst time to be sick, but it's no fun, either. I certainly prefer it to getting sick at the middle (way to go, Comps), or the end (ditto, first year of grad school), when you kind of really need to get those papers done/grades in.

For me, getting sick usually entails moping around in my apartment checking my email and Facebook incessantly in the event that someone has sent me a message or an email (HA!), reading, and eating chicken soup. Eating wise, I have a few requirements for the foods that I eat while I'm sick. The first thing is that all foods need to be hot, temperature-wise. Soup falls nicely into this category, as does tea. The second thing is that it needs to be soft, somehow. Vegetables and other sundries found in soup are usually nice and soft (not mushy!). So does soft tofu, especially if it's, Soon Dubu, which is, as far as I can tell, a Korean dish basically comprised of silken tofu, some broth, and hot sauce. The third requirement is that my sick food be salty. I never want sweets, or sweet-tasting things. There is also a NO DAIRY rule.



But, this being my last week before I have to get back to school, I couldn't resist taking care of a few things, this mainly being indulging my craving for baking. (I am also craving winter and fall foods, but I'm not ready to indulge that yet. Tomatoes, don't think that I'm done with you!) So when I was flipping through my copy of Chocolate and Zucchini, Clotilde Dusoulier's charming book based on her blog of the same name, came across a recipe for a salted caramel chocolate tart. This of course, made me think of that movie Waitress, when Keri Russell's character makes her "I hate my husband and I don't want to have no baby" pie, which was a pie with a base of caramel covered with chocolate pudding. (You know, I've only seen that movie once. Once. What does that say about me?) I've been wanting to make a pie like that ever since (sans title), but honestly, I've been wimpy/lazy/frightened by all that sugar to actually make it. So when I came across this tart recipe, I was thrilled.



Maybe it was the sore throat going to my head, but, I also decided to be unbearably cute about all of this and make tartlets (really, they are probably the cutest dessert ever invented. SO! CUTE!). I'm going to give you the recipe for a full ten-inch tart, but you should know that if you decide to go my route, that half the caramel recipe makes about 4-5 tartlets. Maybe even six.



Tarte Chocolat Caramel, adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

Pâte Sablée (instructions follow)

For the caramel:
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon quality honey
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel (or kosher salt)
1/3 cup heavy cream or crème fraîche
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

For the ganache filling:
10 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped
1 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream

Pâte Sablée
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced (plus more for the pan)
1-2 tablespoons chilled milk

Clotilde's recipe, given to her by her mother, is brilliant. It's a little dry at the outset, but there's no fuss about chilling and rolling it out. And it's perfect. Here, I'm going to give the method to make it by hand; she gives that one as well as a method for a food processor. If you want it, look it up.

1. Grease a 10-inch tart pan with butter.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add a tablespoon of milk and blend it in, handling the dough as lightly as you can. The dough should still be crumbly, but it shoud clump if you gently squeez a handful in your hand. If it doesn't, add a little more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon (there are THREE teaspoons in ONE tablespoon), and blend again, still working lightly, until it reaches the desired consistency.
3. Pour the mixture into the prepared tart pan and use the back of a tablespoon to spread it evenly over the bottom. Using the heels of your hands and your fingers, press down on the dough to form a thin layer, covering the surface of the pan and creating a rim all around. Don't worry if the dough feels a little dry--this is normal. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the tart is properly chilled, bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden, keeping an eye on it. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Caramel
Make sure you have all the ingredients measured out before you start, because you won't have time to do it once you begin.

Combine the brown sugar and one tablespoon water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan and melt the sugar slowly over medium-low heat. Swish the pan around from time to time to ensure even melting, but don't stir. As soon as bubbles form on the surface (avoid overcooking the caramel, or it will become bitter), add the honey and stir to combine. Add the salt and cream and stir until blended. Remove from heat, add the butter, and stir to combine. Pour the caramel into the tart shell and tilt the pan slowly in a circular motion to coat the bottom of the shell evenly. Let set in the fridge for 40 minutes.

Ganache
Put the chocolate in a medium mixing bowl, preferably stainless steel. Bring the cream to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Pour half of the cream on the chocolate (cover the saucepan to keep the remaining cream warm), let stand for 20 seconds, and stir gently in the center with a whisk, gradually blending the cream with the chocolate until smooth. Add half of the remaining cream, and stir again until combined. Repeat with the remaining cream. Remove the tart pan from the fridge, pour the chocolate filling ingot the shell, and level the surface with a spatula. Return to the fridge to set for at least an hour.

24 August 2008

Chez Pim's plum jam

Since The Wednesday Chef is on vacation, and Orangette has been a little spotty, I've been reading a lot of Chez Pim, a wonderful, adorable, knowledgeable blog that you need to read, too. There is nothing, nothing not to love. Also, Pim is, or at least her online persona is, one of the bloggers that I read that I would actually, really like to be friends with if I could.

She inspired me to make jam.



I've been meaning to make jam for a long time. And you know, this also goes for applesauce, but whenever I do make it, it's gone two days later so it's not really a huge issue. But I've been afraid of jam, because I am afraid to commit to the process of canning/preserving. I've been wanting to make something that truly captures the flavor, the season, of fresh fruit, ever since reading Luisa Weiss' post about apple butter. And yet...the process involved with preserving things is a little scary.

But then I read that Pim didn't bother to mess with the boiling water and the pressure and the craziness of sealing jars, and that she just ate her entire batch of jam instead. Now that's something I can get behind. So I took a deep breath, cut fruit into pieces and simmered it up nice and voilà! Plum jam. Greengage plums (also called Reine Claude, for all you francophones) are what Pim recommends, but she lives in California, and they aren't in season in New York yet (the fruit guys at the market told me to come back next week, so I'll try again then), so I bought two pounds of Elephant Heart and Italian Prune plums. The Elephant Hearts are a rich, deep red color, and are perfectly balanced between the sweetness of the flesh and the tart skins; the Italian Prunes were just underipe, and very surprising, color-wise--outside, they were a bruisy, empire purple, and on the inside were pale yellow-green. When they melded together, they formed a brilliant magenta hue. I also cut the sugar by about a third, since Greengages are supposed to be less sweet than the ones in my kitchen. Next time I'll add a little more, though, since my end product is a little on the tart (though delicious) side.



All in all, this made two full Bonne Maman containers of jam--my preferred brand of jam that I don't make myself. Maybe, though, I'll take the plunge and learn how to *actually* preserve my goodies. For the winter, of course, when the sunny flavors slide into memory, and it's cold enough to mourn sweet plums from the market.



Plum and Vanilla Bean Jam, adapted from Chez Pim

approximately 2 pounds plums
1/3 cup sugar (or more to taste)
juice of one lemon
1 whole vanilla bean


1. Pit plums and cut them up into just larger than bite-size pieces.
2. In a non-reactive pot, macerate the plums with the sugar and lemon juice for about an hour. Pim suggests that you put a parchment cover over the plums, but I'm not really sure what it does. If you know, do tell me, because I am curious
3. After the plums have started to release their juices, split open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add them, as well as the pod itself in with the fruit. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and stir gently to make sure all of the sugar has melted. Keep an eye on the jam, and keep stirring until it reaches your desired consistency. (Pim says that when it starts to thicken, you should use a spoon to take a bit out, spread it on a plate, and see how it starts to gel.) Remove from heat. Eat slathered on baguette with butter.

20 August 2008

Wish list

Even though it is the middle of August, I have been composing a wish list for when I get my tax return in, oh, ten months or so. I feel as though this is fairly normal, since acquiring stuff is myriad peoples' favorite pastime (cf CREDIT CARD DEBT). Besides the dreamy, big-ticket items (a computer that functions better than a very, very large iPod, an apartment in Paris), I would also like a large, non-stick, oven-proof skillet (or a cast-iron skillet, that would be fine too), a cake froster, a larger Cuisinart. Oh, and I want to get my knives sharpened.

But I think I can probably handle that before tax time.

18 August 2008

My mom told me once that I would turn into a dumpling because I ate so many of them.

There is nothing more delightful than a dumpling. No. There is not. I can prove it, too: there are jaozi, gyoza, mandoo, german potato ones, apple stuffed ones, pastry ones, and plain pasta ones for soups and stews. You can eat them fried, sautéed, boiled, steamed, and baked. They can be sweet and savory. And I love them all, except those yucky chinese steamed buns that have gross filling and taste like puffy undercooked cardboard with some bean stuff or pork stuff in them.

Really, I think I just like things that have been wrapped in pastry or pasta. Maybe I don't need to mention the "wrapped" part. Honestly, I just like pastry and pasta. According to Mom, when I was little all I wanted to eat for lunch was noodles and butter. I didn't get what I wanted, which, in the long run, is probably for the best. However, I have an ongoing weakness for all things glutenous and yummy, including those rice flour noodle pats often found in asian soups, but nothing will ever take the place of dumplings! I like the way that they are vaguely slimy but can still be crisp, and that the pasta/outside yields to a savory, salty, or sweet and melting filling. My latest favorite dumplings come from this place:



You can get five dumplings for ONE DOLLAR.

And then you can drown them in soy sauce and hot sauce and your mouth will thank you for the rest of the day and once you have finished your small container, you will look at it reproachfully and wish that you had coughed up the extra dollar to get five extra ones even though you are no longer hungry. But you have a fever! For more dumplings!

14 August 2008

CSA.4



I think it has been safely established that there are few things that I don't really like to eat. Sandwiches are one of them, in case you don't remember. Mayonnaise, obviously. Eggplant--well, unless it's been cooked particularly well, and even then, only if it's one of those nice little varieties that are bred to not have bitterness in their skins (which, incidentally, I did throw in to a pot of quick ratatouille that I make sometimes and they were just fine).** But really, the other thing I don't really care for is watermelon.

Watermelon was always one of those fruits that was everywhere when I was growing up--picnics, friends' houses, potlucks, fruit salads, whatever. And I always ate it, guzzling the cold sticky sweetness until my face was covered in pink sticky juice and the seeds were lying sadly around my feet. I wasn't a very talented spitter. But I found myself liking it less and less, and once I figured out that I wasn't obligated to eat it, I just stopped all together. I mean, summer is full of fresh fruit, and there are SO many more to choose from when they're in season! Peaches, plums, cherries, berries... too bad those are already gone. Seriously, what's better than cherry pie?

NOTHING. NOTHING IS BETTER THAN CHERRY PIE.



So yesterday afternoon, Jeff and I walked over to get our CSA to tide us over until the end of the week (we really should have invested in a larger share), and there, among the lovely peaches and the fragile, fragrant donut peaches, were melons. On the board where it states what you may have, we were told to pick either a watermelon or a cantaloupe. And if there's anything in the fruit department that I dislike more than watermelon, it's got to be cantaloupe.



Melons just don't float my boat. And the only vindication that I have gotten ever on this subject was when I was taking a class on Baroque French literature of the 16th century and we read a poem called "Le melon", which admittedly, I didn't read. (Honestly, I didn't read a bunch of those poems. Sorry, Martine, it wasn't you!) Our professor was talking to us about it, and said that it would be very difficult to appreciate this poem because American melons just don't have the same fragrance or taste as French ones, as the American varieties are undoubtedly inferior. Maybe I would like French melons, if I could obtain one in the middle of summer, when they're nice and ripe, but until the Euro goes down and someone leaves me a substantial fortune, I don't think that's going to happen.

So what do I do with this melon? Thoughts?


**I have to admit, though, that I love to look at eggplants--especially those little adorable ones at the farmer's market! They are so beautiful and purple and striped and charming! I wish I wish I wish that I wanted to eat them more. For cuteness' sake, if nothing else. And because I know it would make me feel like a true functioning adult who eats pretty much everything that's put in front of her.

11 August 2008

CSA.3 et alia



I know. It's been, um, nearly FOUR WEEKS since my last CSA update. Sorry. Things got a little busy? Like I went to Chicago to see my parents and then I didn't take any pictures of Chicago OR Madison even though I had brought both my camera and the uploading cord, which is the crucial piece that I nearly always forget? But I have so many things to share! Like the beautiful things that did come in my CSA, nearly two weeks ago:



See? Aren't they beautiful? We got peaches, apricots, and sugar plums. Sugar plums! They are the little golden beauties hanging out at the top. Have you ever even heard of sugar plums? I had only in that Christmas poem. I probably won't have sugar plums dancing in my head come Christams, but, well, for someone who is lately obsessed with goat tacos with plenty of tomatillo salsa and fried dumplings (not together, of course), that's no surprise.

(Also, I didn't make anything tasty with them. We ate them right out of the bowl. And they were delicious.)



As for the rest of those blueberries from the previous CSA, I got so frustrated by neither Jeff nor I actually eating the them that I decided to make muffins. Normally, I'm not a huge blueberry muffin fan (well, I do like them, but only certain ones, as so many blueberry muffins just don't cut it), but I do like cornbread blueberry muffins. They are light and buttery and sunny-tasting and blueberryriffic. I think you'll like them too.



Featherlight Corn and Blueberry Muffins, adapted from butter sugar flour eggs

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
8 tablespoons butter, melted
a large handful of blueberries (or more, to taste)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 8 muffin cups with paper liners.
2. Sift the dry ingredients together
3. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, then a third of the melted butter, and stir gently just until incorporated. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and melted butter, being careful not to overmix; there may be a little flour not mixed in at the end. That's fine. Gently fold in your blueberries.
4. Use a large spoon or two to fill the muffin cups half full. Bake until risen, light golden brown, and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes.