Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Stone Fruit Frangipane Tart

stone fruit // frangipane tart

It's been a really long time before I baked anything besides a mug cake. (I have become really good at mug cakes.) But after binge watching all available seasons of the Great British Bake Off and now moving on to Masterclass, it's about time I dusted off the old baking pans (actually, I didn't have a tart pan and had to go buy this one).

Mother's Day was as good an excuse as any to come out of baking retirement and go right for a multi-step recipe that requires a free afternoon. Yet, aside from needing to pause, chill, and wait between making the pie crust, frangipane filling, and poached stone fruits, this recipe isn't nearly as difficult as it is time consuming. If you have the time, it is well worth it.

The basic recipe is a frangipane tart, which is some sort of magical combination of an almond cake and eggy custard. Once you learn the crust and frangipane filling, you can tinker with the fruit to make any delicious combination you want. This original recipe called for both apricot filling and fresh apricots on top, but I swapped them for peaches due to availability on my first go. I then baked it again a week later using a combination of apricots and berries. Any stone fruit (peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums...) would taste great with the almond and apricot filling.

The only equipment you absolutely need to make this tart is a 11-12" tart pan with removable bottom. A food processor is helpful, but my cheap little ninja chopper worked just fine for both the tart crust and filling. Either can be done by hand with minimal muscle. I will say, however, that I have become a big fan of using a little kitchen scale for baking (especially since the original recipe is from the BBC). So much less measuring and washing! What took me so long?

This is definitely an impressive tart to look at, a real reward for brushing up on some basic baking skills.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Honey Roasted Fig and Walnut Noodle Kugel

honey roasted FIG & WALNUT noodle kugel // a jewish fall casserole

It's been a bit over 6 months since my last post, so I figured that the new year would be a good excuse to try this out again.  I've completely forgotten all my HTML coding tricks, and haven't touched a real camera or edited photos in forever, but copying and pasting should do for now.

Lucky for me I have a long weekend off work for Rosh Hashanah, so with a bit of extra time on my hands I tried out another new spin on sweet noodle kugel.  Check out previous years' Pumpkin Spice Noodle Kugel or Apple Spice Noodle Kugel if you want some other fun twists.  Since my Aunt Bean's original noodle kugel recipe is very sweet and cheesy, adding honey-roasted figs and walnuts seemed like a pretty fitting way to add a new twist for 5776.  Of course, goat cheese is a classic fig/walnut/honey combination, but the dish is simply rich enough already with two cheeses and egg custard.  But go ahead and give it a whirl if you love goat cheese.

As with previous years, I'll warn you once again that the base recipe (everything minus the figs & walnuts) of this kugel is already pretty non-traditional.  It's very sweet and cheesy, and could easily be mistaken for a dessert casserole.  Of course, the point is to ring in a sweet new year.  Basically, it will ruin all other kugels you may be more accustomed to since it is so amazing.

The last 6 months have been busy ones, but I'll spare you all the stories about summer travels and new school years for some later posts (hopefully).  I'm looking forward to trying and sharing lots of Colombian dishes!  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fig Orange Mustard Roast Chicken and Winter Vegetables

fig-orange-mustard ROAST CHICKEN // winter herbed vegetables

To her frustration, most years I have no idea what to tell my mother to get me for Christmas.  I'm not an easy person to shop for, nor am I good at faking excitement when gifted things I'm not actually excited about.  But this year I told my mom exactly what I wanted - Mimi Thorisson's A Kitchen in France.  

I don't own any cookbooks, and considering the free access to Mimi's incredible blog, asking for A Kitchen in France was more or less because I wanted the beautiful object, and I also wanted to support Ms. Thorisson (she doesn't need it).  As I expected, the photography is beautiful and many of the recipes pretty inaccessible to Americans without some visits to speciality food shops and butchers.  But, she had a few roasted whole chickens that inspired me to roast one myself.  No, this isn't a recipe from my first-ever cookbook, but does combine flavors that I rightly or wrongly associate with France - herbs, mustards, and jams.  

I mean, combining fig jam, mustard, and orange zest to rub on some meat before roasting is going to be good.  Try it to roast just chicken breasts, turkey, or pork (or even a whole salami for a delicious appetizer), and you'll be pleased.  If you want a crispier, richer skin, rub the chicken with softened butter first, then add the layer of jam-mustard.  If fig jam is hard to come by (check the cheese section of your grocery store before giving up), apricot jam would probably make a fine substitute (but sweeter).  As for the vegetables, any hearty winter variety will work.  I used a mix of fingerling, baby red, and purple potatoes, brussels sprouts, turnips, and carrots, but parsnips, squash, and cauliflower would be just as good as side dish.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Seafood Fideos

SEAFOOD FIDEOS // smoky shellfish soup
Happy New Year, everyone.  I hope 2015 brings some new adventures to your life, and to your kitchen.  If you're looking for a bit of culinary experimentation with some potentially unfamiliar ingredients, here's a seafood dish you might try.  Personally, this was my first time procuring and cooking clams and mussels at home, and I found it pretty brainless and delicious.  

If you generally like shellfish and seafood, you're going to love fideos.  I think most versions of the recipe you'll find online mimic Spanish paella - cooking seafood and rice in a flavorful broth until it gets completely absorbed and the shellfish steam open.  Fideos more or less replaces rice with a pasta (called "fideos"), but angel hair works just fine.  You'll see that this recipe is also modified to get more of a soup at the end, but you could easily increase the amount of pasta or decrease the amount of stock for a more traditional outcome.   

While the dish isn't that complicated to make, it really does depend on a few fancy ingredients of good quality.  It took a trip to the fancy grocery store (a.ka. Whole Foods) to make sure I got good bacon, sausage, and seafood.  Of course, saffron doesn't come cheap, either.  While you obviously want the seafood to be as fresh as possible, the smokier your bacon and chorizo are, the better layers of flavor you're going to get when all is said and done.  That smokiness, and the richness of the saffron, are the real backbone of the dish.  So, while I used a traditional mix of clams, mussels, shrimp, and cod, you can choose whatever shellfish and firm white fish you want (or eliminate anything you don't want).  Ideally, you buy the shellfish the day of, and keep it on ice until use, but I don't see why you couldn't make the broth ahead of time and return it to the stove to cook the seafood when you want it served.

Fideos is easy to make in large quantities with the right sized pot, so this is a great recipe for your next nice dinner party or date-night in.  It's pretty healthy, too.  And don't be worried about having leftovers, I found it reheated very nicely to finish the following day.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fresh Cheese and Tartines

homemade FRESH CHEESE // fresh cheese TARTINES

Since the last post, I've been eating soft farmer's cheese every morning with a toasted English muffin and apricot jam.  It has been a real treat to wake up with, and now one of my favorite ingredients, in general.

I didn't realize when I attempted to make cheese for the first time - this firmer, pressed cheese photographed - I'd also be learning how to make spreadable farmer's cheese along the way.  My intent was to learn how to make Indian paneer, the firm cubed cheese you'd find in dishes like saag paneer, but along the way I realized how simple basic cheese-making can be.  If you love cheese, and you have the time to experiment, this basic recipe can really take you in many cheesy directions.  You can follow all the steps below to get a fresh, but firm, pressed cheese that is like an Indian paneer or Mexican queso fresco, or you can stop after step four for a spreadable version (and reduce the salt a bit if you want it to pair well with fruit, honey, or jam).  It's also pretty clear that you could add herbs, black pepper, or a number of other flavors to the curds to spice up the end result.

While fresh cheese-making is simple - just a matter of adding an acid to milk and bringing it to a temperature where the curds and whey separate - there are some rules I learned after my first failed attempt.  Most importantly, don't let your milk heat too fast.  Stir it constantly over medium-high heat until it comes to temperature, otherwise the bottom will scald and the curds and whey won't separate.  While some recipes you might find will tell you to add your acidic element to the milk after it bubbling, for me this didn't work, and bringing all the ingredients to temperature at the same time was both easier and a success.  Finally, if it is anything else than blatantly obvious that the curds and whey have separated in the pot, don't strain it yet.  Only when you clearly see your pot is full of just curds and translucent whey, then you can strain.

The cheese you get with this recipe is super versatile, just very mild, a little tangy, and a little salty.  In this case, it worked for both sweet and savory tartines, and was particularly good, texture-wise, with grilled French bread.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Holiday Brussels Sprout Salad

pomegranate // walnut // farmer's cheese // maple-mustard vinaigrette
Two weeks ago , Garrett and I celebrated our nine-year anniversary in the same fashion as the last six years, by going to Le Bouchon, my favorite French Bistro.  I absolutely love the atmosphere of the place, as it generally feels more French than most joints in France.  Meaning you're rubbing up against strangers and may at any moment cause the waiters to drop their trays on the parties packed between tables waiting for their own.  Generally we order the same staples every time: onion soup and cassoulet along with whatever rotating appetizers and salads look good.  We opted for the automne salad this time, and it was good enough to try and replicate at home.

The menu described it as "shaved brussels sprouts, fromage blanc, pomegranate, lemon-honey vinaigrette," but there were definitely some mystery ingredients in this hearty starter.  Positively identifying both mint and walnuts, I also had a hunch the dressing included mustard...but I guess I'll never know.  What I do know is that my homemade version is not exact, but still delicious.  For one, I was out of honey and found maple syrup not only a tasty, but festive substitution for the holidays.  Second, I had never encountered the type of "fromage blanc" nestled underneath the salad in any grocery, so went with the most mild and creamy cheese I could find, Lifeway Old Fashioned Probiotic Farmer Cheese.  I am now completely obsessed with this farmer's cheese and love how it pairs so nicely with sweet honeys and jams (I spread it on my English Muffins with fig-orange jam every morning).  It adds such a nice balance to this salad, as the mild richness counters the sweetness of the dressing and tang of the pomegranate.

In both its looks and taste, this salad would be wonderful for a holiday meal.  Since I recommend dressing the salad ahead of time and letting the flavors mingle for hours, it would be easy to prepare and serve to guests.  Dressed (and it should be well-dressed), it is even delicious and crisp after an overnight in the fridge.