Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Gulab jamun and the luxury of time

Every year on my birthday, I decide to make myself a special dessert. Usually it is something that I've never made before, takes a long time or is special. It is a nice project for the day. When I discovered a recipe for gulab jamun in Maya Kaimal MacMillan's Curried Favors, I knew I had to make it.

Gulab jamun is one of those desserts that is all about sensory satisfaction. I had no idea what it was made out of, I just knew it was something I ordered for dessert when I went to the Indian place around the corner when I used to work in Washington, DC, in the mid-1990s.

My birthday is on November 13 and last year, it was not a good day for the world. I did not feel quite like having dessert that evening, so the dough balls rested in a tupperware container in the fridge until I felt like frying them up and making the syrup.  I did that a few days later.

Cardamom and orange-flower water syrup


Tender and sweet.
It is a comfort to know that the making of some complicated desserts can be stretched over a few days. Gulab jamun fit the bill. The scent of cardamom and orange-flower water, the sweetness of the syrup and the soft, yielding dough were the perfect remedy to soothe my broken heart.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Baby Spice: Pain d’epices

Pain d’epices
(from Desserts by Michel Roux. 
Roux writes that the recipe is from Denis Ruffel of the Patisserie Millet in Paris.)

250 g / 9 oz honey
125 g/ 4.5 oz rye flour and 125 g/ 4.5 oz plain flour sifted together
20 g/ 3/4 oz baking powder
125 ml/ 4.5 oz milk
3 eggs
50 g/ 2 oz sugar
1 teaspoon or so warm spices of your choice (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, aniseed)
a few drops of vanilla or anise extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Warm the honey in a saucepan over low heat until liquid. I use a mixture of rapeseed honey and wildflower honey. Let cool down to 77 degrees.

Put the flours and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the honey, milk, eggs, sugar and whisk until smooth and creamy. Add the spices and extract. (In Ruffel’s recipe, he adds 30 g/ 1 oz finely chopped candied lemon and orange peel at this point. I’ve never added it and don’t miss it).  Whisk everything together. It is a relatively loose batter, Roux refers to it as a “paste”.

If you make the mistake of tasting the unbaked batter now, you’ll have difficulty ever getting it into the oven...this batter tastes as good as it smells. So, get a grip, and pour the batter into a loaf pan that has been lined with greased parchment paper. Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, slide a second baking sheet under the first sheet and bake for another 30 minutes or until tester pulled out of the center comes out clean.

The additional baking pan thing might seem fussy, but it prevents the bottom of the cake from getting overdone while the dense middle cooks thoroughly. The resulting cake has a consistent crumb layer top, sides and bottom. Don’t skip this step or you will have a burned bottom (and I know from burned bottoms).

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, unmold and let cool on rack.

I love to have a toasted, buttered slice for breakfast. It is also a nice snack. The loaf keeps nicely when wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container. It also freezes perfectly.

Pate de Foie: The apotheosis of meat loaf

We discovered Wilson Farms Meats on a country drive many years ago. They are located on Route 28 in Catlett, Virginia. They only take cash, no credit cards or checks. You can call ahead and get them to put your order together (540)788-4615, but we never do that. We just show up and ask Maya what's good. She always answers, "EVERYTHING". And she's right. Everything they have is wonderful. 

It is our source for Amish butter in 2-pound rolls. They have perfect steaks of any cut, fantastic cold cuts and cheeses...favorites are German bologna, blue cheese, smoked swiss cheese and double-smoked ham.Their bulk sausage (5 lb minimum) is versatile and handy to have in the freezer. They have great specialty sausages. I am particular to the spicy Cajun and my husband loves the Hungarian. We discovered Maya's paprika bacon just last fall. I now have a Wilson Farms version of my favorite pate recipe. Some French guy said it was the best pate I had ever made and I've made lots of pate in the last 15 plus years.  

Over the years, I have adapted a recipe from a favorite Time/Life Book from The Good Cook series called Terrines, Pates and Galantines. I love these books as they are thorough in ways you can't begin to imagine. The intriguing Contents page lists entries such as "Two strategies for handling brains" and "A leaf-encased surprise." The original recipe is (quite boringly) called Liver Terrine and appears on page 97. Here is my Wilson Farms version.

Process about one pound of chicken livers and 4 thick slices of Wilson Farms paprika bacon until liquefied.( I have also put the livers and pork through a meat grinder attachment on my KitchenAid mixer, it just depends on how much you want to clean up.)
Mix in bowl with:
one pound of Wilson Farms bulk sausage
1 minced shallot
3 or 4 minced large caper berries
2 teaspoons of ground pepper
2 ¼ teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of quatre epices (you can substitute ¾ t ground ginger and ¼ t cinnamon)
3 Tablespoons of cream sherry or madeira or poison of your choice

Line 2 small terrines with strips of Wilson Farms paprika bacon and fill with pate mixture. If you use a ladle, it makes it less messy. Once filled, you can wrap the bacon up over the liver mixture or trim it and top to fit the terrine.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for an hour and a half. Check at the one hour mark and every 10 minutes thereafter to make sure that they don’t overcook.

Remove terrines from the oven, cover with layer of foil and let cool while compressing the terrines. I use canned goods to weigh things down.

Turn out onto a serving plate (or back into the terrine itself, which is what I do for easy serving). Eat with bread or crackers and pickled cornichons. Little squares of terrine make a decadent topping for deviled eggs, too.

You can make this entire recipe with regular grocery store bacon and sausage and avoid a trip to Wilson Meats, but what fun would that be?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The only wing recipe you will ever need: Seriously. Make. These. Now.

From the oven

Smokified: Finger lickin'!

Chili Chicken Wings
(from Kevin Dundon who is not Asian but sure knows how to Asian it up)

Pound together in a mortar and pestle:
a few cloves of garlic
a 1” knob of ginger
1 or 2 whole hot chilis (hey, Peter! can even use pickled peppers in a pinch,
just make sure they’re spicy, I’ve used pickled hot cherry peppers)
a sprinkling of kosher salt to make things stay inside while you begin pounding away

Once this is a nice paste that smells just this side of delicious, think of someone who got on your wrong side and pound the frick out of it some more.

Once you’ve worked out your aggressions, squeeze in the juice of one lime and scrape everything from the mortar (or is it the pestle? Who cares when you are making tasty!?) out into a large bowl. Zest, then add the zest and the lime halves to this bowl, too.
Then throw in:
red chili flakes
a glug and a half of soy sauce
a couple glugs of olive oil
drip in a mess of honey to make it all thick and syrupy. Once it is nice and messy, ADD MORE HONEY, because it is the magic of this whole recipe and helps to temper the heat.
Toss in chicken wings (about a pound or so) and stir to coat well. I like wings that have been cut up at the joint so you have a mini-drumstick and that part with two little bones. (The wing tip is for soup and should be left out of this recipe as it is not the proper vehicle for delivery of this coating.)

Marinate for a few hours in the fridge. Two should suffice and more is fine.

Spread in one layer on baking sheet. Dump the lime halves in, too. If you have too many wings for one layer, hold the rest back… fill another sheet or they also freeze well.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 or so minutes until brown, caramelized and burny in spots. You will be fighting for these burny parts, so the more, the better.

If you really like to feed your family well and have some extra time, you can smoke these in a smoker at 225 degrees with an ounce of hickory for about an hour and a half. 

Mr. Dundon serves this with a Marie-Rose sauce that involves mayonnaise, ketchup, brandy, tomato puree, Worcestershire and Tabasco. It is a nice accompaniment and cools things down a bit but no one will complain if you forget to make it.

As I am Asian, I eat these wings with rice. I have been told that a meal doesn’t have to involve rice to be a meal. What!?! Don’t believe them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Culture Clash: Breakfast in Banglamphu

In a life before, my work involved occasional travel to foreign lands. I was often confronted with curious new foods on a meal-to-meal basis. I came to find my comfort zones in each of these places through much trial and error. On these travels, my dear boss once observed that the hardest foods to carry over from culture to culture were breakfast and dessert. Over the years I worked for him, Kevin had many insights, but this one has stuck with me: breakfast has a tough time hopping borders.

On my honeymoon many years ago, I was inordinately excited that there was a Japanese chef and that his breakfast spread included a rice soup bar with all manner of fixings, preserved meats, pickled bits and more. I can still picture that breakfast bar. Each day, I chose a different combination of stuff for my rice soup and it was always an adventure. It is sometimes fun to not have a clue what you're eating.

On our recent trip to Bangkok, we stayed in Banglamphu, not far from the Chao Phraya River and the Khlong (Canal) Banglamphu. We arrived in the city in the middle of the night after about thirty hours of travel. When we woke up to a rooster crowing somewhere nearby, we knew it was time to scope out breakfast. We found our new breakfast place down an alley, past a dark little wet market where light just peeked through the buildings. They had a variety of different Thai dishes and you could order them in bags to go or to eat there over a plate of rice. 

We chose different things every morning. 

There was a day our eyes were too big for our stomachs and we went overboard, but we dialed it back after that.

yes, I plan to eat all these bamboo shoots!

There was a day that things were too spicy for me and I needed to use an ice cube to cool off my burning lips. I had been warned.

hot, hot, very hot.

I'm suffering here.

still suffering, but it was worth it. really.

Jean-Francois asked for extra fried garlic with every meal. It was caramelized and sweet and absolutely sublime.

The elder son who helped run the place commented one day that we would miss them when we went home. Do we ever!

Next up, my Patango guy.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Babas au birthday

Each year, as mid-August rolls around, I ask my husband what he would like for his birthday dessert. I don't say "cake" here because the man is from France and their idea of celebratory pastry does not include cake. While most people would be over the moon at a homemade carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, my man would take a look and say, "anything with veggies in it is NOT dessert".

His idea of celebratory sweets is much fancier than cake! And I have been challenged over the years. These things take prep work and planning, scheduling and cookbook-referencing. A few years ago, I winged it with a Paris-Brest and forgot to add the crushed praline to the whipped cream. quelle horreur! It was like forgetting to add the cream cheese to the frosting for the aforementioned carrot cake. Inconceivable!

I felt bad that last year's request for Omelet Norvegienne went unfulfilled (I couldn't find a recipe and later realized it is Baked Alaska!! Norway my ...!) so I substituted a tiramisu. Delicious, yes, but lacking in the spirit of the request and loving fulfillment equation. 

So, when he requested babas au rhum on this very significant birthday, I hit the books and did my research. I dug up a long-filed-away copy of a New York Times magazine article with a rum baba recipe from Helen Darroze. But that was a bit too, well, Helene Darroze, so I consulted Baking with Julia and made an amalgam of the recipes. Julia's babas and pastry cream, Helene's syrup.

It was one of those recipes for baked goods that sounds and looks like it will not work. Not enough flour, too much yeast, very liquid. But the dough rose well and baked up beautifully. 

I used mini-brioche molds and a mini-loaf pan.
Mini Me! Really, who doesn't love a cute baked good?!

The cream was a simple pastry cream flavored with rum. 
Eggs with sugar ready to incorporate with the hot milk.

Tempered eggs added to milk while whisking...

Add vanilla....

and finish by whisking in butter!

Cooling the cream.
 There were lots of steps, but pretty foolproof.
Helene Darroze's syrup used cardamom, cinnamon and cracked white pepper added to a sugar syrup. 

Assembly was fussy (remember, French) and the timing difficult to get right. I was also cooking a birthday dinner...

The babas needed to be soaked in the syrup (one recipe said 10 minutes while the other said 45!) to the point of softening but not disintegrating. I opted for tossing them around in a bowl and spooning the syrup over them again and again. I stopped when I saw crumbs in the syrup.

Then the pastry cream needed to be piped in through a hole in the bottom of the spongy, now syrupy cakes. I never know how to gauge the right amount of cream to pipe in. I erred on the conservative side and topped with more pastry cream and then added some whipped cream.

Stick some candles* on top and you've got a party!
* And don't you know that was the hardest part of this picture? Remembering where the birthday candles were. Every year this happens and I still don't know where they are. These are new candles purchased for the occasion. Big birthday required it, naturally!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mmm....cereal...and cheesecake!

Many years ago, I devised a recipe for cheesecake using a small 6-inch springform pan. Most recipes for cheesecake call for a 9-inch springform pan and use two pounds of cream cheese. The idea of using two POUNDS of anything in a baking recipe sort of makes me queasy; especially since only two of us are usually eating it. Hence, the scaling down...literally and figuratively (really!).

I discovered Corn Flake crumbs in the clearance section of the supermarket awhile back. They are a less-sweet alternative to graham cracker crumbs and are more versatile since they can also be used in savory recipes. My crust recipe substitutes the Corn Flake crumbs for graham cracker crumbs.

The corn flakes actually have a "toothier" crunch and the contrast is nice with the cheesecake. They also hold up to moisture better than graham crackers which can be an issue when baking a springform pan in a water bath. I wrap the pan in foil, but that water always seems to find its way in during baking.

It is very important to remove pan from water bath immediately after baking to lessen seepage of water into crust. Blot excess water with towel.

Cool, then remove the sides of the springform and admire the holding power of corn flake crumbs.

Check out the structural integrity of that crust, even once a slice is cut!!

I serve with a cherry-almond sauce and whipped cream. The sauce is made from frozen dark sweet cherries; the recipe is on the Market Pantry frozen cherry package and I add some almond extract for extra sense-tempting deliciousness.

I promise that the full recipe will follow in a later post...once I figure out where I've put it for safekeeping.