Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Summer memories: Watermelon gazpacho

It's November and we're all missing summer a little bit now. Perfect time, then, to recall warmer days and post about one of my easiest and most refreshing of summer dishes, watermelon gazpacho. The beauty of watermelon gazpacho is that no perfect garden-ripe tomatoes are necessary. It has all the complexity of regular gazpacho with the refreshing kick of watermelon. 

Coarsely chop and throw this all in the food processor: one cucumber, one green bell pepper, half of a watermelon, half of a red onion. 

Process until liquid but still a little chunky...

like this.
Season to taste (and make sure you are tasting as you go since seasonings can be too strong with this delicate soup) with a few teaspoons of rice vinegar, a sprinkling of salt, white pepper, a couple shakes of hot sauce (I use Cholula original) and a touch of sugar if your watermelon isn't sweet enough.

Chill thoroughly for about 5 hours, less if temps outside haven't reached the 90s or you live somewhere with low humidity. Christmas in summer. Enjoy!

Serve in pretty bowl and garnish with bits of pepper, watermelon or cuke.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Apple pie gallery, guest chef edition

November 3, by Amy Marash with homemade crust and golf-themed decoration.

November 7, by Jean-Francois Landeau with gala and honeycrisp apples.

November 4, by me, Gourmet magazine's four ingredient tarte tatin that only just survived the flip.
That cast iron pan is heavy! I used honeycrisp apples and ready-made pie crust instead of puff pastry.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Bring me your finest smoked meats and cheeses

Dry-ish rub for smoked pork ribs

Mix together:
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon fennel seed
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 T chopped fresh ginger

(Below are instructions for the smoked ribs, but if you don't have a smoker, you can wrap ribs in heavy duty foil and bake in a 275 degree oven for 3 hours or until done. Serve with the bbq sauce and enjoy the delicious!)

Rub onto 2 pounds of  pork ribs.
Hang racks in smoker

with mesquite pellets and hickory chunks.
Smoke for 4-5 hours
 at 225 degrees

My husband urged me to buy the Smokin' Tex many years ago. Having a charcoal water smoker already, I thought an electric smoker wasn't necessary. Boy, was I wrong. I highly recommend the Smokin' Tex. It is probably my favorite kitchen appliance of all time. It's about the size of a small dishwasher and is insulated and simple to use. Since it is insulated, it needs no preheating.Fill the smoker box, set your temp, plug it in and you're free! No more minding the charcoal for hours on end. Trust me, you will never use an oven to cook a turkey again!

The smoked meat and well-seasoned smoker.

BBQ sauce (…the secret ingredient is delicious)

¼ Cup orange juice
½ Cup cherry jam
1 Tablespoon nam prik pao (also called chili paste in soy bean oil)
1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
2 Tablespoons flat beer
3 Tablespoon soy sauce
3 Tablespoons Korean barbeque sauce

Combine all in medium saucepan and simmer until thickened. Before serving, add 2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce.

For a cheater's version, use your favorite bottled barbeque sauce, but add 2-3 teaspoons of five spice powder and some soy sauce to Asian it up.

Cut ribs apart, toss in sauce and throw onto grill or broil in oven until burny. Pace yourself.

Serve with caramelized apple mashed potatoes from Sheila Lukins' Ten. A brilliant cookbook.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pick me up!

Tiramisu means "pick me up" in Italian. This popular layered dessert had its heyday in 1990s and was seen on dessert menus everywhere. A high school friend of mine with Italian heritage used to own a business making tiramisu for gourmet stores outside New York City. Many years ago, she shared her recipe with me. I used that recipe until two years ago, when I came up with my own, simpler version of tiramisu which doesn't require two mixing bowls and the heavy duty mixer.

It doesn't require any baking and actually gets better as it sits in the refrigerator and the flavors of the cream filling, cocoa and coffee meld. Enjoy!

Tal's Tiramisu

3/4 brick cream cheese, softened (I know, weird amount...toast a bagel or two to use up the can use lowfat cream cheese here with no ill effects)
scant 1/2 Cup sugar
1 egg
1 8 ounce container marscapone cheese 
strong brewed coffee
coffee liqueur
cocoa powder
2-3" deep casserole or baking dish (I like to use one with a cover for easy storage of uneaten tiramisu)

The most difficult ingredients to find in this recipe are the marscapone cheese and ladyfingers. Marscapone, a creamy Italian cheese, has become easier to find now in the gourmet cheese section and the ladyfingers or savoiardi can sometimes be found in the cookie or Italian gourmet sections of larger grocery stores. I once tried to make my own ladyfingers for the recipe and it was too much work and they weren't crisp enough. Don't buy the ladyfingers that are sold in the produce section. They are more like a sponge cake and too soft to hold up in the recipe. I have been known to bring back packages of ladyfingers from France where they are more readily available in the grocery and very inexpensive (not counting the airfare, of course). 

NB: Tiramisu contains uncooked egg so it is not for those who are pregnant or have an aversion to raw eggs (yes, mom, that means you).

For the filling, beat the cream cheese and marscapone cheese with the sugar until combined. Add the egg and continue beating until the mixture is light and the color of butter. I use a handheld mixer for this, no need to pull out the KitchenAid.

Pour about 1 cup of coffee into a shallow bowl that will fit the individual ladyfingers. Add a glug of the coffee liqueur.

Dip the ladyfingers into the coffee mixture one at a time on each side for about one second. You don't want to leave them in the liquid or they will get soggy.

Line the bottom of your casserole with the coffee-dipped cookies.

Using half of the filling mixture, spread a layer of the filling over the ladyfingers.

Add another layer of coffee-dipped ladyfingers and dust with cocoa.
Follow this layer with a layer of the rest of the filling mixture.
Dust the top of the tiramisu with cocoa. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before digging in!

Since this was my husband's birthday dessert, I spelled out his initials with ladyfingers on the top of the tiramisu.

Loving someone means monogramming their food, AND dusting it with cocoa!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Clafoutis aux cerises: summer, in dessert form

This post is dedicated to my friend Andrea, who happens to live in the middle of a cherry orchard. I think that's great for her since she is surrounded by the best summer fruit. Problem is, she lives across the country, in another country even, called Canada, which means that she isn't able to share these fruits with the likes of me.

Last week, Andrea sent me photos of helicopters hovering over the orchard to dry the cherries after a rain. She told me that if water sits on the stem part of cherries, they will split and the cherries will be unsellable, thus the copters and the hovering which blows the water off the cherries, drying the entire orchard in less than 5 minutes! Just reading of Andrea's abundance of cherries (she canned 45 quarts of juice last week!) made my mouth water. So, I bought some cherries at the grocery the other day (much less exciting/romantic than picking them from my orchard, but still an effective acquisition method for said fruit.)

They were dark red and sweet and crunchy like the best cherries can be. We ate a bowlful fresh and cold from the refrigerator. But I decided that they needed to be something more so I made a cherry clafoutis out of the rest of them.

Clafoutis is a French dessert that has fruit surrounded by a crepe-like batter and baked until puffy. It is homey and comforting and surprisingly easy to make. The recipe I use comes from James Peterson's Glorious French Food. It is a huge book that weighs about 7 pounds, but is concise and reliable. According to Peterson, the dessert is from in the region of France called Limousin whose most famous city is Limoges.

Set up and ready to pit some cherries

Years ago, while scouring the flea market at the Porte de Vanves in Paris, I spotted this cherry pitter among the used housewares for sale. This nifty little tool set me back about 8 euros, which was, I thought, pretty spendy for a gadget of such limited use. But it is priceless when making clafoutis...especially when I'm able to locate it among all the other nifty gadgets I've collected over the years!

Pitting in action

Life is a bowl of cherries, sans pits

I was a very gullible (read: stupid) child and someone once told me that if I swallowed a pit accidentally that the seed would grow into a tree inside me. Many a night of sleep was lost by the young Tal wondering where my organs would go if there was also a tree growing inside me. Please, think about the things you tell children, people!

My husband enjoys the cookbooks with photos of the individual steps in the process. I guess it is sort of a way he makes sure that he's doing the right thing as he makes the recipe. So, here are step-by-step photos of the making of cherry clafoutis:

Whisk together eggs, sugar , flour and milk. Add melted butter.

The hardest thing about this recipe is the one hour resting time for the batter.
(I made deviled eggs in the meantime, but that's for another post).

Spread cherries in buttered baking dish

Pour batter over cherries and bake for one more hour!

Your patience is rewarded....go ahead, take a bite out of summer!

In this photo, you can really see how much the batter puffs up, especially at the corners.
Like a souffle, it eventually does fall as it cools, which doesn't effect the taste, just the WOW factor.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Anniversary dinner

We celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary yesterday. Dinner was salad with flank steak, roasted sweet peppers and potatoes, red onion confit and shallot vinaigrette. The shallot vinaigrette is from a recipe in the June 2013 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. I crushed a garlic clove with salt and some anchovy paste in the salad bowl before adding the greens and dressing. It gives it a bit more kick.

I love having salad as a meal. The potatoes over the top idea comes from a brasserie called La Marmite on the corner of our street in Paris. They throw roasted garlic potatoes over all the salads they serve. In the mornings, on the corner sidewalk, there are always sacks and sacks of potatoes delivered to the door of La Marmite.

Anniversary dinner salad, before

Anniversary dinner salad, mid-meal

I decided a few days ago to bake a plum galette (free-form tart) for our dessert. We got married at the justice of the peace and afterward, friends attending the wedding were invited back to our place for a bite to eat. Jean-Francois makes a lovely apple tart and I asked if he could also make a plum tart for the guests. He sort of looked at me funny, but did so anyway. It was hit. I made this tart with a base of breadcrumbs, brown sugar and pecans. The base helps to soak up the juices of the fruit and keeps the crust from getting soggy. Again, an idea from Linda McCartney's cookbook On Tour. Very tasty!

Red plum galette with pecan and brown sugar base

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pantry hummus

The main ingredients are readily available in the pantry and fridge.
After a whirl in the food processor, more garlic, oil and some sumac to taste.

This is a really basic hummus that is easy to whip up from pantry staples. Prepared hummus is readily available in the grocery, but $4 for 10 ounces is pricey considering how easy it is to make at home. A few years ago, Linda McCartney's On Tour vegetarian cookbook gave me the idea of adding avocado to my hummus. Her recipe includes yogurt, which I leave out. The avocado makes it creamy and a beautiful shade of green.

The magic ingredient that elevates this hummus from humdrum to yum yum....avocado!

Someone couldn't wait for me to take the beauty shot before digging in....