Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TWD: Chocolate Cream Tart

Ok, truth be told, I wasn't very excited about making this recipe. I wasn't in the mood to make a crust. It's birthday central around here, and I have cakes coming out the wazoo. Really. But I skipped the previous week, so I'll make a tart.
This is a chocolate cream layered in a chocolate crust with whipped cream on top. What could be bad?

The crust was easy to make in the food processor. I decided to make the full amount of crust because I knew the extra would freeze easily. I found these adorable mini tart pans, so I joined many of the TWD bakers and made mine mini. And then I found my even mini-er pans and made some individual tarts. I took Dorie's advice and froze three of the mini tart pans full of uncooked dough. Now, when I have a chocolate crust emergency, I have some in the freezer. The crust baked up easily. Upon tasting one of the baked crusts, however, I was a little nervous. It was a bitter chocolate taste. I hoped that the chocolate cream and whipped cream would offset it.

I only made a 1/4 of the cream. Luckily, it was easy to reduce the recipe. I simplified the recipe (by mistake) and had some good results. I boiled the milk in the microwave. Worked great! I added the hot milk to the sugar, corn starch, and egg yolk and brought it to a boil. I added the un-melted chocolate to the pan (whoops!) and it worked out just fine. Into a bowl and into the fridge. Done.
I copped out on making whipped cream. I just didn't have enough stuff to cover. I opted for that faux standby -- Cool Whip.

So, it's time to assemble. I layer in the chocoate cream to the mini tart pan. Good. I spoon it into the individuals. Ooops! Should have taken those out of the pans first. Ah well. I'll remove the mini ring from the pan before I finish. I take off the outer ring. Good. I, for some unknown reason, decided to remove the metal plate from the bottom of the tart.

And then I got this.

Dang! About 1/4 of it fell into the sink. Dang!

So the rest gets covered with Cool Whip.

And the mini minis get covered as well.

The verdict -- these are really good. Really good. The slight bitterness of the crust is offset by the sweetness of the cream. The crust was incredibly crumbly. It wasn't bad, but I would have liked the structure to have been a little more stable. It was really easy to make the cream, and I do have three crusts in the freezer. I could see myself making this again. Or I could just bake off the crusts and fill them with ice cream. Could go either way.

Thank you Kim of Scrumptious Photography for picking this yummy recipe. Go check out her blog to see the recipe and to drool. Her photos really are fabulous.
I'm skipping next week. It's a Tiramisu cake. I'm sure it's amazing. But as I said above, I have cake coming out the wazoo. I have baked (or still have to bake) a total of six birthday cakes all in the last two weeks. All for two kids. That's my next post.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No TWD this week. Too much crazy.

Apparently, this is my skip week. I meant to make the bread pudding. I did. But somehow, I didn't.
It's been a crazy week. My niece and I made some Bakerella candy cupcakes (photos coming), we celebrated the girl's eighth birthday, and the husband took the boy to the ER for five stitches. Plus, I got my geek on with the Hearty Boys.
Truth be told, I have a bread pudding recipe that I love, so it's not horrible that I didn't try this one.
Sorry, Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle that I let you down. But go to her site, and you'll get the recipe and see some wonderful photos. I'll be back next week.

Edited to add: The boy is fine. He's up running around playing Star Wars/Power Rangers with no notice of his wound. Stitches are under his right brow bone. They come out on Thursday.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Best ever foodie Saturday night

Last night I got to let my food geek run wild. I was a volunteer along with a friend at a charity benefit for a local adoption agency. (The Cradle in Evanston, IL. Go check 'em out) It was held at a local appliance store, though that is a misnomer. Abt in Glenview is my fantasy land. They have room after room of electronics, appliances, and kitchenware. There are little nooks along one wall that each house a different kitchen set up with various cabinets, counter tops, and appliances. The nooks were each taken up with a local restaurant, caterer, or pastry shop.
I, along with my friend and a few other people, was assigned as an assistant. One of us in each kitchen. I hit the jackpot. I was assigned to work with Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh, also known as The Hearty Boys. Just in case you aren't addicted to the Food Channel like I am, these guys were the winners of the first season of The Next Food Network Star.
Let me just start by saying that these guys are just so genuine, gracious, and nice. Oh, and the food they prepared was amazing. They made two appetizers for the crowd. I'd never eaten raw fish. Ever. Dan made Ahi Poke Rolls. For Steve, I tried it. And it was good. Really good. It was sweet and spicy and creamy and there was a little hint of salt. Really good. The other appetizer they served was a Chicken Satay Skewer. These were so good with a creamy peanut sauce and black sesame seeds and just a little green onion.
The crowd was equally wowed. Dan and Steve did a cooking demo of their two treats. And they left me alone at the station. I got to skewer and garnish the chicken and plate and garnish the Ahi. I know. I'm a dork. But here are these guys who are nationally known for their food, and they left me in charge of it! Good thing it was pretty foolproof. The crowd couldn't get enough of it.
They both humored me and smiled when we talked about baking and cooking. I left last night with two big hugs and an autographed cookbook. (Yes, another cookbook) Steve suggested that I start with the cocktails. I think I'll do just that. It's an amazing looking book. If you'd ever like to cook along, just let me know. Hearty Boys Monday anyone?
If you're in Chicago on a Sunday, go check out the brunch. The friend who volunteered with me and I are already planning our visit.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TWD: 15 Minute Chocolate Amaretti Torte

This was not one of my more successful baking endeavors. Well, I take that back a little. In the end, the torte was delicious. It was really, really, ugly, though. And slightly underbaked. And the glaze never set. And.... you get the picture.
First off, I was so excited that this was a "good for Passover" recipe. Strictly speaking, it's not K for P, but it fits into my Passover parameters. The cake has amaretti cookies as one of the ingredients. I found mine at Cost Plus. Straight up, I liked these cookies. They had a nice almond flavor. The other bonus to this was right in the title. It takes little or no time to put the cake together and in to the oven.
I took a cue from some of the other bakers and went the mini route. Cutting the recipe in half was easy. Dorie's recipe calls for a food processor. Mine has a 13 cup bowl. It's great for a lot of things. Half of this recipe was not one of them. Instead I used the hated mini prep for the amaretti and almond grinding. The rest I mixed with my equally hated hand mixer. It did come together easily. I used Baker's Joy (best thing for baking ever) to prep my pans. I used three 3" pans, and half a recipe fit just fine. Because my tortes were so small, I was a little overly cautious about baking time. I could really smell the tortes with about six minutes left on the timer. That tends to make me nervous. And when I looked at them, they looked dry on top, just as Dorie suggested they might. I cooled them on the counter.
And this is what the torte looked like.
I don't think I can adequately describe the canyon in the middle of the torte. I tried to photograph it, but it didn't really come across.
After it cooled, I flipped it out of the pan only to find a similar canyon on the other side. It's hard to describe. A weird hourglass lying on its side? A chocolate torte bow tie? A chocolate torte bialy? Again, the photo doesn't do it justice.
Anyway, on to the glaze. Just a bit of helpful advice here -- when a recipe calls for heavy cream, don't try to substitute skim milk. I thought you should know that. See, when you use skim milk, your glaze never quite solidifies. (On a side note, when you use this recipe and substitute skim milk, you get an amazing hot chocolate.)

Here it is "glazed". I think the canyon is coming through a bit more.
And one last shot, a little closer up.
Even with the underbaking, thin glaze, and canyons, this was a delicious cake. The almond flavor came through just enough to compliment the chocolate. The glaze tasted rich and chocolately. I skipped the almond whipped cream. I certainly wasn't going to try to substitute skim milk there. I would absolutely try this cake again. Next time, maybe I'll get it right.
Thanks to the fabulous Holly of Phe/MOM/enon for choosing this recipe. Go to her blog if you want to see what this is supposed to look like.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

In which I revisit matzo brei

So, I had some raging discussions on Facebook. World Peace? No. White Sox vs. Cubs? No. Deep dish vs. thin crust? Nope. Savory vs. sweet matzo brei? You bet.

There are two definite camps out there. I fall firmly and completely into the savory camp. Sweet matzo brei is just.... wrong. I just don't understand how anyone can pour syrup or spread jam on fried matzo. Their argument: It's just like French toast. Only instead of bread, you use matzo. I will even admit to using it as a point of reference in my last post. That doesn't mean I would ever eat it that way. So here I have an illustrated version of my savory recipe. So you can all see how delicious it is and join me in the savory camp.

This is matzo in its whole cracker form.

Here it is in a bowl just before I added water.

This is the cubed salami frying with the the onions. I used the word "saute" yesterday when I was talking about it. It's not a saute, it's a fry.

Having forgotten a few photo steps, here is the delicious finished product. It's not a great picture. It doesn't quite convey the deliciousness that is fried matzo.

It's creamy and still slightly crunchy at the same time. The onions and salami add a sweet/salty flavor to the eggs and matzo. This is a recipe that I will make even when it's not Passover. That's how good it is. Go try it. Really.

This isn't a recipe so much as it's a guide.
Julie's Matzo Brei

Some onion, diced.
Some salami, diced. (Note: you have to buy a block of salami and cube it. You can't used sliced from the deli. I would highly recommend Hebrew National)
Eggs, one per square of matzo
salt and pepper to taste

Place the matzo in a bowl. Break it into bite sized pieces. Add water and let sit. Meanwhile, melt butter in frying pan. And onion and cook until it's softened. When the matzo is a little soft (about two minutes), drain the water. Add salami to the onion and cook until it's slightly browned. I add the eggs right into the matzo and blend them. Pour the matzo/egg into the frying pan and cook until the eggs are done to your liking. Salt and pepper to taste.
For those of you who like to commit sacrilege, you can omit the onion and salami. Add some cinnamon and vanilla to the eggs/matzo mixture, cook as you would scrambled eggs, and then serve with jam or syrup. But only if you like being wrong.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

It's Passover, so you know what that means....

Actually, it means some pretty darn good food! I often hear about bland, boring food for Passover. (If you're unfamiliar, here's a decent link that will give you some of the rules for eating during Passover.) In a nutshell, we can't eat any food that is leavened. No bread. No pasta. No crackers. Mostly, we eat matzo.
This year I've found some wonderful recipes. They are mostly kosher for Passover. I use butter instead of margarine, I don't use K for P (shorthand!) vanilla, and I am not strict about only using ingredients (spices, milk products etc) that are K for P.
Having said that, these recipes meet my standards. I was very lax about photos, but the lovely people whose recipes I've used have photos for me.
David Lebovitz makes the most incredible matzo toffee. I could eat it by the panful. And I would if the other people in my house didn't demand their share.
I made my cinnamon/sugar nuts from some of the leftover egg whites. Again, I could eat the whole thing. (It's in the same post as the butterscotch pudding. Scroll down for the recipe.)
I made a great matzo farfel kugel. Farfel is broken pieces of matzo. A kugel is a pudding. This is the recipe I used. I did change it up a bit and added a 10 oz. package of frozen spinach and some diced roasted red pepper for color. It was very tasty.
I made vanilla bean meringue cookies with the rest of the egg whites. These were the "meh" food this time around. I didn't cook them long enough, so they are a slightly weird texture. User error this time around. I've made them before and they were very good.
Passover would not be complete without a meal of matzo brie. It's a Passover version of French Toast. You soak broken pieces of matzo in an egg mixture and then fry it. I make mine savory, however. I don't really use a recipe. Here's how I do it: Dice some onion, saute in oil until softened. Add some diced salami. Cook until the salami starts to brown. In the meantime, break up some matzo, put it in a bowl, pour water over it, and let it sit until slightly softened. Drain the water. I beat one egg per piece of matzo. Mix the egg into the matzo. Add this to the frying pan. Cook. Salt and pepper at the table. I'm making it tonight, so perhaps I'll add some photos later.
This coming TWD recipe can be made K for P! Very excited. I'll have that in a few days.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

TWD: Banana Cream Pie

I love banana cream pie. Love. It. Here's what's funny, though. I've never made it. I don't tend to eat it very often, either. I don't know why. I think I may have to start, though.

This is a good pie. It's medium to high on the fussy scale. I did make a minor change to Dorie's recipe. I was really intrigued by a Nilla Wafer crust that I saw someone else talking about. I've made Dorie's pie crust before. It's good. But I really wanted to try this one. Easy enough. Crushed Nilla Wafers, confectioner's sugar, and butter. Baked. Done.

The custard was next. This seemed pretty standard. Boiled milk added to egg yolks and sugar. And cinnamon and nutmeg. I was curious to see how those flavors would blend with the banana. I discovered the same problem that some of the other bakers had. The custard got really thick really fast. Mine never had a chance to boil. I crossed my fingers that there wouldn't be a cornstarch taste. Into the fridge, and part two was done.

Assembly was next. The custard came out the fridge. It was pretty solid. Dorie recommends beating it vigorously to loosen it. I did that. And then I added about three tablespoons of milk. That's what finally did the trick. The custard is layered in with the bananas. Part three done.

The final step is to make the whipped/sour cream topping. It's pretty straightforward. The little secret is the sour cream. It adds a lovely little tang to the topping. This got spread on the top of the pie.

Tah dah! Pie!

Dorie recommends cutting it very soon after assembly. Problem is that right after assembly, it's still pretty fluid. And your slices end up looking like this:
And the pie left in the plate looks like this:
After a night in the fridge, however, it looks like this:

Much better.

This was a thumbs from all eaters. I enjoyed the Nilla Wafer crust, but it didn't hold together very well the first day. Next time around I think I will use a pastry crust. I discovered that I really enjoyed the cinnamon taste with the bananas. Though, I may drop down the amount a tiny bit next time. It was pretty pronounced. This was not a low-calorie diet dish. Two cups of whole milk, six egg yolks, one stick of butter, and one cup of heavy cream are just part of the recipe. That may be another reason why I don't eat this very often.... Lucky for me it's Passover this week and next so I'll have some good uses for the six egg whites left over.

Thank you Amy of Sing for Your Supper for picking such a yummy recipe. If you'd like to try it, go to her website for the recipe.