New Year, New Adventures

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I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays. I am experiencing minor anxiety, thinking about returning to work after 2 WEEKS of vacation! My last act of freedom: creating a cupcake for the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Cupcake Contest. Here it is, the Irish Cupcake Bomb.

It’s a stout chocolate cake with Whiskey Caramel, Irish Cream Filling, Chocolate-Sumatra Frosting, and chocolate shavings. It’s not as original as I thought my recipe would be, but I kept coming back to it while toying around with other recipes because it’s so instinctively delicious.

I love this contest. It nudges me into remote markets, searching for unusual ingredients. And it gives me an excuse to play in the kitchen all day, like a kid building sandcastles on the beach. Last year I steeped, steamed, and pulverized pandan. This year adzuki beans, which I’ve been eating a lot of lately, finally made their way into my pot. I didn’t love the adzuki results,  but I still have half a bag to experiment with.

We’ll see what the judges think. Whatever the result, I had a great time probing ingredients, tasting the results, and writing up a new recipe. It’s a good start to the year. I hope you’re tackling adventures, learning lots, and eating plenty of chocolate (and other delicious things) in 2011. Happy New Year!

Halcyon Daze

Flavor ABC's

The first semester of culinary school I was a giddy, excitable freshman. Again. My Hanover years were more self indulgent in an Annie Dillard, not Animal House, sort of way–lots of wood-wandering, cookie-baking, and soul-exploring.  I spent time at CIA in more productive pursuits partly because – take note present and future parents – I was paying for it, but also because I was zealous about the subject matter. In those heady 21 months I was president of Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs and Co-President of Chefs Sustaining Agriculture; I volunteered for VIP guest demos and dinners; I applied for and received all sorts of scholarships; I edited the student newspaper. One of my first and favorite activities was the CIA Ice Cream Contest.

After a few weeks of school, two like-minded ladies and I formed a team. We were CIA babies and the odd culinarians competing against 6th semester baking and pastry students. We needed ideas, so Savannah, Katy and I packed a blanket, stopped by the Amish Market for triple cream cheese, a baguette , and strawberries, and let the May sun and greening Hudson Valley inspire us on the Vanderbilt lawn. The next day we submitted our recipe for a goat milk-honey ice cream with salted almond brittle. I had never tried goat milk, but it sounded pure, clean, sweet, grassy… like something that would make good ice cream. We named our creation Halcyon Daze, inspired by a Whitman, Ben, and Jerry. It won (!!) the People’s Choice award, and as a prize we each received an ice cream maker.  Mr. Ronnybrook offered to put our flavor in his stores. We were giddier than ever.

Two years later, I decided to recreate our champion ice cream. I start with the brittle. It’s easy, delicious, and photogenic. If you don’t have time or equipment to make ice cream it’s a nice mini project of its own. The ice cream requires some focus and patience. After completing the custard, the greatest challenges were capturing a good drip photo with one hand on the camera and waiting patiently for the mixture to cool.

Ice Cream Custard

 

Salted Almond Brittle

½ cup almonds
1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons honey
cinnamon
salt

-in a small sauté pan toast almonds til light golden brown. Add butter and honey and stir until caramel. Remove from heat, stir in a pinch of salt and cinnamon. Pour onto silpat or greased wax paper. Sprinkle with salt and allow to cool and harden.

Halcyon Daze

2 cups goat milk

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablspoon flour

pinch salt

1 egg

10 tablespoons honey

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

-Over a double boiler, scald goats milk. Stir in sugar, flour, and salt and stir a minute until dissolved. Temper egg by pouring a thin stream of hot milk gradually into egg while whisking, about 1 cup, then whisking the mixed egg and milk back into the double boiler. Continue whisking until thick custard is formed (one that heavily coats the back of a spoon). Add honey and stir to mix.

-Cool several hours. When completely cool, add whipped cream that has been beaten to look like fluff, then add vanilla. Spin custard in an ice cream machine, adding crushed salted almond brittle. Freeze.

Sweet Potato

Flavor ABC's

These sassy spuds are a favorite pantry item and a delicious food paradigm: They have remarkable natural sugars, and they’re good for you. They easily tread the line between savory and sweet. They make french fries better. They can be baked, mashed, cubed, grilled, stuffed, fried…. They are slightly hideous on the outside but beautiful bright orange inside.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I’ve been eating a lot of Five Guys and Spotted Pig burgers lately. I realize this is not the healthiest meal plan, so I decided to enlist the overachieving orange tubers to create a better burger. I thought about using ground sirloin. While it is a perfectly fine option, I wanted the sweet potatoes to stand out, not get lost in overwhelming beefy-ness. I chose ground turkey instead. Of course, turkey and sweet potatoes are old friends from the Thanksgiving table, so the pairing was natural. Besides feeling good about all the beta carotenes I was about to consume, I was delighted by the color of the pre-cooked patties.

Turkey Sweet Potato Burger

I live in a highly urban area, and I sadly do not have a grill. If you do, use it! Often! On my tiny kitchen stove I seared the patties and assembled the burgers with my favorite toppings of the moment: avocado, tomato, and pepper-jack cheese. Of course, this recipe is open to interpretation. Next time I might add some curry powder to the burger and top it with chutney and peanuts. Or I could add extra southwest flavor with canned chipotles in adobo.

IMG_1866

Better Burgers
Makes 8 burgers
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 1/3 pound ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
oil for grilling/sautéing
8 hamburger buns
2 cups pre-washed lettuce
8 ounces pepper-jack cheese, sliced
2 tomatoes, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
2 avocados, sliced ¼ inch

1. Set the oven to 400°F and bake sweet potatoes 40 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, you can prepare your toppings. Let potatoes cool until you can comfortably handle them.
2. Peel and roughly mash sweet potatoes so there are no pieces larger than pea-size. In a large bowl combine 1 pound (just under 2 cups) mashed sweet potatoes, ground turkey, onions, salt and cumin.
3. Form 4-5 ounce patties. On a prepared, oiled grill, or in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil, cook the patties in batches, about 4 minutes per side depending on size. The burger should be completely cooked through. Lightly grill or sauté buns.
4. Assemble burgers on buns with lettuce, cheese, tomato and avocado. Add any additional condiments.

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Q&A: Wine and Cheese Pairing

Q & A

Wine and Cheese

Q: Help, Bicycle Chef!!! Tomorrow I am having non-wine/cheese connoisseurs over and was planning to serve some cheese, wine, etc…. here’s what I bought at the store today: chevre, brie, comte (do you now this cheese? It’s wonderful, a bit nutty and maybe considered firm). I also bought fig jam and pears. I have apples and olives and was thinking of getting some nuts as well. Do you have any suggestions for combinations of the above? Which nuts?… Nothing too fancy is necessary, but I do want to be a good host – these are my future in-laws!

-Julie

A: Congratulations Julie! It’s easy to make a good impression when you’re throwing a wine and cheese party. The two main elements are already imbued with generations of thought, skill, and pride. You only have to pick a good sampling of cheese (which you’ve already done, although I would add a blue to the mix as well), choose some accompaniments (check), and make them look pretty. My favorite thing about a wine and cheese party is that, although you should put thought into the pairings, everyone gets to cater to their own tastes.

I did some research in one of my favorite books, Max McCalman’s Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best. As Max says, cheese and wine pairing is “ often a matter of style and compatibility – or hidden chemistry – that can’t be easily explained by simple rules and easy generalizations.”

Despite that unhelpful disclaimer, here are some practical guidelines:

  • Sweetness levels of the wine/fruit should balance Salt levels of the cheese.
  • pH levels in wine and cheese should generally match: mouth-puckering wines with acidic cheeses.
  • Texture works both ways: a crisp wine can cut nicely through a buttery cheese or an oaky, round wine can complement a similarly velvety, smooth queso .
  • Complex wines usually call for simpler cheeses and vice versa. The example Cheese gives is Epoisses (one of my favorite cheeses- fairly complex) with a bright Alsatian Riesling or dry Muscat.
  • It’s also fun and generally successful to pair cheeses with wines from the same region.

Heeding Cheese’s sage advice and some personal experience, here’s what I recommend.

CHEVRE

Wine: Sancerre, Savennieres, Albariño or other light, mineral-y whites. Light, fruity reds like Barbera d’Alba or a Beaujolais
Cru

Food: Honey, pecans… I like red food with goat cheese like lingonberry jam, strawberries, grapes….

BRIE

Wine: Crisp Alsatian Whites (i.e. Riesling, Pinot or Gewurztraminer), Dry Champagne, Burgundy Chardonnay, or
a fruity red Beaujolais Cru (Gamay grape)

Food: Apricot jam, raspberry jam, fig jam, grapes, pears, toasted hazelnuts

COMTE (I love the nuttiness! Nice choice Julie!)

Wine: Versatile Gruner Veltliner. Beaujolais Cru or a mellow Merlot

Food: Olives, Spanish almonds, quince paste, apples

You’ve been in France long enough to know you should serve cheese at room temperature to unleash the aromas and flavors from their frigid prison. Whites should generally be refrigerated (41-47 F), reds should be just below room temperature (around 55 F), although
Beaujolais is sometimes nice with a little chill on it (50-ish).

-The Bicycle Chef

P.S. I learned a new word while researching in Cheese today: Sapidity. Sapidity is  “ depth, length, and persistence of flavor found in a given delicacy.”

P.P.S. Note to Self: Try Cheese’s pairing recommendation of Sicilian Chardonnay and Nebiolo with Tallegio.

Louisiana Fig Cake

Flavor ABC's

Fig Newtons make me gag. They were my only fig exposure I had as a kid, so I assumed that I hated figs. Nine years ago in Woods Hole, Massachusetts Erin Lusk neglected to tell me that the cake her mother brought – a crusted bundt with a molten honeyed-spice laced interior – was Louisiana Fig Cake. Soon after the fig cake experience I tasted my first fresh fig. It was a soft, seductive Marilyn Monroe of fruits, nothing like the crumbly dry, cloying Newton. Now I look forward to the end of summer, when baskets of ready to bust figs show up at the store. For the other 11 months, I make this cake.

Bundt Cake Pan Fig in Pan Fig Cake Fig and Strawberries

Louisiana Fig Cake

The Cake does bleed oil, but when I try to substitute apple sauce it looses its winning texture. Hold it on a bed of paper towels until you’re ready to serve it.

Ingredients

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup peanut (or canola) oil
1-12 ounce jar of fig preserves
1 cup chopped pecans

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and oil bundt pan.
2. In a large bowl, stir together first six ingredients. In a small bowl, mix together eggs and oil, and add to the dry ingredients. Stir together with fig preserves and chopped pecans until uniform, then transfer to bundt pan. The mixture will look like wet sand, the kind you might make drip sand castles out of.
3. Bake about 1 hour, until the cake collapses in on itself. This is perfectly normal. Allow the cake to cool completely. The cake can be difficult to remove, but with gentle prying it will release itself. Simple bundt pans (NOT like the one I used) or silpat pans help in this matter.

Eggs Benedict

Flavor ABC's

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict is my hypothetical death row meal (with a hot fudge brownie sundae).  Unlike grilled cheese or pizza, Eggs Benedict is only worth eating when made well. The best I’ve had was from the Art Cliff Diner on Martha’s Vineyard – the Hollandaise had enough acid to balance the rich clarified butter, and the eggs were cooked through just to the end of the white-yolk border.

I’ve eaten too many disappointing versions – with chalky yolks and foamy sauces – that I have stopped ordering Eggs Benedict when I go out. When the cravings come, I loosen my wrists, break out the whisk and set the water to simmer.

This time I used Irish Bacon, which is smoked pork loin, a nice alternative to canadian bacon. I remembered to add a few tablespoons of vinegar and salt to the water as I learned to do in culinary school. They say this encourages the eggs to coagulate more quickly. I reduced vinegar with crushed black peppercorns and minced shallot for the hollandaise base, and I added lemon juice and a bit of cayenne at the end, bookmarking the emulsified butter sauce with brightness and acidity.

If I ever find myself coming to the end of my stay in a 6 x 9 Florida cell, it looks like I’ll be cooking my own last meal. Someone else can handle the sundae.

Doughnut

Flavor ABC's

Doughnuts protect themselves from ravenous amateur bakers with intimidating defenses of yeast and scalding oil. I would not have had the courage to make my first doughnuts without Caitlin and Nina, two of my volunteer cooks at summer camp who tackled the kitchen with the same furry that they brought to the rugby field. We three decided to make a fluffy, fried midnight snack and girded ourselves for the challenge. In an hour we filled two twelve-foot islands with trays of rainbow, chocolate, and cinnamon bedazzled donuts.

Yeast and Cake Donuts

Today I completed my second batch of doughnuts with confidence. I made yeast, pistachio-cake, and masa doughs with toppings of cinnamon sugar, chocolate ganache and traditional glaze. Donuts beware, your defenses are useless.

Glazed and Powdered Donuts

Yeast Doughnuts

Creates about a dozen, depending on size. Recipe adapted from CIA’s  Baking and Pastry.

1 1/4 cup bread flour

3/4 cup pastry flour

1 package (1 teaspoon) dry yeast

2/3 cup water

1 egg

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons dry milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2 ounces shortening

-Stir first three ingredients together. Beat in all ingredients except shortening for 2 minutes on medium. Add shortening and mix together for 8 minutes on medium, then 3 minutes on high. While a standing mixer would make life much easier, I beat my dough by hand. My right bicep is slightly larger today.

- Put the dough in a greased bowl covered loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it’s twice its original size. Punch it down (my favorite part), and let it rise again. I kept my dough in the refrigerator overnight for a longer, slower second rise so I could have doughnuts as soon as could heat the oil.

-Roll out the dough to about 1/2 inch thick. Use ring cutters to form your doughnuts. Fill a 4-quart pan 2 inches deep with oil and bring the temperature to 360°. Gently lower dough rings into oil and fry for about 1 minute on each side until golden brown. Place cooked doughnuts on paper towels to absorb excess oil.

-Dip doughnuts in prepared toppings of choice: 6 ounces of chocolate melted with 1/2 cup of cream; half-cinnamon-half-sugar; a cup of powdered sugar with a tablespoon of melted butter and just enough milk to make it soupy…