30 December 2008

Bouche de noel

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

This recipe had so many components and steps I'm not quite sure where to start. I made it a few weeks ago the night before my last paper was due. I started the bouche de noel and the editing at around 7pm and wrapped up at 12:30am...but had about another 45 minutes of prep on the cake in the morning before I headed to school to turn in the paper.

Wow... this post sounds really boring. I think it's because I don't really have much good to say about this month's challenge. I normally don't mind when a Daring Bakers' challenge takes forever as I feel like I am learning along the way. This time though, I think something got lost in the translation/conversion of the recipe from French and Metric into English and Customary. I was confused about pretty much everything, how long to cook each component, what consistency it should be and don't even get me started on using gelatin (suffice to say - never again). Luckily the bouche came out pretty well in the end (despite a disastrous creme brulee layer that wouldn't set at all) . Everyone enjoyed it but I think it's safe to say... I'll never make it again.

I hate to be so negative, espcially when I know how much work everyone put into this so thinking my hardest, I've come up with a few things I've learned from this recipe:

1) Gelatin is disgusting and I feel completely vindicated in my refusal to eat or use it for the past 12 years. Next time I'll use a vegetarian alternative.

2) If caffeine after 5pm keeps you up at night, eating a mocha bouche de noel at 10:30pm is not a good idea.

3) I am really spoiled as so many blogs, recipes and cookbooks are in my native language and units of measure. I have a newfound respect for those of you who translate languages and measures to work on Daring Baker's challenges or other recipes.

24 December 2008

Cranberry Applesauce

I'm about to head to the airport but I thought I would try to get this post up, as I've been so bad about posting this month. I made this cranberry applesauce first for Thanksgiving and then twice after that since it's so good. Not only is it a gorgeous, deep burgundy but it perfectly balances the tastes of cranberry and apple and takes only about 10 minutes of prep work to make. In fact, I think I'm going to go have a bowl of it now. Recipe after the jump.

Cranberry Applesauce
Adapted from Cuisine at Home
Makes about 5 cups

2.5 lb (1kg) apples, your favorite variety (probably 4-5 apples, depending on size)
1, 12oz (350g) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and picked over to remove stray stems and                           wonky berries
2 C (500ml) apple cider
1/2 C (50g) sugar, with another 1/2 C in reserve
1/4-1/2 t. cinnamon (depending on your taste)
1/4-1/2 t. ground ginger (depending on your taste)
pinch of salt

- Peel the apples. Core and chop half the apples into chunks- whatever size you like (bigger if you're a fan of chunky applesauce, smaller if you like it smoother). Shred the remaining apples on the largest holes of a box grater.

- Put the apples and all the rest of the ingredients in a heavy pot over medium heat. Bring to a bowl and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30-45 minutes or until most of the cranberries have popped. It's actually rather fun to hear them pop away as you're cooking. The sauce will have thickened slightly and turned an almost uniform cranberry color.  Give the sauce a taste and add more sugar, cinnamon and ginger until it's just how you like it.

- Remove the sauce from the heat and let cool, it will continue to thicken as it does. Serve immediately or store in the fridge.

10 December 2008

Amazingly Fast Chocolate Cake

Last night I hit a brick wall in my studying. All I wanted was something sweet and chocolatey and sugary to make me feel a bit better about my research paper that is currently in more trouble than a certain governor who thought he could sell a Senate appointment to the highest bidder. I hadn't gone shopping this weekend so we had no treats to speak of in the house. In fact we didn't have much of anything. I was about ready to sacrifice my principles and make a run to 7-11 when I remembered a post I had read a while ago on Food Network Musings that mentioned a microwave chocolate cake.

I ran to the computer, found the
recipe and scaled it back to an individual serving. It came together in about 2 minutes and after 1:20 in the microwave I had a mug of chocolate cake. Was it perfect? No- it didn't have the deep chocolate flavor I was looking for. The texture was a bit strange too, it didn't have the tender crumb of a baked cake, more of a spongy, baked pudding consistency but it did in a pinch. I feel like I can conquer the recipe though. Maybe it's the lack of progress in my paper, but I really just wanted to get something right...

A day elapsed since I wrote the previous section and I've had another go at the cake and...VICTORY!!! I decided to make a few modifications that really improved the flavor and texture of the cake. To boost the cocoa flavor, I heated the milk and butter in the microwave then stirred i the cocoa powder and nuked it for another 10 seconds. Since the first cake was sort of spongy I cut the amount of flour in half, which I hoped would give it a finer crumb and more tender texture. Last- I used only about a quarter of an egg, to keep it from getting a firm, baked pudding texture and slightly reduced the sugar, as I like my chocolate less sweet. I took it out of the microwave after only 45 seconds, when the center was clearly set but the sides were still very moist and dug in.

The cake turned out amazingly well. It had a deep chocolate flavor and color and a crumb strikingly similar to a real baked cake. It only takes about 4 minutes to put together though and uses 1 mug and set of measuring spoons (or kitchen scale)-- I don't know what else to say about it, other than that I would actually serve it to guests- it was that good.

Amazingly Fast Chocolate Cake
Serves 1, or 2 if you're feeling generous

I've made this in both a cafe au lait style wide mug with a rounded bottom and a ramekin- both worked perfectly. If you use a regular mug, be sure to mix very well so there's no dry ingredients stuck in the bottom edges.  

20g (1 and 1/3 T.) butter
30g (2T) milk
7g (1T) cocoa powder (I used Dutch processed)
30 g (2T plus 1t.) sugar
10g egg, lightly beaten (about 1/4 of the egg)
splash vanilla or other extract
15g (1T) flour
pinch baking powder (less than 1/8t., so little it didn't even register on the scale)
tiny pinch of salt

- Heat butter and milk in mug in microwave until butter is melted. Stir in cocoa powder and microwave on high for 10 seconds.

- Stir sugar, egg and extract into the cocoa mixture than add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until smooth. If you've got room in the mug you could beat a little air into the batter it too.

- Now it's time to cook the cake. This part will depend a lot on your microwave oven. Mine is nuclear powered and the cake cooked in only 45 seconds but yours might take longer. I suggest starting with 45 and adding more time if needed. The cake is done when the center is set but the sides haven't pulled away from the mug and are still a bit shiny and moist looking. You could turn the cake out onto a plate... or you could just grab a spoon and enjoy right from the mug.

Spaghetti with Crispy Garlic Chard Ragout*

This is another recipe I found in one of my mum's magazines- Gourmet, to be exact. You might remember I mentioned making a Giada de Laurentiis recipe a few weeks ago for pasta and chard that was utterly underwhelming.  Well this Gourmet recipe was exactly what I was hoping for the first time around: delicate chard infused with garlic punctuated by sharp bites of feta cheese, briny olives and bursts of sweet raisin, all topped off with crunchy garlic chips. Basically perfect. So good in fact, that I ate the leftovers for 3 meals running, something that I never do.

The recipe below is very similar to the original with some minor modifications. I cut back on the amount of pasta from a carb overloaded 1 lb. for 4-6 people to 10 oz. and shifted the other proportions accordingly (well maybe I decreased the amount of oil significantly to...). Give this one a try- it does take a little time but it's well worth it. Recipe after the jump.

Spaghetti with Crispy Garlic Chard Ragout
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
Serves 4-

10 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
1/2 c. pasta cooking water
3 T. olive oil
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/3 c. raisins
bunch of Swiss Chard (a small handful when you grab around the stems), stems and center red ribs chopped into bite sized pieces and leaves roughly chopped
1/2 t. salt
fresh black pepper
1/3 c. kalamata olives, roughly chopped
4-5 oz. feta cheese

- Set a large pot of water for the pasta on to boil.

- Add oil and garlic to a large skillet (I used a non-stick since that's what I've got) over medium heat and cook garlic until golden, around 3 minutes. Remove garlic to a paper towel lined plate.

- Add onion to remaining oil in skillet ad cook until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the raisins and cook for a minute than add the chard stems and give a good stir. [Timing note- add the pasta to the pot of boiling water now] Add in 1/2 c. water, the salt and several grates of pepper to the onion and chard stems and turn the heat up to medium high. Pop on the lid and let it bubble away for 5 minutes then stir in the leaves, recover and cook for another 5 minutes (until the chard is tender).

- Drain spaghetti (don't forget to save 1/2 c. of the pasta cooking water). Toss the spaghetti with the chard mixture and olives, added as much pasta water as you need to coat everything. There won't be that much sauce, but it shouldn't look dry. Plate the pasta and top with crumbled feta and garlic chips and enjoy.

*I know this doesn't seem like a traditional ragout and it isn't but I needed a better name for this dish than pasta with chard and garlic.   I wanted something that would convey a little sophistication and excitement and since one of the meanings of ragout, according to Merriam-Webster, is mixture I though it would work just fine.

09 December 2008

Crock Pot Cassoulet

Finals and some technical problems have kept me out of the kitchen and away from the computer for a while so thank you for your patience with the lag in between posts. Just one more week to go and I will finally be done with the semester and able to cook and catch up on everyone's blogs but for now I'll try to do a few quick posts.

One of my favorite things to do when I'm home is look through my mum's cooking magazines. She gets them all: Gourmet, Bon Appetite, Cooks Illustrated and a few smaller ones as well. I love flipping through and picking out recipes that look good, even though I'm not sure everyone else does as I'm constantly interrupting to read out recipe titles and say 'oh-doesn't this sound good.'

I found a recipe for a slow-cooker version of cassoulet, a French bean stew that generally takes days to make otherwise, and, as I'd just discovered my grandma's old Rival crockpot from circa 1972 in the basement of my dad's house, I decided I'd give it a try. I had to modify the recipe a bit to reduce the scale as I think modern slow-cookers are bigger than the older ones and I also left out the chicken as the recipe just called for it to be cooked in a foil packet on top of everything else in the cooker which sounded sort of odd to me. I also used bone-in St. Louis style ribs as opposed to boneless country style pork ribs (that the recipe called for), but feel free to use whichever you can find.

The cassoulet turned out very thick, with a rich sauce that was perfect to soak up with French Bread. Recipe after the jump (one last note-- you can make this in a Dutch oven if you don't have a crock pot.)

Slow Cooker Cassoulet
Adapted from Cooks' Country Magazine
Serves 6-8

1 lb. navy beans (any small white bean will do)
2 lb. Pork ribs, cut into 1 in. chunks
1 T. vegetable oil
8 oz. reduced fat kielbasa, slicked into thin pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. dried thyme
3.5 C. chicken stock
1/2 C. white wine
1, 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 t. salt

- Pick through beans to remove any non-bean objects. Put in a saucepan and add water to about 1 in. over the beans. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes to soften. Drain beans and add to slow cooker.

- While the beans are cooking, pat pork dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and brown pork on both sides, working if batches if needed so as not to overcrowd the pan. As each batch finishes, toss the pork into the slow cooker.

- Once you have finished browning all the pork, add the kielbasa to the pan and brown for a few minutes. Remove kielbasa to a paper towel lined plate, cover and stick it in the fridge until later.

- Add the onion and salt to the same pan, along with a little extra oil if needed. Turn heat down to medium and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Add garlic and thyme and cook for an additional minute. Pour in the wine, broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to get the fond (tasty brown stuff on the bottom of the pan). Carefully transfer the hot onion liquid mixture to the slow cooker.

- Cook the cassoulet on low in the slow cooker for 6-7 hours,* stirring every 30 minutes or so (or when you remember-- you just want to make sure the beans on the top cook too) until the pork is tender.

- When you are ready to eat stir the reserved kielbasa into the slow-cooker and allow to heat for about 10 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and serve with crusty bread.

*If you haven't got a slow cooker, just do this part in the Dutch oven over low-heat. You want the cassoulet at a low simmer for the entire cooking period.