Thursday, April 30, 2009

TGRWT #17: Rose & Apple

I didn't have much time for this month's TGRWT challenge. With the big bike race in town, I opted for a quickie that would demonstrate the tasting functionality. My first try was fried apple strings topped with a rose geleè sphere. More for looks than anything else, it gave me a good pic:

Then I did an apple rose cheesecake:

This was not an earth shattering pairing, but a good one for real use in a real meal. To my way of thinking, rose is the real challenge. It is very difficult to not have a rose dish turn into a potpourri disaster. We don't need to reminisce about my worst dessert ever which involved rose water.

For both of these desserts I opted for Cortas rose syrup. In syrup form, much of the floral notes are minimized under the sweetness. The flavors naturally worked well, and probably best in the cheesecake. The sphere was fine, but lacked pizazz even though I had added some telicherry pepper. I see the best use of this combination in a savory dish with these two as accents.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coming Up Kumquats

Well its about time! For those of you who don't know, this blog is named after our store - the Curious Kumquat. And for the two years and hundreds of posts that we've written, we've never featured kumquats...until today!

I was recently gifted around 40-50 pounds of fresh kumquats off a tree in Tucson. I'm normally gifted a few pounds which I candy and work into pastries, but this was the motherload. I had to be creative, and quickly, because they were all on the verge of going bad. What to do, what to do?

Candying them is the fastest and easiest. Simply cut in half, scoop out the guts, then I put them in a pot of cold water, bring it to a boil, rinse and repeat once. After the second boil I rinse, fill the pan with 1.5 parts sugar to 1 part water, bring to a low boil and reduce to a simmer. I simmer until they start to turn transluscent. Remove from the syrup and dry on a rack. These are great in scones, muffins, or on top of halibut or a zesty chicken.

I prefer to sugar mine.

But we can do better than that, can't we! After all, that was about 2 pounds of kumquats before it became too much work. Then I decided to candy some whole. The problem here is that whole kumquats have 3 or 4 seeds inside which can be annoying. I've dropped them in the sugar water before and eaten them and they're okay, but I wanted to improve on that. So this time I boiled as per above and let science do its thing. About half way through the fillings burst out of the skin through a very small incision that I made on the stem end. Once they turned transluscent I pulled the guts the rest of the way out and allowed them to MOSTLY dry. Before they were completely dry I piped in a ganache of the darkest chocolate I had and then rolled in sugar. These became the gift to the donor.

Alright, that's another pound. This isn't going very quickly is it? Next I thought - "I want a chutney," so I found a recipe and did some modifications on it. This was very, very good, and we enjoyed it on grilled chicken.

Curried Kumquat Chutney
1/2 C. Sugar
1/4 C. White Wine Vinegar (I used O brand Ginger Rice Vinegar)
2 T. Chopped candied ginger
2 T. Dried cranberries or yellow raisins
1 t. Madras curry powder
1 1/3 C. Thinly sliced fresh kumquats, seeded
2 T. Chopped fresh cilantro
Habañero to taste

Cook sugar, vinegar, ginger, cranberries and curry, along with 1 cup of the kumquats over medium heat until reduced to about 1 cup (about 10 min). Transfer to a bowl and chill until cold. Add remaining kumquats, cilantro and habañero, season with salt and pepper. Chill and serve.

That was good, because I was able to use a good chunk of kumquats, but I still had three huge bags full of them...and they were starting to smell of rot. We had to hurry this up a bit. I threw a whole bag (about 15 pounds) into my largest stock. I added a couple of inches of water turned to med-high flame and once I saw steam, I covered and reduced the heat to med-low. I let that bad boy cook for about an hour stirring occasionally. Once they were soft, I skimmed any obvious nastiness and cooked just a bit more uncovered to remove some of the moisture. I then started plopping the glop into a food processor. It started to remind me of canned pumpkin...and that got me to a thinkin'!

Next thing you know I was making pumpkin bread...I mean kumquat bread! And it worked - really well!

Kumquat Bread
C. Flour
1 C. Chopped nuts (walnut, pecan, almond)
Bold1/2 C. Sugar
3/4 t. Baking Soda
Big pinch, Salt
2 C. Kumquat glop
1/3 C. Plain Yogurt
2 Eggs
3/4 Stick Butter, melted
1 T. Vanilla

Oven to 350F. Grease & flour loaf pan or line with parchment.

Put nuts in a bowl, then into the microwave and zap until you smell them (about 2 minutes). Kerry Beal from eG taught me that method of toasting and it works great.

Whisk the flour, sugar, soda, salt and nuts together. Combine the kumquats, yogurt, eggs, butter and vanilla. Pour the liquids into the solids and fold until just combined. Pour into your loaf pan and bake around 55 minutes or until done. I topped mine with a crumb and coconut. The downside to this method is the seeds again on my next attempt I'll work to remove the seeds by running the glop through a large whole strainer.

As they say, "but wait - there's more!" That really dwindled my supplies down, but I still had a bag. On this bag I just wanted plain, unsweetened puree for future use. I took the fresh fruit, cut it in half and removed the seeds but not the fillings - the appeal of kumquats is the interplay between sweet (skin) and tart (filling), and put it in the blender with just enough water to allow the blender to work. I haven't used this yet, but it will soon find its way into mousses and cakes.

So there you go. Did I miss anything? I'm ready for my next gifted fruit!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mind if I freak out for a moment

This week, our little hamlet in the mountains is having its big bike race. Its a big deal any year, but this year Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and some other famous dude are coming. There are already rumors that our grocery stores will be sold out of many items. Hotels are book as far away as towns 90 minutes away. Yeah, this is gonna be big.

So, lil' ol' me with my two cheapie paninni presses and electric residential stove is so not prepared for the onslaught that is coming. I would love to have siezed this opportunity to be the shining star, but I think its more realistic to survive getting good and affordable food out there. I just don't want to run out. But how do you prepare for 175 pro riders, their support teams, their families, the media, the onslaught of fans. Best guess at this point is around 50,000 people inundating out town of 10,000....I have 12 seats.

Wish me luck or better yet, come help me chop vegetables!

Monday, April 20, 2009

My First Wedding

Over the weekend I had my first wedding. I had always refused to do wedding cakes because 1) I'm not a cake decorator, and 2) they're about memories and I don't want to screw that up. But the universe aligned for this one.

I was approached just two weeks ago about the event. The conversation went something like this:

Bride: I was referred to you by my caterer because she said you do wedding cakes.
Me: Sorry, but I don't do wedding cakes.
Bride: Oh (disappointment in voice)
Me: Your caterer must have thought of me because I do pastries.
Bride: What's the difference?
Me: I don't do traditional cakes with piped frosting. I do mostly unique and unusually flavored mousses, creams, and cakes that aren't what you would consider cake.
Bride: (Beaming) That's exactly what we want! We don't want a foo foo cake.

How could I pass on that then!? What the couple eventually wanted was 80 individual pastries for their guests and one ceremonial cake for the cutting. After much discussion (since the bride wanted a bit of foo, and groom wanted none) we settled on a raspberry mousse with a vanilla bavarois center and fresh berry, set on an almond cake brushed with raspberry syrup and campari. I took artistic license from there to spray tinted cocoa butter on them for a velvet effect, a fresh raspberry and a bit of edible silver.

The ceremonial cake was a simple cylinder covered in fresh berries with thicker layers of the almond cake.

The 80 pastries:

A close up:

And the final presentation:

The recipe for the almond cake can be found two posts lower in the comment section. Here's the mousse:

160 g seedless raspberry puree
40 g raspberry compound
40 g sugar
4 or 5 sheets of gelatin

In a double boiler warm the puree, compound and sugar; meanwhile soak the gelatin sheets, wring and add to the puree mixture; whisk until dissolved; remove from heat stirring occasionally.

120 g sugar
65 g water
10 g glucose
2 egg whites

Make an Italian meringue by heating the sugar, water and glucose to soft ball stage; Whip whites until just past soft peaks; Pour hot sugar into whites and continue whipping until glossy and stiffer.

255 g Cream

Whip the cream until soft peaks form; Fold puree mixture into meringue and combine thoroughly; Gently fold puree and meringue into cream; Pipe into form or cups.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Fresh Sardines

I promised you our worst meal ever...and here it is! I think the worst-ness is a combination of a bad meal and a lot of anticipation. I've been hearing about the wonders of fresh sardines for ages, and when a customer recently asked if I could get them, I was willing to split a case with him. These were 36 hours from ocean to table, so they were fresh. Using some online tutelage, here are the steps I followed. WARNING - MANY PICTURES AND SOME ARE GRAPHIC

The box arrived right on schedule:

and now you know how to reach me at the store - I'm just a phone call away!

Here are the mound of shy fish

They were about 8" long as you can tell by the knife. Because they were being shy, I figured I would just take off their heads to teach them a lesson.

They didn't care so much for that.

Tyler didn't care so much for that either. Next, I ran a slit down their bellies and removed the innards.

A quick rinse and some work on the scales.

I then layed them flat and belly down on the board, ran my thumb across their spines which releases the bones. You can then fairly easily zip the skeleton out from the meat. I layed one down for a pic.

A good dash of salt and pepper

And onto the grill with ye!

Now let me pause. I spent nearly 90 minutes processing these little guys. I gave my appreciation for their lives and was thankful for all of the people who have told me how great fresh, grilled sardines are. These weren't cheap since we are landlocked, but it was a price I was willing to pay for the right and opportunity. The anticipation built for nearly a month...and now was the moment of truth!

The only thing that was worse than this picture was the food itself. Despite my 90 minutes of processing, none of us could get a bite of sardine that wasn't full of bone or scale. Tyler tried one bite and stopped. Our friend Bill couldn't even get past the first bite. And I, your courageous sojourner, was able to eat three bites thinking, "maybe this one will be better." But we were okay, Tyler had made a great orzo salad to go with this...we thought until we tried the salad..."hmmm...lacking in any form of flavor whatsoever." Well, you can never go wrong with dessert right? And our friend has only one claim to fame - creme brulèe. He curdled the milk. Nuff said. Worst meal ever.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Mixed Metaphors: Almond Cake

I know I'm not alone when I say, "I've got too much going on right now." For those of you waiting for the Earth to spin off its axis and fly into outer space, this is all expected. But for some of us, we just don't have time for an apocalypse right now.

But just in case it is coming, I made this dessert today:

The cake is an almond cake which I'm making for a wedding this weekend...more on that later. I topped it with some hibiscus sorbet because I think its pretty. And decorated the plate with out beautiful apple blossoms that are blossoming like...some other metaphor!

But really this picture is about FoodGawker and TasteSpotting. These two sites have become critical launching pads for food blogger success. And as their success has grown, their selectiveness has increased. For those of you not familiar with the two sites, bloggers (like yours truly) post pics from their blogs. Then we wait for a day or two to see if we are worthy of inclusion (content be damned). And finally if we are accepted, the picture is posted and hundreds of people read your blog. Wow.

I've had more pictures denied than approved and that has led to the changes in my pictures. I DO care about the quality of my pics, but I'm more concerned with the content and recipes. And truth be told, I'm not sure when I stopped blogging for me, and transitioned to blogging for Jumanggy and Tri2Cook, and ultimately to the world. I've had posts that get as few as 50 reads which I've assumed are random blogger hits; and I've had posts that have received over 2000 hits. Sure I like it when I get 2000 hits but it doesn't change how or why I post.

But I digress.

My concern over FoodGawker and TasteSpotting is that they are homogenizing food blog photos. I used to hit those sites almost daily, but now all of the photos look the same. Can any pic that is well framed, well focuses and well lit, be accepted...apparently not. I am confident that the pic above won't be accepted. I think it fits exactly what they are looking for, but it has none of me in it. I snapped shot after shot, moving my lights, adjusting my angles, and really didn't give a crap. All I know is that I wanted to eat my dessert.

Is this my proclamation of independence? No. I'll keep wasting my time trying to get pics published at sites that I think are harming the blogging world. The upside is that most desserts are better after they've sat out a the half hour it takes to snap all of the pics.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Recipe: Papas Rellenos

Last week at a catering event I served my version of papas rellenos. They were the hit of the event and I had many, many requests for the recipe. These are not the quickest food to prepare, but well worth the effort.

Start by getting a cup of green olives - doesn't matter what kind. Place them in a sauce pan with 2 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar. Bring to a low boil and add 1 T. cinnamon, 1 t. nutmeg and rind of one lemon. Boil, covered for about one hour or until you see the consistency of the olives change and become...unusual. Let them cool completely. Place the olives in a processor and chop into a rough cut.

Next, take a handful of dried apricots - I prefer the unsulfurated Turkish ones, but any will do. But them into rough chop also.

In a skillet saute 1 diced carrot, 1 small chopped onion & 1 chopped red bell pepper.

And brown 1 pound of ground bison or beef with the veggies.

Get it all nice and yummy looking and cool to room temp. Boil 2 pounds of potatoes and make them as if you were making your regular mashed potatoes. The only difference will be that when you do the mashing, you want a thick consistency, not whipped and soft. When the potatoes are boiled, place them in a bowl with 2 eggs, 1 T. minced garlic (I use jarred), a bit of salt and pepper, and a half stick of butter or margarine. Using a hand mixer, combine the potatoes and seasoning.

In Peru the papas rellenos that I had were all the size and shape of a baked potato. For this event I prepared bite sized versions - make what you prefer. Take a golf ball sized dollop of potatoes, dust your hands well with corn starch, flatten the ball and put a small amount of filling in the center.

Close back into a ball and shape either round or into the potato shape. Keep your hands dusted!

Once you've formed all of your balls, place them in the fridge to allow them to firm up at least one hour. You'll see that the starch helped to prevent sticking, but also creates a great crust on the papas rellenos.

When you're ready to eat, fill a pot with oil (corn, canola or peanut). Heat oil to a medium-high heat testing by dropping bits into the oil and watching for the bits to sizzle and float. When its ready, carefully place two or three papas in the oil Turn them very gently in the oil to make sure all sides are browned. Inevitably there will be some filling that will ooze out, but ideally the potatoes cover the entire outside and the filling becomes a surprise for your guests.

...a really great suprise!

Feel free to play with the filling, but the sweet salty combination is always a hit. Enjoy!