Saturday, May 30, 2009

Summer Pot Luck Contest: Strata

Alexandra over at Alexandra's Kitchen provided the next dish for my Summer Pot Luck Contest - Summer Vegetable Strata. I'll be the first to admit that I hate stratas - hate them! But you know what...I liked this one. More comments to come in the wrap-up post. BTW, if you go to her blog linked above, the corn pudding looks amazing!

Summer Vegetable Strata

6 slices white sandwich bread
kosher salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, julienned
2 small yellow squash or zucchini
1 cup of roasted red peppers, julienned
2 cups milk, (1%, 2% or whole)
5 large eggs
½ cup pepper jack cheese
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (I used Ancho)
1 cup of basil leaves
¼ cup of chopped chives
1 ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into ½-inch thick slices to yield about a ½ cup

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Remove the crusts from the bread and crisp lightly in the toaster. Once cooled, arrange in a single layer in the bottom of the dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Over medium heat, sauté the onion in the oil until soft and slightly caramelized, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, trim the ends off the squash, cut them lengthwise into quarters, and then crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices. When the onion is slightly brown, add the squash and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the peppers and cook for a minute longer. Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste and remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, half of the cheese, pepper flakes, basil, chives and a big pinch of salt. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the baking pan, spreading them evenly over the bread. Pour the milk mixture over top. Scatter the remaining cheese and mozzarella over the top. Bake for 40 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Tomorrow is the last day to submit recipes. I have received a couple of recipes from sites that are copyrighted, and are therefore not original. Please read the original post about the contest for the rules - there are always ways of making recipes your own. Thanks.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pastry In Europe: Recipe Testing pt 2

Here was a fun recipe to try - Apple Tagliatelle (which became spaghetti) p. 199

I was still looking for recipes that would be fast and kept being drawn back to the simplicity of this one. This recipe definitely supports my assertion that you need some experience to use this book. I had to do a bit of homework just to understand it - but now you won't.

Lime Granité
Syrup 30°B, Lemon juice
This was terminology that I wasn't familiar with so I asked my friends at eGullet HERE.
I'll let you read the ongoing discussion, but here is how I translated it for a very small portion:

70 g Water
30 g Sugar
Combine these and bring to a low boil to completely dissolve sugar.
Using the 100 g of syrup (which actually reduced a bit), add 25 g of juice - I used 15 g of lemon and 10 g of key lime. Combine, pour in a container and freeze.

Spice Jelly
350 g Water
35 g Sugar
1 Cinnamon stick
1 Vanilla bean
20 g Fresh ginger
2.4 g Agar-Agar
1 Sheet gelatin (1 t. powdered)

Cook the water, sugar, cinnamon, split bean, and ginger. Simmer until reduced by half. Pour through a fine mesh sieve and add agar-agar and softened gelatin. Pour into container and let chill until firm.

Cardamom Syrup
125 g Milk
125 g Cream
3 Egg yolks
40 g Sugar
10 g Cardamom pods

Put the pods in a small skillet and toast for about 10 minutes on medium low until fragrant and starting to color. Add pods to milk and cream, bring to a simmer, remove from heat, cover and let stand one hour. Strain out the pods. Return milk mixture to heat and bring not quite to a simmer. Whisk yolks with sugar. Pour a bit of the hot milk into the yolks whisking well, and then return the yolk mixture to the hot milk whisking constantly until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Let rest covered.

Apple "pasta"
You'll need one of those contraptions that makes strings out of potatoes. If you don't have one a julienne peeler would work too. Make strings out of your apple.

500 g Water
250 g Sugar
2 g Lemon juice
1 g Salt

Combine all ingredients and boil for a few minutes - you just want everything combined, dissolved and hot. Pour the syrup over the apple pasta and weight down with a bowl. Chill for about an hour.

To serve, drizzle your sauce, top with the apple, scrape the granité, and cut the jelly.

This is a great combination of flavors and textures - I HIGHLY recommend giving this one a try, and so does follower, Bethany Joy

Summer Pot Luck Contest: Tortellini Salad

If you've been waiting anxiously for your submission to the summer pot luck contest, well, I'm getting through the recipes slowly. Tonight, RedKathy at TheEssenceOfWomanhood blog offered a Shrimp Tortellini Salad. She billed it as a "fast, easy, impressive crowd pleaser," and it was all of those things:

1 bag (16 oz) dried cheese tortellini
1 lb salad shrimp
1 red bell pepper
1 can medium black olives
2 small tomatoes
Garlic powder
Grated Parmesan or Romano(preferred) chees
Red wine vinegar Italian Salad Dressing (or make you own Italian dressing)

Cook pasta (al dente) according to package. When ready pour into colander and rinse in cold water. Allow to strain in colander. Add shrimp to pasta in colander. While pasta and shrimp are cooling/straining dice pepper and tomatoes and slice olives. Add pasta and shrimp to bowl. Add all vegetables, sprinkle top of mixture lightly with garlic powder, toss to mix. Cover salad with grated cheese and toss to mix. Add enough salad dressing to make everything moist. Refrigerate 1 hour. Flavor will strengthen while refrigerating.

I had to make a few modifications to fit what was available. First I used fresh tortellini from the deli section which was a nice change, but made for a larger pasta. Second, I used Drew's salad dressing because we sell it and know how good it is.

Thanks Kathy for the great entry! I helped myself to a little dessert of macadamia creme with fresh strawberrys in the new Lebovitz easy tart crust.

I'm still accepting entries for a few more days, so keep 'em coming. Next up a summer strata.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pastry In Europe: Recipe Testing

Whenever I review a cookbook I like to test the recipes to see how they turn out. Here are a few quick and easy ones to get things rolling.

First are the Congolais (p. 211)

100 g Grated coconut
125 g Sugar
40 g AP Flour
100 g Egg Whites
Combine all ingredients in mixer with paddle. Let rest for 12 hours. Make half balls with a melon scoop, by hand or I used a silicon form. Bake at 230F for 20 minutes. When done, combine two halves, roll in coconut and eat.

I had to bake much longer than 20 minutes, but I always have the alttutude excuse. And making half balls was not as easy as you might think. I would recommend using coconut flour (grind the flakes) for the balls and then flakes for the rolling decorations. These were very good tasting.

Spun Chocolate (aka Chocolate Nests) p. 45

Fill a bowl with Everclear and freeze overnight. Melt chocolate and put in piping bag. Pipe chocolate into alcohol.

I did not bring my chocolate into temper and it worked fine, although it would be interesting to see if its strength improved by being in temper. Also, I tried different tips to make spaghetti, lignuine and other shapes. The spaghetti worked best. This one couldn't have been easier.

Sugar Cellophane p. 65

Heat sugar to 320F and cool a bit. Dip a small iron pipe into the sugar and blow gently.

Okay, their instructions are a bit vague, but we finally got this to work. Think of it as the jars of soap that you used to blow bubbles from as a kid. I used my large pastry tip set to blow through (it did get a bit hot for my lips after a while). Blowing in a sugar hot box is best if you actually want to do cool things with this, but I think they make nice decorations anyway. I also would like to play with adding glucose to attempt to get more flexibility as they become very brittle very quickly.

Looking for a partner in crime - Ever wanted to be a pastry chef, but didn't know how?

Maybe you're a lurker, or maybe a regular reader/commenter...I'm looking for someone who is wanting to improve their pastry skills, and is willing to chronicle their journey with me for 3-6 months. Mildly interested. I don't want to give away the big secret, but if you're interested, please email so we can chat. You'll need to be willing to spend $300US - no, the money won't come to me. Your skill level is unimportant as long as you really want to be a better pastry preparer. I actually would like someone a bit "green" who can gorge themselves on a whole pan of brownies. Shoot me a line if you're interested.


Monday, May 25, 2009

How I spent my Memorial Day weekend...

Our local arts council puts on a Blues Fest, and so this year I thought we would try a booth. We served gumbo, alligator on a stick, sushi, pie in a cup and good sodas. By the end of Sunday I had dished up nearly 125 gallons of gumbo, 60 pounds of gator and 80 sushi rolls. But that wasn't the end of it.

I catered a 60th wedding anniversary for the Zapatas. The family came in from all across the country so they asked for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. For a cake I made a berry mousse and campari soaked genoise decorated with a callow lilly to honor their original wedding cake. But that wasn't all.

We hosted a Fairy Princess Tea Party for a 6 year old and her friends. This pic is before most of the guests arrived. And so now on Memorial Day monday, I rest. I hope everyone has a great one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Pastry in Europe 2009

Pastry in Europe: 2009, aka The Big Pink Book is Big. Glossy. Pricey. It reminds me of a Hermè cookbook or possibly Alinea, but it is neither. However, this is a good book, and so the question becomes, “For whom is this book best suited?”

PIE is a self-published product of Culibooks Inc., which has been around since 1996. Their most well known magazines are Culinaire Saisonnier and Pâtisserie & Desserts. At 255 pages with glossy color photos on nearly ever page, there is plenty of eye candy. At $119.95US on Amazon the book moves out of the price range of most frugal bakers. I have been told that the book can be purchased for only $67 (Chocolate World) if bought in Euros (plane ticket to Europe not included).

Pastry in Europe 2009 feels like one of those hard-bound glossy books you find in finer hotel rooms that is seeking to serve the Edward Behr (Art of Eating) audience. By that I mean, we have a beautiful, densely packed book full of wonderful material, and not just recipes, but articles about culture, people, technique, yet they are abbreviated articles that leave you wanting more. As an example, there is a nice discussion of cactus fig (prickly pear tuna in my parlance), but I was left with more questions than answers: “What are they using them for?” “The picture of liquor on the side page – is that a cactus fig liquor? “Where can I get more information about the producers?”

The idea behind those glossy hotel books is to get a tourist to go shopping or eating at a restaurant – PIE is not a shilling book. I read the book more as a celebration of what’s on the minds of European pastry chefs right now. So the abbreviated article format doesn’t work for me. I would prefer a more Behr-esque treatment where we get in-depth on the subjects, and recognizing my comments about the photos (which please don’t misconstrue my comments as the photos are very beautiful), I would suggest that the audience could do with a less expensive, less flashy, more informative book.

So then who should buy this book? If you have knocked out some killer mousse or chocolate bon bons, and have a fairly solid grasp of the concept and techniques, and you have a varied interest in pastries (not just one item such as gelato), and you won’t be frustrated when the 2010 edition comes out leaving your 2009 edition feeling a bit dated, then grab the book. It is unique, informative and well…quite interesting to me. I am enjoying it.

The book was worth the investment for me as someone who is constantly seeking new techniques, ideas and flavor combinations, although it certainly won’t get the mileage of my Hermè or Amernick books or my Art of Eating magazine.

Read the full review at The Gastronomers Bookshelf.

Still accepting summer potluck recipes

Read a few posts down for the details, but you can win a pretty darn nice prize. I'll accept recipes up until 5/31.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Recipe: Pop-Tarts

What the hell were they thinking?! Since when do Pop-Tart connoisseur buy the dry little pastries for their nutritional value? Never once have I said, "I wonder if I could get more fiber in my diet by eating Pop-Tarts." But this is the trend from the Kelloggs company:

Some friends gave me a box of these as a gift because I was reminiscing about how much I love Pop-Tarts. You wanna see the nutritional info on these healthy snacks:
Mmm...that's nutritional goodness right there buddy boy! What I love about Pop-Tarts is the filling, the frosting and the permission to eat a cookie for breakfast. What I don't like is that there is never enough filling. And that brings me to my homemade version:

When I re-create a store bought product I have a rule that you need to get as close to the original as possible while improving on any faults. In this case, I was fine with the dough and the frosting, and the taste of the filling, but I wanted more filling.

Pop-Tart Dough
13 oz (370 g) Unsalted Butter at room temp
1/3 C. & 1 T. (110 g) Milk at room temp
1 Yolk at room temp
1 t. (6 g)Sugar
1 t. (6 g) Salt
3 1/2 C. (625 g) AP Flour
In food processor, combine butter, milk, yolk, sugar and salt and pulse until roughly blended. Add the flour and pulse until it just starts to come together. Form into a disc and wrap in saran wrap, chill at least 1 hours.  ALT (updated 3/14), In mixer, cream butter with salt and sugar.  Add yolk and then half of the flour.  Add milk and remaining flower and combine til homogenous.  Remove from mixing bowl and press on counter with the heel of your hand for 30 seconds.  Cut in half and place half on your baking silpat or parchment.  Cover with parchment and rollout to 1/8" thick.  Using a ruler, cut to size but leave on baking sheet - I normally do 4x6" and get 6 out of each sheet.  Freeze for 15 minutes.  Roll out the other half to make the tops, and cut to size.  Lightly freeze just to make handleable.  Brush bottom seams with egg whites. (now proceed with the pre-edited recipe)

Brown-Sugar Cinnamon Filling
1 Egg White at room temp
3/4 C. Powdered Sugar
1/4 C. Almond slivers or slices
1/4 C. Brown sugar
1 T. Cinnamon
In food processor, combine all ingredients and blend until well combined.

Roll the dough into a rough square, dusting with flour, until 1/8" thick. Cut dough into 4"x6" rectangles. Pair the rectangles for tops and bottoms. Brush the edges of your bottom with a whisked egg. Place a large dollop of filling on inside the egg wash, then spread it evenly. The amount of filling is up to you, but you can see in the pic below how much I did. Place the top sheet of dough on top and press firmly but gently onto the bottom sheet. Chill your Pop-Tarts for 30 minutes.

Oven to 350F. Bake for abut 15 minutes or until just starting to brown. Let sit until room temp. Frost with a milk and powdered sugar frosting with just a bit of cinnamon added.

And here's a chocolate tart with chestnut filling and coarse salt on top

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Flourless Chocolate Cakes: In Search of the Perfect Recipe

In the world of flourless chocolate cakes there are those who love the dense, cakey intense varieties. Then there is the other world of custardy, rich and creamy versions. And finally, the dry and airy cakes. I've made and eaten all of them, and the ingredients are less important than the technique.

My favorite, by far, is the custardy version which relies on minimal whipping and minimal cooking. The other two varieties leave my mouth feeling like I said something dirty and it was just washed out by a disapproving mother. So in my quest for the perfect recipe I've found a leading contender courtesy of Paul Raphael at Underbelly. His recipe is aptly titled, but slightly modified to add Kahlua:

Intense Flourless Chocolate Cake
4 oz (113 g) 75% Chocolate*
2 oz (57 g) 60% Chocolate*
4 oz (114 b) Unsalted butter, cubed
2 Whole eggs
2 Yolks
1/4 C. Kahlua
2 T. & 2 t. (32 g) Sugar
1/8 t. (.5 g) Salt

*Paul recommends Valrhona Guanaja and Manjari chocolates - which I highly recommend as well. I used El Rey and Callebaut because they were handy.

Oven to 400 F with rack on bottom rung. Butter and dust with cocoa a 6" springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper and butter. Set the pan on a large double sheet of foil and pull the foil around the sides of the pan and make sure that the whole pan is well wrapped up the sides.

Make double boiler and melt chocolate over gentle heat. Once melted, remove from heat, add butter little by little, stirring gently until melted. Let chocolate cool a bit.

In mixing bowl whisk eggs and yolks just until combined. Remember, you don't want to overwhip this version of cake. Add the sugar and salt and continue whipping. Finally, add the Kahlua. Now, whisk until the sugar dissolves and a light froth forms. Do not create volume!

Gently stir the egg mixture into the chocolate - not the other way around! Once combined pour the batter into the springform filling only to about half way. Put springform into large roasting pan, and pour water to go half way up the side of the springform. Bake about 20 minutes or until there is a slight jiggle left in the center of the cake. If there's no jiggle, you went too far and you just made a dry dense cake. Cool to room temp and plate.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Summer Pot Luck Contest: Shrimp

I had my first pot luck on Saturday and took our first submission, courtesy of RAHiggins from Vini Vidi Vino:

2 lb large shrimp with heads on
1/2 cup olive oil (Taste of Crete)
1/2 cup or 1 stick butter, sweet, unsalted
2 tsp garlic minced
one onion minced (green onion is mo better)
2 lemons halved, juiced
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 cup bbq rub (I used smoked Spanish paprika, palm sugar, szechuan)
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp Worchester (I used Bourbon Barrel Foods Sorghum worchester)
1/4 tsp cayenne
Louisiana Original hot sauce

Combine all ingredients except shrimps and put in the broiler until it almost burns. (throw those squeezed lemons in there too!) Add shrimps and stir around a bit.
Put pan back in oven and let cook 5 minutes, remove, stir, and put back in oven.
Take shrimps out when done, place contents in a nice serving bowl on a platter.

I'll save my comments for the end of the contest, but this one was fast and easy. The question about whether this is appropriate for a pot luck is fair. As long as you can serve these fast enough to keep them fresh, then I say yes. If they will have to set for a long time, then pass on this one.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: The Complete Robuchon

Walk into any chef’s kitchen, and dig around long enough, and you’ll find a buried treasure of recipes. Mine is a humble stack of tattered, splattered papers sitting on a shelf in unruly fashion. A more experienced chef will have a file cabinet, a binder with sheets neatly tucked into plastic protectors, or laminated sheets clipped on a wall. The Complete Robuchon is that treasure chest for Joël Robuchon and his army of cooks.

Read the rest of the review at the Gastronomer's Bookshelf HERE

Monday, May 4, 2009

Win a Free Espresso Maker: Summer Pot Luck Recipes

Summer is almost here. Time to have those late dinners on the veranda sipping grappa and enjoying a hot espresso. You've just finished off your dolmas, mini quiches and caprese salad, and now you're looking for the perfect finish. Being the owner of the Curious Kumquat has its privileges. One of them being free stuff to share with others.

Running the entire month of May, we'll be seeking your favorite summer pot luck recipes. It can be an appetizer, a bbq, drink...your choice, but it should be appropriate for pot lucks and summer. If you have a blog and already have a post about your favorite recipe, just send me the link, otherwise email the recipe to rob at connoley dot com and I'll bring them all together in sporadic posts.

What do you get for your time? The chance to win a brand new Bialetti Easy Caffè 6-cup electric espresso maker. It was about time they made one of these! You'll see them listed at just under $100 so this is a pretty nice blog prize. Winners have to be from North America to receive the espresso maker, although if you're off-continent and submit a recipe, and it wins, we'll do an Amazon certificate worth $100US. If you're in a country where the US dollar is essentially worthless, you can use it to buy yourself a cup of espresso instead.

Rules? Only a few. First, the recipe should be yours either new or modified. New recipes are rare, but don't lift it from someone else's site and claim it as your own at least add "Add parsley and serve" to make it your own. Second, Tyler and I, and our summer potluck guests will be the judges. No whining about us having bad tastes, that could be true, but... And finally, the last entry opportunity will be May 31st at midnight MST. Questions? Let's see what you've got!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feeding the Masses: Tour of the Gila bike race

I'm a bit rested from this past week, and I made the mistake of stopping by the store today to finish up my cleaning, and I was swarmed by bikers asking for more pasta for one last meal...nice compliment, but no thanks, I'm off.

First, let's see what this was all about. We're a small little town that is very remote, but has a lot of culture and events. You can't just stumble across Silver City, you have to make it a part of a trip or the trip itself. So when guys like this show up

for our big race it has a bit of an impact. Our busiest restaurant on its busiest night might serve 75-100 guests. My cafè, which mostly does lunch will have about 40 covers on a good day. So when officials say that these guys are most likely showing up

but "we're keeping it quiet so things don't get out of control, but we need you to be prepared," well, I take notice. And with all of the speculation of whether he would come or not, and last minute wrangling between the international biking community and the national biking leaders, we were told to "be ready." But how the heck can you be ready for something like this?

I cook on a regular ceramic top residential range with a single oven. My response is, as always, pose the question to eGullet and see what you can glean. And after weeks of you all sharing your advice, and me watching Homeland Security set up its base camp, and me strategizing with my food reps, and finally a big ass black RV parking out in front of my store (the pics above are from my store's front door), it finally came down to this

The race was off and the black and white jerseys were blurring by with some famous dude that people came to see - I think I mentioned that hotels were booked as far as Las Cruces which is 2 hours away. And then there were 39 more moments like these

as they did their laps in our historic downtown district. It was truly surreal. I had never seen paparazzi in my town, let alone my neighbors acting like the Backstreet Boys were preparing to do a concert. Surreal. You can read about the race with a mention to our store in the New York Times.

But I missed all but a few minutes of the race because I was back in the hot kitchen wondering how much more I should prep to be ready for a rush, or would it be a slam, or would it be a slaughter?!

And that finally takes us to the food.

Some of the important info that I learned from my eG friends:
1. Keep costs to even amounts - I did everything in either $5 or $1 amounts (tax included)...and yes, it was appreciated.
2. Carbs, carbs, carbs...except on sprint day when it was all sugar of any sort
3. Smoothies were okay but not the most popular - too much sugar I guess
4. I didn't make them, but yes, pancakes were a popular request, oatmeal was second
5. Pie never happened, nor was it requested, but my lighter desserts sold best
6. Coffee, but only good coffee...thanks Peets!
7. Serve early, serve often. They want to eat about 1 hour after the end of the race and continue through the night.

One unanticipated issue came as I unintentionally became focused on the bikers moreso than the spectators. I guess I created it, but I was trying to serve two masters. I set up "Racer Specials" which were very low cost, racer focused foods. I can't tell you how many thanks and very grateful comments I received from the 95% of the riders who don't have food allowance from their sponsors. I like this niche as I don't really need to be a millionaire from this event, while others were jacking up their prices to capitalize.

Dinner Output:
Day one - 55 pounds of pasta
Day two - 75 pounds
Day three - 85 pounds
Last day - 100 pounds

I figured the last day, based on register receipts, to be 125 dinners. By this time we had things down really well so it felt slow to us. We turned away maybe 15 riders. I then put my kitchen capacity for this type of food at 150, but who knows. One big boost was when I thought, "okay dumbshit! why haven't you put your sauce in the soup warmer and crock pots instead of on the stove in a stock pot." Duh. That freed up a burner for two pots of pasta at a time. And, I bought pasta based on fastest cooking time - with the caveat that I refused to do spaghetti because I think its boring.

Recipes - nothing was fancy, but they all got great reviews even from the non-riders (meaning, you don't have to be famished to like the recipes) - all downsized for your pleasure
Pasta Sauce
One medium onion, diced
2 carrots, small diced
Sweat onion with carrot until just turning transluscent. Add thyme, salt and pepper to taste - for me, about 1 T thyme, 1/2 t. salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes. 1/2 C. white wine and cook until almost evaporated. Two large cans of crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour. Taste, adjust and cook until the mobs come to eat. That simple.

Salad Dressing
- fast, tasty and totally ripped from Peterson's Sauces book.
1 T. Dijon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C. Rice wine vinegar
Whisk together
1 C. Cream
1/4 C. Olive oil
Whisk. Done.

Fruit salad topping
- this received more raves than anything else
1 C. Yogurt - drained in mesh filter for at least one hour, preferably overnight
1 T. Pistachio could probably use pistachio pudding mix for a similar effect
Pinch of cardamom ground
I put this over whatever fruits we could throw in a bowl quickly - mostly frozen blueberries, fresh apples, bananas, oranges. Topped with some pistachio nuts.