Archive for February, 2007

h1

Chai Tea Brownies: Are these a sign of Stockholm Syndrome?

February 28, 2007

IMG_6267.JPG
IMG_6258.JPG

OK, I admit it: This is another solo-Husband dessert project that the wife can’t eat. Wait, hold your hexes and curses! Yes, I made this dessert while my wife is under doctor’s orders not to eat sweets until our son is born. But this dessert was not made with intent to torture. In fact, my wife played a key role in its design.

We were having guests for a dinner party and I was contemplating dessert (a must, in my mind, for dinner parties). Since we’ve had such bad weather of late, I had this overwhelming desire to make something chocolate, dense and almost tooth-achingly rich. At the same time, I wanted something slightly bitter to contrast nicely with sweet pistachio ice cream.

IMG_6135.JPG

I was going to make an espresso or coffee brownie. In fact, I was about to grind some beans and start brewing when my wife saw a can of chai tea powder in the cabinet and asked, “Why don’t you use that instead?” It was a moment of brilliance — not unlike discovering antibiotics from a stale cheese sandwich. Once added, the chai tea gave the brownies a tang, fragrance and spice, but didn’t interfere with the brownie’s density and tendency toward being gooey (which any decent brownie should have).

I will warn you, however, that I am not kidding when I say these are rich. Flavor-wise, an inch will get you a mile. These are not the brownies from your childhood; you can’t consume a quarter of the pan and wash it down with a glass of milk. So, if you serve them solo, small slices are the way to go. I personally think the best match is my pistachio ice cream. The creamy, salty, nuttiness of the ice cream cuts through the density of the chocolate and plays well with the spices from the chai.

IMG_6151.JPG

Alright, truth be told, you should probably still curse and hex me. I was making dessert that my wife had to sit and watch several others eat while she sat there, dessertless. I do provide some relief by keeping her cravings at bay with large quantities of blueberries. Isn’t everything made better with blueberries?

Then again, maybe I am a bit cruel and torturous. Perhaps I’ve just worn her down, and now she’s developed Stockholm Syndrome. That would explain why she gives me tips on how to make a better brownie. Hmmm… Well, can’t be bothered with logic and reason, back to the kitchen with me!

… I’ve got this idea for a cake, and I need to go ask her what she thinks about it.

Click here to download the recipe for Chai Tea Brownies.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Nothing lost in translation: Sunchoke and Potato Gratin.

February 26, 2007

IMG_5991.JPG
IMG_5904.JPG

You say po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to. You say sun-CHOKE… um, I say sun-CHOKE.

My husband says grah-TAHN. I say GRAW-tin.

It doesn’t quite make for a catchy song, but it does make for a damn fine dinner. However you pronounce it, sunchoke and potato gratin is delicious.

I love a good gratin. Who doesn’t? Layers of silky, creamy potatoes in a rich buttery sauce… maybe some onions, garlic, and herbs nestled into the mix… and topped with a layer of delicious cheese, of course. Paired with a meaty, savory entree or just forked in as a solo act, gratin is oh-so satisfying.

Needless to say, then, I got pretty excited when my husband got out his fancy new gratin pan (or as he says it “grah-TAHN” pan, having taken French in high school). But, being the adventerous gourmand that he is, he had more than potatoes in mind for his gratin. He pulled out from his grocery bag sunchokes, a humble and misshapen little brown root vegetable — which I had been under the mistaken idea would look something like an artichoke. (Possibly because they both have the word “choke” in their name. Or possibly because I’d heard them referenced on some TV shows, and thought they’d have a more glam appearance.)

Anyway, here’s where the tension builds, folks. Would the addition of these foreign little vegetables throw off the gratin magic?

I’m happy to report that sunchokes make an excellent addition to your familiar old gratin. The hint of sweetness that they add melds beautifully with the herby, creamy sauce of the gratin. And their potato-like texture makes it hard to distinguish which starch you’re sinking your teeth into. It was a gratin not quite like one I’d ever had before (and I’ve had a few), and it was good. Damn good. Enjoy, folks!

Click here to download the recipe for Sunchoke & Potato Gratin.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

For the love of fungus: Creamy and delicious mushroom soup

February 23, 2007

IMG_6095.JPG
IMG_5995.JPG

I love me some fungus. Well, not just any fungus, of course. The kind that is heaped in baskets at your grocery store… mounds of brown or white caps or springy yellow tops, clusters of white tendrils or hills of fluffy golden folds. I’m talking about mushrooms, people.

Mushrooms are delicious. Meaty, earthy, fragrant — pick your appealing adjective. They’re the perfect vehicles for sopping up sauces or for adding rich texture to a dish. Some are hearty enough just to throw some flame on and tear into with your teeth. One of my favorite vehicles for mushrooms is mushroom soup. I love the way that the earthy goodness of mushrooms mingles with herb-tinged cream and butter. All the better to sop up with a thick piece of crusty bread, and lick off the back of your spoon. (My stomach is grumbling at the thought.)

I’m quite convincing aren’t I? Well, it turns out that I am. According to my husband’s backgrounder, I have converted him to fungus-lover. It’s true: He used to wrinkle his nose at mushrooms and push them onto my plate. (No complaints from me on that one.) Now, his spoon is battling mine for the dregs of mushroom soup.

I guess I can’t take full credit for the delicious soup we’re offering today, though. Below my husband confesses that I inadvertantly threw down the mushroom soup gauntlet: I had always held that a mushroom soup we had in Brussels was the best I’d ever had… until recently, when I said Daniel Boulud’s might be better. Apparently my swooning over the mushroom soups of two French-speaking chefs was just too much for him. He secretly determined to make a better mushroom soup in his own kitchen — thus sealing my love forever.

Well folks, you can’t buy my love with mushroom soup (I only accept blueberry currency). But if you could — this would be the soup that would win my undying affection. It’s rich, it’s creamy, it’s delicious — and most important, it’s mushroomy. Pick up your spoons and man your bread crusts… It’s mushroom soup time.

Click here to download the recipe for this Mushroom Soup.

IMG_5996.JPG
IMG_6081.JPG

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

“Lessiez les bon temps rouler” or “Temptation of the pineapple doughnut.”

February 20, 2007

IMG_5802.JPG
IMG_5753.JPG

Today is Mardi Gras. For many, it’s the last day before Lent and its traditional sacrifices until Easter. Hence why Mardi Gras (translated as “Fat Tuesday”) is so important to revelers: It’s the last day you can gorge on delights that will be shunned for the forty days that make up Lent.

So today I bring you something to really challenge you during Lent, something terribly difficult to give up, something to make you truly appreciate the day. No, it’s not some beautiful king cake or similar dish. I give you beautiful, tropical pineapple doughnuts.

IMG_5680.JPG

And because my wife is under doctor’s orders to avoid simple sugars while pregnant, she is sidelined from this recipe. Today it’s a solo act. Sure, it’s a much less entertaining dog and pony show but, alas, what am I to do? She also wants me to point out that she’s got a head start on Lent because for two months she has gone without sweets. Oh, what we do for our children! But at least when my son is able to eat solid foods, he’ll eat well.

So, on to the substance of these pineapple doughnuts. These are cake doughnuts, which are built like quick breads with chemical leveners (baking soda and baking powder), similar to muffins and pancakes. This means they have a nice density to them and can be prepared relatively quickly because they don’t have to rise like a brioche or my pecan beignets (a take on a New Orleans classic).

IMG_5686.JPG

To me, what clinches this dish is the flavors — coconut milk and pineapple. In fact, I almost called this a pina colada doughnut. The coconut appears in the glaze and the body of the doughnut, and gives this breakfast treat that extra something special. But it was those pieces of pineapple stratified in the doughnut’s layers that are really king: Hence, pineapple takes top billing in the name.

A few technical notes: First, the doughnut’s hole is important. It allows the doughnut to cook up quickly and evenly. So while you can skip this step, I would recommend the hole for more then just authenticity’s sake — it makes a better doughnut.

IMG_5714.JPG

Second, I use canned pineapple in this recipe. I’m 99% positive you would have excellent results if you used fresh pineapple. I chose canned, though, because of its ease of use and because of its syrup, which I wanted to harness in making both the dough and glaze. Nevertheless, I encourage you to work with fresh if you want.

IMG_5758.JPG

Finally, one of the first steps in this recipe is reducing the syrup from the canned pineapple. I did this because I wanted the flavor, but not the volume of liquid. However, I think you would have excellent results without this step. So if you are hurried for time, feel free to skip this and follow the measured amounts.

Before I go off merrymaking on this day, I have to ask for a ruling from the reader: Is it doughnut? Or donut? Both are correct according to both Webster’s and Oxford American dictionary.

Click here to download the recipe for Pineapple Doughnuts.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Ringing in the Year of the Pig with Crab Rangoon and other old favorites.

February 18, 2007

IMG_5859.JPG

Happy New Year! (Any excuse for revelry is OK by us – especially if you can wish folks a happy new year twice within months.) For the Chinese, and many other Asian cultures, today is the first day of the lunar calendar. In some parts of the world, this occasion will be met with great fanfare and festivity. Personally, we feasted on Peking Duck with friends last night. And this morning, we offer some more festive dishes: A few old favorites and a new one, Crab Rangoon.

OK, we admit it, crab rangoon is not a traditional dish. It’s likely unrecognizable to any devotee to Chinese food. Like meatballs to Italian-Americans, crab rangoon is a derivative dish that probably seeks to satisfy American palettes more than others (um, cream cheese, anyone?). And we further bastardized it by putting a spicy twist on it.

So why choose an inauthentic dish on this day? Because it’s a crowd pleaser – and if you don’t have crowds to please today, you may tomorrow or perhaps next Thursday. If you are looking for other dishes to make to celebrate the day, or at least add a bit of Asian flavor to your table, we also offer you a trio of our favorite old recipes.

IMG_2535.JPG

Sui Mai: This is a classic dim sum dish and Wife’s favorite. They’re dumplings filled with pork and shrimp.

IMG_4593.JPG

Potstickers: A family favorite filled with the intense flavors of beef, ginger and soy.

IMG_2088.JPG

Char Sui Bao: Our take on another classic dim sum dish. Filled with sweet pork swaddled in steamed bread, it’s truly delicious.

Click here to download the recipe for Crab Rangoon.

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Taco night redux: Duck tacos with corn and blood orange salsa.

February 15, 2007

IMG_5548.JPG
IMG_5450.JPG
IMG_5494.JPG

Ah, taco night. I’ve lavished praise on that sacred evening in the past, but it’s worth repeating. I love taco night: My husband makes some tasty, spicy beef filling, whips up some salsa fresca, dissects some avocados, piles on sour cream and cheese, and even makes his own homemade taco shells.

As you can imagine, then, I was a bit disturbed when he threatened to mess with this winning formula. And by adding duck, of all things. (Some of you may recall my general lack of enthusiasm for that particular type of poultry. Ill-prepared duck, people, is not a happy thing to behold — or, er, eat.)

Now, mouth full of delicious duck taco, I can safely ask: “Why do I bother to doubt my husband?” (Here he clasps his hands over his head and shakes them like a champion. Another marital score settled by outstanding cooking.)

I knew things were on the right track when, as he was carving up delicate and thin pieces of duck breast, I — ahem — sampled one, and found the meat to be tender, juicy, spicy and delightful. It had all the things to like about duck, and none of its distasteful qualities (a fishy, fatty, chewy texture). Then I spied the special salsa my husband had prepared: a sweet and spicy corn and blood orange salsa fresca that served as a perfect partner to the spicy duck. And finally, I saw that he’d prepared all my special toppings — cheese, avocado, sour cream — and of course, homemade taco shells.

Fear not, folks. Taco night has been preserved… and, dare I say it, improved?

Click here to download the recipe for Duck Tacos.

IMG_5442.JPG
IMG_5464.JPG

Read the rest of this entry ?

h1

Blueberry tres leches cake: An alternative to chocolate or a happy (or cruel) Valentine’s Day for Wife?

February 13, 2007

IMG_5617.JPG
IMG_5586.JPG

Under doctor’s orders to avoid sweets, my wife is spared the cruelty of commenting on this delicious dessert. (Sadly, she could only look longingly at it and poke it forlornly with a fork. It fell to me to do all the tasting.) So, for a change of pace, you’ll be treated to just the Husband’s thoughts on this recipe. (But fear not, dear readers, I promise to make this cake for her as soon as the doctor lifts the restriction on sweets.)

For the first time in a long time, Valentine’s Day vexed me. Was it that I couldn’t find the right gift? Or decide what to make for dinner? Or find flowers pretty enough to make my wife swoon? No, I was vexed by this this blog.

I was trying to think of ways to reflect romance on a plate. I wanted to create something that is Valentine’s Day. To me, that means dessert; specifically, getting out my bakeware and working with chocolate. Trouble is, when you look out at the universe of yummy Valentine’s Day offerings, the chocolate genre is well covered. Furthermore, my wife likes chocolate, but it’s not her favorite. As we’ve pointed out in previous posts, she’s all about the blueberry.

And what is more romantic: A box of chocolates? Or giving someone something that shows you know them? So, I offer up an alternative to chocolate… I give you “Blueberry Tres Leches Cake.” For those not familiar with tres leches cake, it’s a milk-soaked cake common to Latin American cuisine. Tres leches translates literally as “three milks.” So it’s actually soaked in a combination of evaporated milk, condensed milk and whole milk or cream.

IMG_5395.JPG
IMG_5589.JPG

Here, we put a twist on it by blending in some blueberries with our soaking milk. We also add a blueberry coulis (fancy word for strained purée sauce) to reintroduce the acidity and brightness of the blueberries. The coulis also has the benefit of playing down the gray coloring of a cake soaked in blueberry milk. And finally, we top it all with some fresh whipped cream and more blueberries. In essence, we are creating a blueberry-palooza in a cool cake.

Some technical notes before I’m done. First, you can use frozen blueberries in this dish. Aside from the garnish, there isn’t any reason you couldn’t. I actually used fresh here because I keep so many in our fridge to keep the wife and her passenger happy.

Second, this cake can be topped with whipped cream in the pan and cut out. In fact, most recipes use that technique. I don’t do that here strictly for presentation reasons. I wanted the brightness of the coulis to cover up the purple-blue gray of the cake. If I had coated the cake with whipped cream first, I would drizzle the coulis on the plate and/or over top of the whipped cream for the same effect.

IMG_5608.JPG

Finally, not to get “Semi-Homemade” with you, but I see lots of ways to cut the time and effort on this recipe. For example, you could use your favorite boxed cake recipe and likely turn out an even better version than mine. Or, you could buy a pound cake or similar boxed cake from the grocery and start by soaking that cake. A lot of shortcuts seem available, and you shouldn’t be afraid to grab them!

If this cake reminds you more of summertime then Valentine’s Day, well that’s to be expected. But my valentine would give up chocolate forever if I promised her blueberries every day. Since, I can’t do that for her, I made this. I hope you all have a good time with your special someone tomorrow.

Click here to download the recipe for Blueberry Tres Leches Cake.

Read the rest of this entry ?