Friday, March 7, 2014

Tuscan Wine Cake

This is a refined, elegant variety of Italian cheesecake made with ricotta cheese. (It's completely different from the classic NY cheesecake made with cream cheese.)



Ingredients

2 sticks plus 5 Tb unsalted butter (UK: 1 block/250 gr plus 50 gr), softened (plus extra to butter pan)
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 cups whole milk Ricotta (UK: 2 250 gr tubs)
4 large eggs
1/3 cup vin santo or dry sherry
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
Rum soaked sultanas
2 Tb pine nuts
1 to 2 Tb confectioner's sugar (UK: Icing sugar)

Tip 1: If you don't routinely keep a jar of sultanas soaking in dark rum (shame on you!) then put some up to soak overnight or a few hours ahead of time. The sultanas should have time to absorb the rum and plump up before use. I use Mount Gay Barbados Rum which is a golden dark rum.
Tip 2: Make sure you take the butter out and let it sit at room temperature on the kitchen counter to soften.
Tip 3: You can use either a stand mixer or a sturdy hand mixer but gently please, don't overbeat.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F or 180C/160C Fan
2. Butter and lightly flour a nonstick 9 inch springform pan
3. In mixer bowl/large bowl combine and beat butter and sugar then add ricotta and beat until fluffy.
4. Beat in the eggs one at a time and then with mixer at slowest speed add the wine.
5. Measure flour and baking powder into a small bowl, then slowly and thoroughly beat them into the batter.
6. Remove bowl from stand mixer if you're using one. By hand with a rubber or silicone spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle 2 or 3 Tb of drained soaked sultanas on top - amount is to personal taste - then gently fold into the batter.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and lightly smooth. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top and place into the center of the oven.
8. Bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is firm but springy to the touch.  When I checked my cake at 30 min it needed a bit more time and to be turned around to brown evenly. An additional 5 min was all it needed.
9. Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack. Cool before removing the cake from the pan.
10. Sift confectioner's sugar over the top before serving if desired.



Monday, February 17, 2014

Peching Duck and Slaw

A new delivery from the meat fairy included a duck. Naturally, I didn't want to freeze it, I wanted to eat it immediately. I love Peking duck, but I haven't truly enjoyed it for a long time- it's never quite right. I did my own take, after a thorough search of the literature (the internet), decided to adapt ideas from others into my own.

Prepping and Cooking the duck:

Score the entire breast of the duck in a cross-cross pattern. If your duck is anything like mine, there will be an enormously thick layer of fat to protect the meat. Gently poke the tip of the knife into the skin along the legs and the bottom. I find it's easiest to flip the knife so that the blade faces upwards and stab at an angle.

Stick the duck in a 300 degree oven. Every 45 minutes, flip the duck over, until 4 hours have passed. Take the duck out and let it sit. Turn the oven up to 400 degrees. While the oven heats, remove any liquid fat in the bottom of the pan to reserve for the future (nom). Once the oven has stabilized at 400, put the duck back in (making sure it's breast-up). This is the final crisping stage. Leave the duck in for 10 minutes, then turn the oven up to 450 and leave it alone for another 10 minutes, then remove the duck again.  Coat generously with glaze and put back into the oven for another 8-10 minutes. Remove duck from oven and serve immediately.

The glaze: combine equal parts honey and maple syrup (~1/3-1/2 cup each). I use fancy grade maple syrup, so if you use a darker kind, use less. Interesting variant here is to try different honeys. Add a small squirt of sriracha, and a generous dollop of low sodium soy sauce, and a squirt of lemon juice. Heat on stove on medium until it begins to simmer and allow to simmer about 5 minutes. Put glaze aside to cool. It will be very liquidy while hot, but will thicken significantly when cool.

While cooking the duck, I thought about sides. Mac and cheese was an easy side to make, but I wanted a vegetable of some sort. Something crispy, astringent to contrast the rich fattiness of the duck. I had some cabbage left over from making stuffed cabbage a couple of days ago, so I went for cole slaw.

Cole slaw: ~1/3rd  head of cabbage, chopped. A few heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise (can substitute half of the mayo with sour cream). Be light on the mayo- you can always add more later, but if you add too much, it gets disgusting. Add a generous dollop of dill, a chopped green apple, several tablespoons sweet relish, a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and a squirt of lemon juice. Mix with a spatula and let rest in the fridge, covered, for at least an hour. It ended up being really gorgeous, a perfect counterpart to the duck.

Officially Wife approved.

What, no pictures this time? We were both starving, so we ended up eating everything so quickly that we didn't bother with photos. Sorry folks, maybe next time.

Oh, and Peching is another one of my deliberate puns, but you have to pronounce it the particular way.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Beef & Barley Soup

I'm in Wismar, Germany and it's cold so I was inspired to whip up a batch of Beef & Barley Soup. Usually I just make this with whatever leftover bits and bobs are in the house but this time I went ot the market expressly to get ingredients for this dish.

500g Stewing Beef (or what ever you like - oxtail works beautifully)
1 large soup bone with lots of marrow
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
4 carrots, sliced
1 fist sized Celeriac (or celery if you prefer), sliced
1 large leek, sliced
250g mushrooms
2 Bay leaves
250g Pearl Barley - dry (In Germany you will need to look for Gerste)
1/2 cup flour
salt & pepper
butter
olive oil

I start by heating ~1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot. You can probably get away with less but I don't like to take a chance on anything burning and ruining everything. While that is on the go, I mix the flour with just a bit of salt and pepper (maybe 1/2 tsp each), then dredge the beef in the flour (top tip - use a plastic baggie then shake well).

I then cook the beef in two batches in the fat mixture. You can test if the fat is hot enough by drizzling a tiny bit of water - if it sizzles then you are ready. Cook each batch on both sides for about 3 1/2 minutes each so that a brown crust forms, then remove. DO NOT cook all the meat at once as you will just get a slimy nasty result.

Having removed all beef, add the onions and leeks and saute a few minutes, then add your carrots and cook for a few more minutes, stirring regularly. Then add your celeriac and mushrooms.

Boil ~1 litre of water. Then add the meat back into the mixture and the soup bone. Add water until everything is well covered. Then add bay leaves and pearl barley.

Bring to the boil then lower to a bare simmer. Leave to simmer for at least one hour and preferably two hours. Check it and give it a good stir every half hour, adding more water as necessary and to produce the consistency that you prefer (I like mine thick). Once the meat is falling apart and the marrow slips out of the soup bone, you should be ready to rock.

Note: Tastes even better the next day and freezes very well!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Asian-Inspired Meat

This recipe can be used with whatever meat is laying around.

I wanted to make something tasty for dinner tonight, but lacked a few semi-essential ingredients (like flower- who runs out of flour?). The recipe goes as follows:

Sauce
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup room temperature water
6 cloves garlic, minced.
(optional) small amount of freshly grated ginger (taste to check amount- a little goes a long way)
(further optional) Add a little Sriracha sauce to give it a complex heat (again, a little goes a long way)

Meat:
I used a pork loin sliced into thin slices (~1 cm thick). You can use similarly thick pieces of chicken or steak.
flour (or, since I have no flour- breadcrumbs)

Mix together the sauce ingredients and put aside for at least a few minutes to allow the aromatics from the garlic to permeate the liquid.

Dredge the sliced meat into the flour. Butter a large pan on medium heat and lay the meat inside for 3 minutes. Turn once. Quickly mop the tops of the meat with the sauce. Wait five minutes, flip, sauce. Remove meat to separate plate to cool.

I know my recipes which use soy sauce always use low sodium soy sauce. There's a reason for this. You can make all the arguments you like about the high salt content in our diets, blah blah blah. And some of those arguments are valid. However, from a culinary stand point, I always prefer to manually add my salt whenever possible, giving me greater control over the food. In addition, low sodium soy sauce in particular tastes better to me- the flavor of the soy sauce is much more pronounced, where regular soy sauce has the flavor covered up by the taste of salt. I have no problem with salt, I don't think it's the great evil others do. I do, however, object to it being used in such concentrations (for little to no reason) that it overwhelms the taste of the food it's being used with.

Serve with rice, buttered egg noodles, spinach, whatever you like.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Quick and easy side dish- bean and onion salad

This is a recipe for a tasty side dish which costs almost nothing, is very healthy, and takes less than five minutes to make. Compliments main courses which are fatty or creamy, as it is both light and acidic.

I found myself with pork chops and 40 minutes to make dinner. I make porkchops the way my mother always did when I was growing up- coat 'em with breadcrumbs and shove 'em in the oven. Dinner obviously needed to consist of something more. It's early August in New York, hot and sticky. Dinner should be light. We always treated our pork chops like schnitzel- with lemon juice on top. I thought that instead, it would be nice to have a lemony, acidic side dish instead.

Looking around the house, I grabbed some cans from my pantry.

1 can of corn
1 can of red kidney beans
1 can of chick peas.

All three were drained and then rinsed before going into a mixing bowl. I had a half a vidalia onion sitting in the fridge looking to be used. That was chopped medium sized and added as well. To the bowl was added a few generous dashes of lemon juice.

Note that this is meant to be lightly acidic, so have a light hand with the lemon juice. If you're unsure of how much to add, taste and adjust as needed.

 Finally a tablespoon or so (I measure with my fingers and add as I see fit) of dried thyme is thrown in, and the bowl is folded with a wooden spoon. Don't worry too much about the thyme- it's a nice flavor, but not overbearing- so if you add too much, it isn't likely to ruin anything by any means.

Place mixing bowl in refrigerator and let sit to chill.

A nice variant on this recipe is to throw in some mozzarella balls and couscous (maybe even some chopped up parsley) to make a tabbouleh salad.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wild Ramp Ice Cream

My father and I went for a drive last saturday and caught the latter end of a foraging party out to pick wild ramps. Ramps are a kind of wild leek, and have become a very in-ingredient among chefs in the last couple of years. Which is unfortunate, because they take about ten years to grow full size. Even that wouldn't be so much of a problem, but when foragers take them, they dig out and damage the bulb as well, which means more ramps won't grow back, even though the bulb, stem, and leaves are all flavorful and edible. I'm told I sound like a hippie on this, but since they've become such a hot ingredient, the plant is swiftly becoming endangered because people are greedy.

So when you read this recipe, before you run out and start pulling (or buy it from a farmers market or whatever) just remember that each one will take a decade to regrow.

Ramps are a wild leek. Their flavor is a combination of the sharpness of a green onion with the aromatics of garlic. They are among the first green edibles to shoot up in the spring, which is one of the reasons for their popularity. Like all onion-types, they can be pickled, made into a mayonaisse, enjoyed in salads and sandwiches, and so on.

Well, there I found myself with a bushel of wild ramps and didn't know what to do with them. On the way home, we stumbled onto a farm selling fresh eggs and another selling raw milk.

Looking back, the rather obvious answer SHOULD have been to make ramp popovers, but I'm dumb. Instead I thought: ice cream. I figured that I had to take advantage of such beautiful ingredients, why not ice cream?

I didn't measure this out, so I'll have to just give a general idea. I took ~10-15 ramps and (after cleaning) chopped them up. About 1 quart of raw milk was placed on the stovetop on a medium heat, and the ramps added and stirred. The milk was brought to a simmer and kept there, stirring, for 10-15 minutes. A couple of leaves were tested and found to be nearly flavorless- the milk had extracted the flavor from the leaves, which made the plant parts now superfluous. The milk was sieved and the plant matter discarded. The milk tasted of sweet onions. Milk was placed into the refridgerator to chill.

To the chilled milk solution was added 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/4th cup sugar, and 2 eggs, followed by several minutes of gentle stirring until homogenous. This was added to the ice cream machine. Some milk solution was leftover and put aside for possible popover experiments. Ice cream was tested while still soft- sweet onion taste was there, but sharpness had returned with a vengeance. Ice cream was placed in freezer for the final freeze. On hardening, tested again and sharpness was once more gone, leaving a sweet and flavorful, aromatic ice cream.

It's maybe not an everyday thing. I can certainly see it as a fun and different way of adding flavor to certain hot soups- like maybe a nice borsht. Still, you could probably get about the same flavor with green onions, something to keep in mind if you don't have access to wild ramps.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Amarula ice cream

I went and bought myself one of those expensive ice cream makers that has an active refrigeration unit. Well, I had to justify it somehow. I tried one of the recipes in the provided recipe book but only found that the recipes were so sweet that I had to just dump everything down the sink, to my dismay. So, I figured to hell with it. I looked around for something nice to make ice cream with. And then I remembered that bottle of Amarula that my sister kindly left with us the last time she was here, and an idea formed.

1 cup heavy cream
1/8th cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Amarula

Combine in bowl and stir gently to fully
Dissolve sugar. Use in ice cream maker per your machine's instructions. You will get lovely Amarula flavor from these proportions. Be wary of adding more, as the increased alcohol content may prevent it from freezing fully, whereas this recipe will do so beautifully.