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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Initiatiation into Daring Bakers: Chocolate Valentino

I am officially a Daring Baker! Olga at Mango & Tomato suggested I join a while back, and after a lot of contemplation, I joined. I'm not much of a club joiner, but this group seemed doable and would put my new-found baking skills to the test. And the first challenge did that...I had to use several techniques that I had never used before. (I'm a little embarrassed to say that those basic techniques included separating eggs, whipping egg whites, and making my own whipped cream, but that's the reason I joined!)

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. They have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan, a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

I opted not to make the ice cream for a few reasons. First, I don't have an ice cream maker here in Strasbourg. There are several DBs who made ice cream by hand, but I have a two year old and a European-sized freezer. Hand making ice cream requires some attention that my daughter wouldn't have allowed and it also requires space in a freezer. My freezer isn't tiny, but it's full of frozen stock at the moment. I'm actually glad that I went for the simple whipped cream since I think it went better with the texture of the cake than ice cream would have.

So, what I finally made was the Chocolate Valentino cake with mixed berry coulis and mandarin whipped cream. It was delicious! My husband loved it too and said that it tasted just like other flourless chocolate cakes he's had in restaurants. (Since I'm a bigger fan of fruits, I don't often order chocolate desserts, so had never had a flourless chocolate cake.) It was a simple enough recipe to make, and I'm sure I'll make it again for special occasions or to impress my coworkers. ;-) I think that next time, though, unless I'm serving a crowd, I'll halve the recipe. This recipe made one smallish cake (which could have been shared between two people) and a medium-sized rectangular cake. Since it doesn't store well (loses texture), make just what you need.

Chocolate Valentino
Text-Only Version
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (I used 300g 70% dark chocolate and 154g milk chocolate for a sweeter taste.)
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.

2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling, butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment. (I did not use parchment paper, and just buttered the pans.)
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed. (Do not over-whip or the cake will be dry.)

5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.

8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C.
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet. (I cooked the smaller cake for about 20 minutes and the larger one for 25 minutes.)
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.
As I mentioned, I served the cake with a mixed berry coulis and mandarin whipped cream. Both were an excellent addition to the heaviness and richness of the chocolate.

Mandarin Whipped Cream
adapted from Epicurious

1/2 cup mandarin juice
2 Tbl sugar
1 1/2 tsp grated mandarin peel
3/4 cup chilled whipping cream

Boil the juice and the sugar until it is reduced by half, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Mix in the peel and set aside to cool.

Once the syrup is cooled, whisk (or use a mixer) the cream and 3 Tbl of the syrup to soft peaks.

Mixed Berry Coulis

2 cups mixed berries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbl cornstarch
1 Tbl orange juice

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Over low heat, cook berry mixture until it has reduced and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Blend in food processor and then strain through a fine-mesh strainer to create a smooth sauce.
The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Apple Potato Gratin

For this dish, there is no special story, except that I saw a picture of it on Tastespotting and thought it looked yummy. When I clicked to the actual post at Six Course Dinner, I found that the recipe was as simple as the picture looked, so decided to try it. I thought the sweetness of the apples and the creaminess of the gratin would work well with my chicken schnitzel, and it did!

I did have to make a few adjustments since the original dish was a one-person breakfast, and I was making this as a whole-family dinner side dish and because the original recipe called for cheddar, which is worth it's weight in gold here in France. You can find the original recipe here and my adjustments to that below.

Apple Potato Gratin
adapted from Six Course Dinner
Text-Only Version

1-2 large apples (I used Pink Ladies.)
2-3 large red-skinned potatoes
1/4 cup Gouda or Edam cheese, grated
1/4 cup Mimolette cheese, grated
5 Tbl heavy cream
1 Tbl butter
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place your baking dish or cast iron skillet in the oven with the butter until melted.

Thinly slice potatoes using a mandoline or a very sharp knife and place in a bowl of cold water to remove excess starches. Thinly slice the apples and set aside. Make sure the bottom of your baking dish is coated with the melted butter, and then start alternating the potato and apple slices until the bottom is covered. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and sprinkle with half of the cheese. Then add another layer of potato and apple, salt and pepper the layer, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Pour the cream over the top.

Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Remove the foil and bake until the cheese begins to turn golden brown. Serve warm.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chicken Schnitzel and Potato Apple Gratin

My husband is a German professor, and so that means that German and Austrian food does make it to our table every once in a while. We often host an end-of-term party for students at our house, which includes feeding all of the students who come. We usually have 30-50 students, and so we've had to figure out ways to feed them German-like food inexpensively and en masse. One of our most popular dishes is "Chicken Schnitzel Fingers." We found that if we cut the chicken breasts into "fingers," they would last longer for a larger crowd. The other nice thing about this dish is that they keep warm well in a low oven. We start making them ahead of time and put them onto baking sheets and into the oven when we're ready to serve them. It only takes a few minutes to reheat and the oil left in the bread crumbs crisps them right up again.

This has become a go-to meal for us since we always have some chicken breasts, bread, and a leftover egg or two. I usually don't make them into "fingers" when it's just family, but either way is tasty. It's especially good with a squirt of lemon right before eating...

Chicken Schnitzel
Text-Only Version

3 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup flour
1-2 eggs, whisked
1/2-1 cup bread crumbs (fresh work better, but the store-bought ones work fine too)
Canola or vegetable oil
1 Tbl unsalted butter
1 lemon, sliced into wedges

Place the chicken breasts in a large ziploc bag and pound to about 1/4-1/2" thickness. (If you don't have a meat tenderizer for this, go ahead and use a hammer.) Remove them from the bag and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil and butter in a large pan on medium-high heat. The oil should be about enough to cover the bottom of the pan.

Place the flour, whisked eggs, and bread crumbs into three separate shallow bowls. Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour, shaking off excess flour. Then dip them in the egg mixture, removing excess egg, and then dredge in the bread crumbs.

When the butter is sizzling, place the chicken in the oil and let brown on one side. (Do not place more than three breasts in at a time as this will cool the oil.) Once the first side is browned (about 3-5 minutes), turn over and let the other side brown (about 3 minutes more).

Remove the chicken to a paper towel covered plate to drain excess oil. Serve immediately with a slice of lemon.
Lately, I've been serving this with a Potato Apple Gratin...which I'll talk about in my next post! Chicken schnitzel is especially good served with a warm German potato salad, but that post will have to wait until a later date.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Potage Crécy, or Carrot Soup

First of all, I'd like to thank both Laura from A World in a Pan and Natalie from Nat's Tried and Tested for featuring my Tortilla Española and my Cinnamon, Pear, and Chocolate Galette recipes respectively. When I started this little blog only a few months ago, I didn't think anyone would read it except for my husband and mom. Having a couple of my recipes featured on other sites helps motivate me to continue cooking and posting. They both have great sites, so go check them out!

Now, on to the food...

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a two-kilo bag of carrots. My daughter asked for some to snack on, and when I got to the grocery store this bag was cheaper than the loose carrots, so I bought it. Now, I like the occasional raw carrot, but I don't like cooked carrots. My husband has actually had to change his carrot cooking techniques to make sure that I'll eat some of his dishes. But I just couldn't resist trying the following recipe for potage crécy, or carrot soup, because it just looked so beautiful on Blue Kitchen, and hey, I had a lot of carrots to spare, so if it didn't turn out, then no worries.

My mom will be surprised to hear that I actually loved this soup! It was a perfect combination of the sweetness of carrots, the creaminess of the half and half, and in my case the spiciness of the black pepper that I generously added. Mine didn't turn out as pretty as Blue Kitchen's, but I think that was because I was guessing on the measurements of carrots and potatoes (Trying to convert pounds to kilos without the benefit of a scale can be difficult.) and because the food processor that came with our apartment is not the most sturdy of kitchen appliances. But the taste was great and the actual making of the soup was easy. My two-year-old daughter looked like we had starved her for days the way she was shoveling this into her mouth, and my husband, though more restrained, gave it two thumbs up.

(Okay, so the final picture makes this look kind of gross, but trust me, it's good! If you have a half-way decent blender/food processor, yours won't turn out quite so lumpy. And if you're a half-way decent photographer, your only picture won't have a shadow of your gigantic head right in the middle of the soup!) **For a picture of this soup that makes you actually want to eat it, go here. :-)

Potage Crécy
Adapted by Blue Kitchen from Williams-Sonoma Collection: French
Text-Only Version
Makes 4 cups [3 to 4 first course servings]
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 leek, white and tender green parts, rinsed and sliced
3/4 pounds carrots (about 5 or 6), peeled and diced
3/4 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2-1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
1-1/4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
additional fresh thyme leaves, for garnish

Heat a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Melt butter and combine with olive oil. Add leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add potatoes and carrots and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add thyme, cover the pot and simmer until carrots and potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

Purée the soup in a blender or food processor, in batches, if necessary. (Alternatively, use a handheld immersion blender in the pot.)
Return puréed soup to the pot. Add half-and-half, lemon juice and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste (using a light hand, depending on how salty your chicken stock or broth is). Bring to a simmer until just heated through. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh thyme leaves or parsley. Serve.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tortilla Española

As an au pair in Spain 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to learn how to make a few Spanish dishes. I loved a good fresh tortilla española, and quickly learned how to make it myself. Now, most of us know a tortilla as the thing we wrap up our taco fillings with, but in Spain, a tortilla is just an omelette. And a tortilla española is potatoes and onions wrapped in omelette love.

You can get a tortilla at any bar as a tapa (a little bite to eat with your drink) or in a sandwich. In fact, you can get a tortilla in just about anyplace that sells food...I would venture to say that the tortilla española rivals the paella as the Spanish national food.

In addition to being very tasty, it has the advantage of being one of the cheapest things that I make at home. It takes very basic ingredients--eggs, potatoes and onions--and since I always have these on hand, this is my go-to dish when I've run out of time to go to the grocery store. You can always add other ingredients to play with the flavors, but I like it just the way it's served up in every home in Spain with a simple salad on the side.

Tortilla Española
(Ingredients can be adjusted to fit size of pan.)

Olive oil
2-3 large potatoes, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4-6 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium-sized skillet (8-9" or as large as you can go while being able to cover the top), heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan over medium heat. Layer the potatoes and onion in the oil, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper as you go. Cook the potatoes and onions until soft, but not browned, about 10-15 minutes.

Once the potato mixture is softened, drain a little of the oil out (leaving about a tablespoon in the pan) and pour in the eggs (enough to cover the potatoes). Let the eggs cook to set. Once the bottom is lightly browned and the middle starts setting, place your plate over the top of the skillet. Carefully flip the tortilla onto the plate and then slide it back into the pan, uncooked side down. Cook a little longer until the bottom is also lightly browned.

Slide the tortilla onto a clean plate and let cool. Tortillas are traditionally served at room temperature, so this can be made ahead (but no longer than a couple of hours as the potatoes will start to turn brown). Slice into triangles and serve with salad or if serving as an appetizer, cut into small, bite-sized squares.
(This version is a little misshapen because 1) the plate dips in the middle and 2) I don't have any plates bigger than my skillets here in France. They tend to come out a little prettier when I have the right-sized equipment!)


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Experimenting with Galettes (Cinnamon, Pear and Chocolate Galette)

A new group of college students have arrived here in Strasbourg, so my husband (who is the director of the study abroad program here for the year) and I invited all 23 of them over for our traditional weekend tea and dessert. We started this last semester, and by the time the new group arrived, they had already heard about it and had asked us to have one earlier than we would have. Last semester I started out with a traditional apple tart and a pear and chocolate tart. Since I liked the idea of starting out this weekly dessert with a French pastry, I baked an apple tart and played around with the previous pear tart--in the form of a galette.

I combined recipes and suggestions from many sources, including a friend here in Strasbourg (thanks, Betsy!), Martha Stewart, and David Lebowitz. The cookies add a nice flavor, but, according to Lebowitz, soak up any excess fruit juice, ensuring a nice crisp crust.

Cinnamon, Pear and Chocolate Galette

1 pate sablée

1 1/3 bars of dark chocolate (about 130g)
4 hard ginger or spice cookies
3-4 large ripe pears
1 Tbl cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
sprinkle of cinnamon
1 Tbl butter
1 egg
1 packet vanilla sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F. Place the dough on a buttered and floured baking sheet and let sit in the fridge while preparing the fillings.

Peel and chop the pears into 1/2 inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Mix the cornstarch, sugar, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add the sugar mixture to the pears and mix to coat. Set aside.

Chop the chocolate. Set aside. Smash the cookies into crumbs and set aside.

Assembling the galette:

Place a layer of chocolate in the center of the dough, leaving about 2 inches around the edge. Spread evenly. Sprinkle the cookie crumbs evenly on top of the chocolate and then add the pears. Fold the leftover dough over the filling, overlapping and folding the edges. Dot the showing pears with small pieces of butter.

Create an egg wash with egg and a little water. Brush the folded-over dough with egg wash and then sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Bake for about an hour, until pears are soft and bubbly and the crust is golden brown.

***Blogger is still not uploading pictures for me, so I've figured out a temporary workaround that will not allow me to arrange the photos (ie, center them, etc.), but at least I can post! I'll try to go through these posts as soon as Blogger fixes the issue and fix them again then.

***Blogger Update: The image feature has apparently been fixed for me, so I've replaced the weird photos with properly arranged ones. Thanks for your patience!


Monday, February 16, 2009

Blog Issue

For some reason, Blogger hasn't let me upload pictures for two days, so I won't be posting anything until I can put up the lovely pictures that go with the recipes. I have several posts in the wings, and once Blogger decides to cooperate, you'll see them here! Thanks for your patience.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fresh Pumpkin = Moist Pumpkin Bread

Walking through the markets of Strasbourg, I noticed huge chunks of pumpkin-like vegetables, so I bought some and then decided to try my hand at some pumpkin bread. But first, I had to make some pumpkin puree, which I had never done before. Turns out that it's not that hard.

I adapted this recipe from Closet Cooking, adding only that I covered the pumpkin slices with some foil (since I didn't have pumpkin halves) and then I let the pumpkin strain overnight in the fridge.

Pumpkin Puree

1. Cut the pumpkin in half.
2. Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits.
3. Place the halves face done on a baking sheet. Or if you have smaller pieces, place them flesh-down and lightly cover the exposed flesh with foil.
4. Bake the pumpkin in a 400F oven until soft, about 30-90 minutes depending on how thick the pumpkin is.
5. Scoop the flesh from the pumpkin. Place the flesh in a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl and let sit overnight in the fridge (if the pumpkin seems overly watery).
6. Mash with a fork or put in a food processor and process until smooth.
Before processing:

I ended up with a lot of pumpkin puree, so I froze the leftovers in a cupcake pan in 1/2 cup portions. Then I threw them in a freezer bag to use later.

And finally, a couple of days later--I didn't say that this was a quick process!--I had time to make my pumpkin bread. The recipe was suggested by a friend (Thanks, Darcy!), and I found it to be extremely moist. It makes a ton of batter (enough for a big bundt cake and 4 muffins), so if you don't need that much, try halving it.

Pumpkin Bread
Text-only version

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree or 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
2 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour three 7x3 inch loaf pans or a bundt pan.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan(s).

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
The time varies depending on the size of pan(s) you use.
Although this bread is yummy as is, when I get home to the States, I'll probably experiment with adding a swirl of cream cheese in the middle or make a cream cheese frosting. This cake isn't super sweet, so it could handle a dose of creamy richness.

Thanks again, Darcy, for the yummy recipe!


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Taste of Home--Guacamole

I grew up in southern California, the land of sunshine, warmth, and fresh produce. I grew up with avocados, and I didn't realize until I met my husband that many people didn't. His family can't even eat them because the texture is so foreign to them. But in my family, a family gathering was not a gathering without guacamole. My recipe is a mix between my grandmother's, my mom's and my grad-school roomie's recipes. And really, it's not a precise recipe (as most of mine aren't)...adjust flavors to fit your needs. Do you like more or less spice? Add or take away some of the chiles. Do you like Tex-Mex? Add more black pepper, lime juice and smoked chiles.

In the version I made the other day, I couldn't find fresh jalepeños, but I did have some Thai chili paste on hand, so I added that for some heat. In fact, I liked it so much, I might forgo the jalepeños in the future and continue with the paste...

Mindy's Guacamole

3 medium-sized avocados
1 small tomato
1 small onion
1 small jalepeño (or other spicy chile)
Juice of one lime
Cilantro to taste
Salt and Pepper to taste

Halve the avocados, remove the pit, and scoop out the flesh into a food processor or blender. Roughly chop the tomato, onion, and jalepeño and add them to the avocado. (I usually put about half of each of these in to begin with and add more if the flavor isn't balanced later.) Squeeze a generous amount of lime juice into the mix and add a handful of cilantro. Add a little salt and pepper and blend. Taste, add ingredients as needed, and blend again.

You can blend this to a creamy consistency or if you like it chunkier, blend some of the ingredients first, withholding some finely chopped avocado, tomato and onion and adding those at the end to create a chunkier texture. I like both ways, and since I'm lazy, I just blend them all together.

Enjoy with tortilla chips, veggies, or other dippables. I personally like mine on tacos, burritos, and on a south-of-the-border burger.

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