Archive for November, 2008

Sugar High…Sunday?

The blog roundup for Sugar High Friday is posted now at The Well-Seasoned Cook along with my Gemstone Cheesecake. Check it out!  And as soon as I have eaten my fill of turkey and stuffing leftovers, I will cobble together a new post – a cranberry and pear tart with walnut shortbread crust that is mouthwateringly good.  This was the biggest hit at our post-Thanksgiving family meal.

I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday.  My own Thanksgiving was a fabulous dinner at my mother-in-law’s house.  We weren’t taking photos but I can tell you it was quite a feast – Martha Stewart’s Turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean vinaigrette with parmesan breadcrumbs, pomegranate cranberry sauce, butternut squash, pecan buns, stuffing, braised onions, 4 homemade pies (3 apple, one blueberry), and a stupendous Magnolia Bakery pumpkin spice cake with caramel cream cheese frosting.  I’m full all over again, just writing that!  Next year I promise to photograph, but trust me – it was goooooood.

November 30, 2008 at 2:08 pm 1 comment

Mexican Chicken (or Turkey) Soup

Tortilla Soup

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!  I hope that this post finds you well, and FULL!  This Thursday’s Barefoot Bloggers recipe is pretty simple (more so if you have leftover chicken from this recipe) – a twist on a classic.  Start with your average, basic chicken soup with celery, carrots and onions, but add tomatoes and jalapenos for kick.  Those were nice additions, I thought, but the true revelation of the recipe was the tortillas.  Having never made a mexican soup before, I was skeptical about putting strips of corn tortillas into the pot.  Were they meant to act as thick Mexican-style noodles?  What would they taste like in my mouth?  I was imagining the texture of thick, soggy bread strips and I almost gagged.

To my surprise, the effect of adding the corn tortilla strips is to thicken the soup in a most delightful way.  The strips disolve into the broth, giving it a stew-like texture that was unexpected and quite pleasing.  When I brought this soup into the lunchroom the next afternoon, my colleagues ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the smell and the look of it.  And I didn’t even go all out with avocado garnish!  I imagine that if you are left with several pounds of cooked turkey after today, as I inevitably will be, you could easily use it to make this soup.  And while everyone else will be eating their third day of turkey with cranberry sauce, or their twelfth bowl of turkey noodle soup, you will be the envy of the Thanksgiving-leftover-lunchroom.  I would bet that some black beans in this soup would probably make you forget you were even eating leftovers.  Enjoy!

Mexican Chicken Soup, from Barefoot Contessa at Home

2 split (1 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin onchicken-shred
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 c. chopped onions (1 onions)
1/2 c. chopped celery (1 stalks)
1 c. chopped carrots (2 carrots)
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/4 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 of a 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed*
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seed
2-3 Tbs.chopped fresh cilantro leaves, optional
3 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas

For serving: sliced avocado, sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and tortilla chipstortillas

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until done. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones, and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 1/2 Tbs. of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 1/2 tsp. salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1/2 tsp. pepper, and the cilantro, if using. Cut the tortillas in 1/2, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup hot topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.Chicken soup tortillas

* I halved this recipe, so I only used 1/2 a can of whole tomatoes.  The other half I used for a quick pasta sauce the next night – very easy.  Just make sure you don’t store the unused tomatoes in the can.  I think that it gives them a weird flavor.

November 27, 2008 at 10:00 am 3 comments

Magazine Review: “Food & Wine” and Sweet Potato Gratin

Sweet Potato Gratin

This is the fifth (and final) installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  When I first decided what publications I wanted to review, I was going to keep FOOD & WINE off the list.  My reasoning was that half of Food & Wine is, well, wine and I didn’t think it would be fair to pit it against the other magazines, which were all food-centric.  However, I think it stacks up quite nicely, in fact.

  • 214 pages total : 95 pages of ads (44%)
  • 76 Recipes
  • News-stand price: $4.50
  • Price per recipe: $0.06
  • # of ads pretending to be articles: 5.
  • Recipe Index? Right after the table of contents, at the front of the magazine, Food & Wine offers two indexes – one listing the recipes in the issue, and another listing the wines.  The first groups recipes by category (Soups & Starters, Fish & Shellfish, Pasta & Rice, etc.) and supplies a color coded system to let readers know which are Fast, Healthy, Make Ahead, Vegetarian, and “Staff Favorites”.  The wine index lists all the wines
Photos: Food porn is not the reason to buy this magazine.  The pictures provided are nice but are often quite small (usually about a quarter of a page) as compared to those seen in the other magazines I’ve reviewed.  F&W also displays far fewer images than the others.

Best Sections:
• Equipment – This month the “Equipment” section tested skillets, comparing the pros and cons of cast iron, stainless steel, and nonstick versions.  I found this to be very helpful and interesting, including the brand recommendations.
• Master Cook – A great monthly column highlighting one master technique and how to use it in the home kitchen.  This month it is making your own ricotta cheese – brilliant!
• Wine-Tasting Room – A true advantage of this food magazine is the great wine advice.  This section highlights yummy wines with a focus on affordable and everyday ones.

Best Features:
• Each recipe clearly displays the active cooking time and the total cooking time.  Very helpful for those of us (ahem! me! ahem!) who tend to find themselves in the middle of preparation at 7:00 only to realize that the recipe requires 2 1/2 hours of braising time.
• Excellent layout and design.  I find this magazine to be one of the easiest to read and work with.
• Wine suggestions with many of the recipes, shedding light on the esoteric and impenetrable art of food and wine pairing.

Thanksgiving at the Food & Wine house:
The F&W “Thanksgiving Planner” is wonderfully organized and clear and the theme is “delicious and stress-free”.  Each recipe is marked with a symbol, letting the reader know if the dish can be made ahead, made way ahead, cooked on the grill or stovetop rather than the oven, or if you can finish it in the oven after the turkey comes out.  The dishes are grouped into three suggested menus with a wine pairing, but swapping is encouraged!  The ‘out-there’ factor is at mid range: goat cheese-edamame dip with spiced pepitas; creamed spinach and parsnips; grilled butterflied turkey; fennel, red onion and focaccia stuffing.   Ruling?  Choose wisely, my friend.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Caraway-Ancho Chile Gravy
• Cream and Lemon Braised Pork Shoulders
• Giant Lima Beans with Stewed Tomatoes (sounds like images from my fifth grade nightmares…)

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Cassoulet with Duck Confit
• Butternut Squash Turnovers
• *Sweet Potato Gratin with Chile-Spiced Pecans
• Cranberry-Pomegranate Sauce
• Creamed Spinach and Parsnips

*Sweet Potato Gratin with Chile-Spiced Pecans, from F&W November 2008.

5 lbs. sweet potatoespecans-4-web
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 c. pecans
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. chipotle chile powder
kosher salt
1/4 c. honey
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 c. heavy cream
freshly ground pepper
2 c. mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roast the sweet potatoes on a large baking sheet for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, until tender.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt the butter.  Add the pecans, sugar, and chipotle powder and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until sugar starts to caramelize and the pecans are well coated, 8 minutes.  Spread the pecans on a parchment-lined baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and let cool.  Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into the bowl of a food processor; discard the skins.  Add the honey, cinnamon, allspice and cloves to the processor and puree.  Season with salt and pepper.Sweet Potato Puree

Scrape the potatoes into a 9×13 inch baking dish; scatter the marshmallows are golden.  Sprinkle with the pecans and serve.  MAKE AHEAD: The sweet potato puree can be refrigerated overnight.  Bring to room temperature and top with the marshmallows bfore baking.  The spiced nuts can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Makes 12 servings.

Results: So delicious!  We could really taste the warm spices in the puree, and the crunch of the pecans was a welcome addition to this traditional dish.  I would absolutely cook this for Thanksgiving or any fall meal.  The leftover pecans (of which there were many!) went into my spinach, pecorino, and prosciutto salad for lunch, and they were perfect!  Sweet Potatoes and MarshmallowsThey could also be a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving cheese plate. I think that F&W does a wonderful job blending traditional recipes (cassoulet) and innovative techniques (homemade ricotta), not to mention providing great wine recommendations and pairing advice.  If I could spare the shelf space, I would certainly add this publication to my subscriptions!  I can’t end this post without pointing out that the recipe I tested is clearly NOT a gratin as I understand it – gratins have melted cheese or buttered and browned breadcrumbs on top, not kraft mini marshmallows.

November 25, 2008 at 8:10 pm 2 comments

The Mother of all Sauces

hollandaise sauce for broccoli

This post will be a quickie, but if you know what is good for you, you’ll bookmark it or print it or just emblazon the recipe in your memory.  Today I am imparting to you a sauce that has been handed down to me from my father.  My dad was never the cook of the family, though he was, and is, the unchallenged executive chef in charge of the grill, the pancakes and the hollandaise sauce.

Hollandaise is part of a group of 5 recipes called the Mother Sauces, including Veloute, Bechamel, Espagnole (or Brown Sauce), and Tomato.  From these basic recipes, you can modify and tweak your sauces to your own taste preference and delightful concord with your main dish.

Now, Antonin Careme and Escoffier may differ slightly with my dad about how to proceed with this dish, but I can tell you that my ratios are easy to remember, there’s no clarifying of butter required, and the end results are sublime.  Lemony hollandaise draped over steamed asparagus, eggs benedict, or roasted salmon is a true treat on an Easter morning or for an elegant Sunday Brunch.  Modified slightly into bearnaise sauce, you have the perfect accompaniment to any type of dry-cooked beef – roasted, grilled, or pan seared – and an excellent dipping sauce for french fries.

Hollandaise SauceMaster Sauce – Hollandaise

1 stick of butter
2 egg yolks
juice of 1 lemon

Melt the stick of butter in a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.  Set aside to cool slightly.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and lemon juice until fully blended.  Set the butter over a medium-low burner and, while whisking the butter constantly, pour the egg yolk mixture into the pan slowly.  Your whisking should stay constant and should try to cover the whole bottom surface of the pan so that no part of the sauce cooks more quickly than any other.  Keep cooking and stirring until you begin to feel and see the sauce thickening up.  Remove the pan from the heat and continue to whisk for another minute or two.  Pour the sauce into a warmed gravy boat or creamer.  If at any point the sauce begins to separate, this means the sauce has gotten too hot.  Immediately remove it from the stove and whisk to see if you can bring it back together.  If it isn’t working within 30 seconds or so, put an icecube into the pan and whisk until the sauce cools and comes back together.  Then remove the ice cube.  Once the sauce has separated once, it is much more fragile than before and you should not attempt to thicken the sauce further.  Once you get the hang of the process, it is actually quite easy.  Some results will be thicker or thinner depending on how much liquid your lemon produces and the size of your yolks, but you will eventually develop an instinct for the correct proportions.

To make Bearnaise:bearnaise sauce ingredients

Bearnaise is very similar to hollandaise in method, but the flavor is very different.  Rather than using the juice of a lemon, you will make a flavorful reduction.

1/3 c. finely diced shallots
1/2 c. tarragon vinegar, champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar
1/2 c. white wine
1-2 Tbs. chopped fresh tarragon or 1-2 tsp. dried tarragon, plus more for finishing.

Pour the above ingredients into a small sauce pan.  Bring to boil, then simmer over low heat to reduce the liquids to a scant 2 Tablespoons, approximately 5 minutes.  bearnaise sauce reductionRemember that the solids take up a lot of room in the pan, so eye-ball accordingly – you want the liquid, strained of all solids, to equal just less than 2 Tablespoons.  Proceed with the Hollandaise recipe above, replacing your reduction liquid for the lemon juice.  When the sauce is finished, stir in a couple of teaspoons of fresh tarragon (or a 1/2 tsp. of dried) for color.

With bearnaise, you want to make sure you get the tarragon flavor correct.  If you use tarragon vinegar, use the low-end amount of fresh or dried tarragon.  Taste the sauce before you stir in the tarragon garnish, and adjust your amount accordingly.

November 24, 2008 at 7:59 am 2 comments

Magazine Review: “Bon Appetit” and Shaved Brussels Sprouts

brussels-final This is the fourth installment of my series of Thanksgiving magazine reviews.  You can see my evaluative criteria here.  I have been holding off on looking at one of the most popular food magazines of all, BON APPETIT, until now.  Although I have already confessed that Fine Cooking is my favorite subscription, Bon Appetit is my longest running.  Besides my own collection, dating back to my first cooking experiences in 1998, I also have access to my mother’s Bon Appetits – the oldest of which is from 1980 or so.  Confession time: when I was in middle school, I would sneak into the closet where mom kept her magazines filed by title and date, and would cut out all of the Absolut Vodka ads.  She only noticed this, and punished me, when she caught me in the act one day – because, like me, her collection kept growing and the motivation to go back to “the archives” was low.

I digress.  My point is that I have a long relationship with Bon Appetit, and although I absolutely despise the redesign they recently introduced, the magazine has treated me well for many years – especially on Thanksgiving.  You may already have sensed that my family holidays are pretty traditional, and the menu fairly fixed.  However, each year I bring my Bon Appetit Thanksgiving issue up to the family house and make one supplementary fancy dish – once it was cheddar and sage mashed potatoes and one year we even mixed it up with a special turkey.  Below, I decide whether 2008 matches up.

  • 194 pages total : 98 pages of ads (51%) !!
  • 65 Recipes (though this would be much higher if I included the many recipes that were offered on advertising pages, such as “Land o Lakes TM Blue Ribbon Sugar Cookies” or “Ghirardelli TM Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies”)
  • News-stand price: $4.99
  • Price per recipe: $0.08
  • # of ads pretending to be articles: 14.  What I found even more disturbing, however, was the ubiquity of especially long, multi-page advertisement spreads – like 4 pages each for Dacor appliances and Circulon pans.
  • Recipe Index? One index at the end of the magazine lists the recipes by specific types (Potatoes, Sauces, Breakfast Dishes, etc) and within those sometimes breaks the list down further (under Main Courses: fish/seafood, poultry, meats, vegetarian).  Recipes are also labeled with nutritional advice (Low Calorie, Low fat, High fiber).  Somewhat hard to follow due to small and dense text.
(c) Bon Appetit, photo by Tim Morris

(c) Bon Appetit, Photo by Tim Morris

Photos: Generally, I find BA to have great food photography.  That being said, I alternated between annoyance and amusement when flipping through the shots in the Thanksgiving section of this issue.  There were way too many full-page location shots of the sides of barns and insides of Shaker classrooms (there is a Heritage theme here – and we are not to forget it!!), taking up space where we should be looking at the food.  Also – and I don’t know if I’m crazy or if anyone else was wigged out by this – there were pictures of platters set on the very edge of tables, seconds away from tipping over (see above), and other shots of pies sitting on the floor or on a side table parked directly in front of a chest of drawers obviously meant for a bedroom.  The artificiality of these set-ups made me laugh out loud.  I did like the fact that in the “Purely Pumpkin” section, they provided pictures of both the whole finished desserts and the individual portions, and the article on make-ahead side dishes was also well-illustrated.

Best Sections:
• R.S.V.P. – this section features readers’ requests for the recipes of their favorite restaurant dishes.  Aside from the fact that I have thrice submitted a request and never been answered, I love this section.
• Fast, Easy, Fresh – pretty self-explanatory here: quick recipes for the weeknight.  This section was so popular that many past entries have been compiled into a cookbook.
• Cooking Life – Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette fame, has her own section written in that same great voice from her blog (obviously) and features her own fun and beautiful photography.
• At the Market – Each month a different seasonal ingredient is highlighted, and several different ways to use it are provided.  This month – Pomegranate!

Best Features:
• Recipes with obscure ingredients provide a suggestion for where to buy them.
• All of the Thanksgiving recipes are grouped together at the end of the magazine where, like Gourmet, the pictures are kept separate from the Recipe section.  Photos are labeled so you can immediately go to the page for the recipe of the dish that caught your eye.

Thanksgiving at the Bon Appetit house:
The Thanksgiving section here is divided into five different “stories,” but all maintain the singular theme of a Heritage holiday, meaning authentic ingredients native (or at least traditional) to America.  The first is called “Menu” and as far as I can tell it is meant to be the basic traditional meal while the following sections are optional swap-ins.  It includes such recipes as Dungeness Crab and Heirloom Bean Brandade; Wild Rice with butternut, squash, leeks and corn; and Garnet Yams with Blis Maple Syrup and Maple-Sugar Streusel.  Next up is “The Turkey” providing an alternative to the previous article’s turkey (Roast Heritage Turkey with Bacon-Herb Butter and Cider Gravy) and suggesting three variations of Salted Roast Turkey.  Following the Turkeys is “One Recipe Four Ways” which outlines four flavors of stuffing and gives four separate recipes (rather than one master recipe which can be modified: slightly disappointing).  After stuffing comes the other side dishes in “Make Ahead Makes it Easy” with do-ahead recipes like “Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint”, “Creamy Corn and Chestnut Pudding” and “Green Beans with Pickled-Onion Relish.”  Finally, an exclusively pumpkin finale called “Purely Pumpkin” including “Pumpkin Butterscotch Pie”, “Pumpkin Praline Trifle” and “Pumpkin Ice Cream with Toffee Sauce.”  Ruling? I’m confused.

Particularly Unappetizing:
• Cumin-Scented Eggplant with Pomegranate and Cilantro

I’m looking forward to cooking:
• Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper, and Sea Salt
• Chaussons aux Pommes
• Bacon, Apple, and Fennel Stuffing
• *Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnuts
• Scalloped Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin with Fresh Herbs

I would like to explain why I am so confused.  The setup of the Thanksgiving section is heavy-handed, what with the puritain garb on the models, the Shaker furniture, and the old-fashioned barns and schoolroom blackboard.  This might be actually very interesting and beautiful if they had stuck with the “heritage” theme of authentic local New England foods the pilgrims might have served if they had been equipped with convection ovens and 6-burner stovetops.  However, mixed in with the corn-, cider- and maple-based dishes are recipes that stick out like so many sore Shaker thumbs: Green Goddess Dip (“created in the 1920s at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel”); Cranberry Relish with Grapefruit and Mint; Salted Roast Turkey with Chipotle Glaze; and Potato, Zucchini, and Tomato Gratin (“Thanksgiving goes Provencal”).  Why put all the recipes together and try to tie them all to a theme which simply cannot cover all of them?   Nevertheless, it says a lot that I couldn’t find more than one recipe of the whole bunch that I thought was unappetizing, and I must admit that my recipe file has grown since acquiring this issue.  ((Sigh)) I guess I can’t fault a magazine which has been reinventing itself and the recipes within for over 50 years.  If you are a cook with the same goal (reinvention, that is), this magazine is for you.  An interesting review of the The Bon Appetit Cookbook
(which I do own, by the way) gives a rundown of the advantages and fallbacks of BA’s philosophy.

*Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Currants and Chestnutsbrussels-mise

1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. dried currants
1 1/2 lbs. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 7- to 8-oz. jar whole peeled chestnuts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 Tbs. butter
1 1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

Bring cider to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add currants; let soak 30 minutes. Using processor fitted with slicing disk, push brussels sprouts through feed tube and slice. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill currant mixture. Wrap brussels sprouts in paper towels, then enclose in resealable plastic bag and chill.

brussels-fruitHeat oil in large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add chestnuts; sauté 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to bowl. Add brussels sprouts to skillet; sauté until beginning to wilt, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and butter; sauté until most of liquid evaporates and brussels sprouts are tender but still bright green, adding more water by tablespoonfuls if mixture is dry, about 7 minutes. Stir in chestnuts, currant mixture, and vinegar; sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

brussels-cookingResults:  This was very good.  The problems I had with the dish were of my own making: Instead of using the slicing disk of the food processor, I used the shredding disk, resulting in a not-too-pleasant flakey texture to about half of my sprouts (before I realized my mistake and swapped the disk out).  Second, I used dried cranberries and cherries rather than dried currants (which I couldn’t find in any of my three grocery stores), making the dish a bit too sweet for my taste.  All in all, however, the flavor was very good – especially the chestnuts which had a very subtle and earthy savor to them.  I reheated leftovers the second night, and while the color was nowhere near as vibrant, the taste was the same if not better.  Prepared properly, this would be a great addition to the holiday table.

November 22, 2008 at 9:27 am 2 comments

Sugar High Friday: Gemstone Cheesecake

gemstone

400x600-10002-phc5lkftr034j78

Sugar High Fridays really raised the bar this month.  Rather than picking an ingredient to work with, the host for this month, Susan from the Well-Seasoned Cook, picked an adjective: sparkling.  The theme this time is “All that Glitters”, and the submitted desserts (see them here next Friday, 11/28) should look as dazzling as they taste!

Now, this has rarely ever happened, but I am actually getting to one of my saved recipes in a timely manner.  I stumbled upon this absolutely beautiful creation on Esi’s blog, and I simply had to make it.  What’s more, she made two mini-cheesecakes, rather than one big one, so I could modify the topping to RJ’s taste – plain or with caramel, thank you very much.  As soon as I read the SHF topic for the month, my mind immediately went to this recipe which was at the top of my recipe pile.  What food product, naturally produced, sparkles more than the garnet colored, translucent arils of the pomegranate?  The answer is a sweet and shimmering pomegranate glaze dotted with them!  My final product looked like a christmas ornament – a treat which would certainly entice Santa to unload some gifts on Christmas eve.
Enjoy this dessert, as I did so thoroughly this week, and don’t forget to peruse the numerous and undoubtedly creative results of the other participating bloggers on the Round-up page.

Gemstone Cheesecake
(Adapted from ‘Pom Wonderful’ by Esi from Dishing Up Delights)
Makes one 9-inch cake (or two 4.5-inch cakes)

For the Crust:
1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. butter, melted

For the filling:gems-batter
8 oz. cream cheese, well softened (this is important!)
5 Tbs. sugar
1 egg
3 Tbs. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt

For the glaze:
6 Tbs. pomegranate juice
1 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
Pomegranate arils

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
To make the crust, stir together crumbs, sugar and butter until moistened. Press evenly into bottom of two 4.5 inch spring form pans or one 9 inch baking dish.
To make the filling, beat cream cheese and sugar in a large bowl on medium speed of electric mixer until fluffy. Beat in eggs, milk, vanilla and salt just until blended. Pour over crust in pan; spread evenly.

gem-glaze

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 to 25 minutes more, until cake is firm at sides and soft-set (jiggles slightly) in the center. Do not over-bake. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for up to 2 hours, then cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours before serving. (Refrigerate cake for up to 1 week.)

To make the topping, combine juice with sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Cool slightly; mix in pomegranate arils, then spread glaze over cake.

November 21, 2008 at 7:53 am 5 comments

Chive Risotto Cakes

risotto-cake-closeup When I started this blog oh so many, um…days ago, I asked myself a very important question: as I work my way through all of these millions of recipes that I have in piles, cookbooks, and Firefox bookmarks, will I post all of my results, or just the best ones?  Will people want to read about a failed attempt at a standing rib roast, or is that pointless?  Am I making recipe recommendations or offering people a chance to learn from my kitchen forays?
I said that I asked myself that question, but I never said I answered it.  Until today, it really has not been an issue!  Not that I am some culinary prodigy in the kitchen or anything, but in my first month of blogging, I haven’t yet had a disaster, and so I have been content to post about nearly all my recent recipe trials.

This is not to say that the chive risotto cakes were a disaster for me.  In fact, I think I would be more excited about the post if they had been.  I could have featured my Italian version of a “Cake Wreck” (get it? 😉 )!  No, they did not fail completely – more like a B minus.  However, those with whom I went to college know that such a grade could send me reeling for days…

I suppose I should preface the whole discussion with the fact that RJ and I love risotto.  Not only does it fit into the warm-and-hearty comfort food category while still being an excellent option for entertaining, but risotto has a special place in my heart because it is one of the only dishes into which I can insert vegetables without RJ flipping out.  His recent acceptance of onions, mushrooms, and butternut squash all resulted from one of my risotto variations.  Generally, I will cook risotto on a night when I have time to stand around the stove for an hour or so, and we will have leftovers for Day 2.  If you’ve never tried to reheat risotto in a microwave before, please trust me: it isn’t very pretty.  It comes out gummy and sticky and nowhere near as good as fresh risotto.  But the stickiness may be used to great advantage, also.  Cold leftover risotto of any flavor can be molded into round balls, rolled in panko crumbs, slightly flattened into a hamburger shape, then pan fried in butter or oil.  You will end up with a crispy browned crust and an oozy, like-Day-1 risotto center.

Reading Deb’s pick for the Barefoot Bloggers‘ Bonus recipe, I was actually thrilled.  Ina’s description explicitly claimed that her recipe provides risotto cakes without the Day-1 effort of stirring and gradually adding stock ladle by ladle.  “Brilliant!”, I exclaimed.

risotto-cake-miseI gathered my ingredients and even went to my favorite cheese shop for fine imported Fontina.  Though the chives were a bit yellowed in some places, I figured I would only use the best ones and we’d be fine.  But all the Fontina val d’Aosta and fresh-from-the-ground chives in the world could not save these risotto cakes.  I am interested to see if the others felt the same as I did, or if I have just been spoiled by having ‘real’ risotto cakes as part of my repertoire for a while now, but I thought these suffered severely from the outset due to one major flaw in the directions – you cannot cook risotto in water!  My cakes tasted, well, watery – comparable to how the inside of a baked potato with chives might taste if you omitted salt, butter, and sour cream.

To defend Ina’s honor, I probably could have salted the water more, or incorporated even more cheese or dried the rice in paper towels as opposed to a sieve.  But none of that could have compensated for the flavor that chicken broth gives to risotto. That just wasn’t there.  Even with all the cheese the recipe called for, the rice was barely holding together in balls because of the way the rice had been waterlogged.  My clear conviction is that there is no shortcut to risotto, and thus no shortcut to the crispy cakes.  Go the traditional route and make your favorite risotto dish.  Then, on Day 2, treat yourself to your own homemade creation, covered in panko and fried.

Well, this is the moment of truth.  Do I post the recipe?  Will posting it diminish my integrity as a blogger or detract from my validity as messenger of good taste?  I think not.  You’ve read my opinion of the recipe above, but of course you all have the ability to make up your own minds.  Perhaps reading the recipe will give us all some insight into where it goes wrong.  Conversely, you may set out to prove that Ina is right and I am not, and I invite you to share your results with me in the comments section.  Just don’t ever say I didn’t give you fair warning.

Chive Risotto Cakes, from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basicsrisotto-cake-mix

Kosher salt
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
½ cup Greek yogurt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1 ½ cup cups grated Italian Fontina cheese (5 ounces)
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
Good olive oil

Bring a large (4 quart) pot of water to a boil and add ½ tablespoon salt and the Arborio rice. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. The grains of rice will be quite soft. Drain the rice in a sieve and run under cold water until cool. Drain well.
risotto-cake-raw
Meanwhile, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, chives, Fontina, 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, and the pepper in a medium bowl. Add the cooled rice and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, until firm.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Spread the panko in a shallow dish. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Form balls of the rice mixture using a standard (2 1/4 –inch) ice cream scoop or a large spoon. Pat the balls into patties 3 inches in diameter and ¾ inch thick. Place 4-6 patties in the panko, turning once to coat. Place the patties in the hot oil and cook, turning once, for about 3 minutes on each side until the risotto cakes are crisp and nicely browned. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and keep warm in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Continue cooking in batches, adding oil as necessary, until all the cakes are fried. Serve hot.

November 20, 2008 at 7:36 am 4 comments

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