Tuesday, October 27, 2009

chocolate macarons with nutella ganache

What is a macaron? I asked myself this a few weeks ago, once I realized that it wasn't simply a misspelling of macaroon. The macaron is a French pastry made of egg whites, almond flour, powdered and granulated sugar. It is sandwich-like, with two thin cookies (round meringue-like domes with a flat base) stuck together with a buttercream, jam, or ganache filling. 

There is speculation that the French macaron is the next cupcake. When I first read through the ingredients and recipe, I was highly skeptical. How can egg whites, almond flour and sugar create a delicious treat? Well, it turns out it's possible. Also, similar to cupcakes that are such a craze at the moment, the combinations of flavors and fillings possible for the macaron are endless. Who knows - maybe a year or two from now we will see macaron shops on every corner!

Why am I suddenly an expert on macarons? I learned all of this through reading about them on the internet, because they are the latest Daring Bakers' challenge (more on that in a second). True to the name, making them was, um, challenging. One sought after quality in the macaron is its "feet" - a spongy-looking layer that forms beneath the dome of the cookie. People swear by all sorts of different techniques for ensuring the perfect macaron - letting the egg whites sit at room temperature for anywhere from a day to a week, allowing the batter to "dry" for varying amounts of time once it's been piped onto the cookie sheets, "turning" the egg whites by a certain number when you fold in the dry ingredients. It was a hard to know what to try. I ended up feeling like Goldilocks:

In my first attempt ("too hot"), I didn't beat the eggs enough, so the batter oozed together on the baking sheet, creating one giant pancake. Nothing recoupable from that attempt, unfortunately, so into the garbage my slimy concoction went.

My fear of not beating the eggs enough in my second attempt ("too cold") led me to beat them too much. Also my lack of parchment paper, which I thought would be minor at the time, turned out to be a major issue. This second attempt yielded edible, although not-at-all-like-macaron cookies (no feet, the domes crushed during my prying from the cookie sheets). 

My third attempt ("just right") was the first batch that I actually feel like I can call macarons. I think the texture might still be a little off - they aren't quite as light and fluffy as those I found at the local french bakery, but tasty and - aesthetically at least - close to the real thing.

Before I get to the recipe, let me tell you a bit about the Daring Bakers, part of The Daring Kitchen. The Daring Bakers originated with two women food bloggers in 2006 - it all started with them challenging themselves to bake pretzels for the first time using the same recipe. Then they posted about their experiences. They decided to try it again the next month with biscotti. They were joined by a few more food bloggers. Time went by and the group continued to grow. When they decided they needed a name, The Daring Bakers were born! 

Today, the group has a couple thousand participants all around the world. They have monthly challenges that are comprised of a recipe to follow (with specifics on what you must do and where you can take some leeway). The members each follow the recipe, then post their experience and pics on the Daring Bakers forum, and (after the reveal date has passed) on their blog, as you see me doing here.

This was my first challenge and I had a lot of fun with it. I'm certain I would not have tried making macarons (and definitely would not have had patience through 2 failed attempts) if it weren't for this little competition. I'm excited for what other treats it might push me to make in the future - stay tuned for monthly posts to hear all about it!

The 2009 October Daring Bakers' challenge was brought to us by Ami S of Baking without Fear. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming's The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

Ok, on to the recipe...

Chocolate Macarons with Nutella Ganache
Makes 2-3 dozen sandwiched pastries

2 1/4 c. confectioners' sugar
2 c. almond flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
5 egg whites, at room temperature (I let mine sit at room temp for 24 hours)

Combine the confectioners' sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder in a large bowl. Beat egg whites in the clean bowl of a stand mixture until soft peaks form. Slowly add granulated sugar and beat until the eggs hold stiff peaks.

Sift 1/3 flour mixture into meringue and fold gently to combine (I found that a rubber spatula worked well for this step). Sift in remaining flour in two batches. Don't overfold, but fully incorporate. 

Spoon the batter into a pastry bag with a 1/2" tip, or a large ziplock bag with the corner cut off (tip: put the bag into a large glass or pitcher and fold the corners down to fill). Pipe 1" mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Set aside to allow to "dry" 30 minutes to 1 hour before baking.

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Bake the macarons for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and increase the heat to 375 degrees. Bake 7 to 8 minutes longer, until lightly colored.

Allow to cool completely on rack before filling.

Nutella Ganache
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate
3 Tbsp. Nutella

Heat the cream in a small pan until just before it begins to boil. Mix chocolate into hot cream until melted. Add Nutella and stir to blend. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until it begins to firm and is spreading consistency. Pipe filling onto macarons (I used a ziplock with the corner cut off for this step as well).

Let me know if you have tips or favorite macaron flavors - now that I've discovered these treats, I'm going to have to try more variations!

Monday, October 26, 2009

roasted pumpkin penne

I've had a pumpkin sitting on my counter since last week's CSA delivery. I'd been planning on turning it into soup, until Facebook convinced me otherwise. Or rather, until I saw an update from Jennifer raving about the pumpkin pasta she'd made the night before. It's crazy the things one can learn on Facebook. How did we keep up before?

Anyway, Jennifer sent me the link to the recipe she used, which incorporated canned pumpkin in a creamy sauce. That was all the inspiration I needed. My soup plans flew out the window as I decided what my version of pumpkin pasta would contain. Here's where I landed:

Roasted Pumpkin Penne
Serves 3-4

olive oil
1 pumpkin
8 oz. whole wheat penne
2 Tbsp. fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 c. walnuts, chopped and toasted

To roast pumpkin:
Peel and seed the pumpkin. Cut into 1" pieces. Toss pumpkin pieces with a generous splash of olive oil and a couple pinches of sea salt. Arrange in a single layer in a baking dish. Roast in 375 degree oven for about an hour, or until brown and caramelized, flipping a few times along the way.

Cook pasta as directed. In a large pan, heat about 4 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add sage and fry until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sage to paper towel, leaving oil in pan.

Add garlic and red pepper flakes to oil. Cook 2 minutes. Add pasta and pumpkin and toss to coat. Serve topped with fried sage, toasted walnuts, and a dallop of marscapone.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

chocolate balsamic strawberries

I was excited to still find strawberries at the farmers' market this morning. One thing I've noticed, however, is that they spoil much more quickly than they did at the height of strawberry season. I wanted to do something with them to ensure we'd eat them before they go bad. 

Enter chocolate.

My new staple baking chocolate is E. Guittard Chocolate Wafers - they are easy to measure, melt quickly due to their small size, and will satisfy a chocolate craving in a pinch. I don't normally keep heavy whipping cream on hand, but I happened to have some leftover from a ganache I made last weekend. That settled it - chocolate dipped strawberries are for dessert tonight!

Chocolate Balsamic Strawberries

1/3 c. heavy whipping cream
1/2 c. quality bittersweet chocolate
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. walnuts, chopped and toasted
1 pint strawberries

Heat cream in a small pot over medium-high heat until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat. Add chocolate, stirring until it has melted completely. Add balsamic and mix in. Allow mixture to sit for 5 minutes (it will begin to thicken as it cools).

Stir chocolate. Dip strawberries one at a time into chocolate, then sprinkle with nuts and place on a plate. Refrigerate until you're ready to enjoy (at least an hour).

I had a bit of chocolate left over, so I tried an experiment. I put about 2 Tbsp. into each space of a paper lined muffin tins (I had enough chocolate for 6). Topped that with a small dallop of almond butter (the chocolate was still warm, so it melted in a little. Then sprinkled with remaining walnuts and a dash of sea salt. I put them in the freezer for an hour during which time they turned into a yummy salty nutty chocolate treat!

pear bread

This is yet another recipe inspired by The New California Cook (see my new sidebar at lower right titled "Cole's Favorites" for more info!). I made it last weekend and ate a slice for breakfast as I was driving to work each day this past week. We're down to the last couple of slices, which are understandably a bit dry since it's been a week since they were baked. I'm thinking about turning them into french toast this morning...

I made a few modifications to the original recipe: I substituted whole wheat flour for white flour, maple syrup for white sugar, and added some apple sauce for extra moisture. Also the recipe called for the bread to be baked in a 9x5" pan, but since I don't have one of those, I split it between two 8x4" pans (if you use a 9x5" pan, the original recipe says you should bake it for 60 minutes). The recipe below reflects my modifications.

Pear Bread
Makes 2 8" loaves

2/3 c. pecans, coarsely chopped and toasted
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. maple syrup
2 eggs
1/2 c. apple sauce
1/2 c. sour cream 
1 tsp. vanilla
2 pears, peeled cored and coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 2 8x4" loaf pans.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the butter and maple syrup on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the apple sauce, sour cream, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and blend well on low speed. Add the pear and pecans and mix well on low speed.

Transfer batter to prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until slightly browned and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn bread out onto a wire rack. Let cool completely before slicing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

roasted garlic mashed potatoes with leeks

As promised, here is the recipe for the mashed potatoes that accompanied the macadamia crusted halibut featured in my last post. The original recipe is from The New California Cook. I adjusted it by reducing the potatoes (original recipe calls for 3 pounds - a bit too much for 2 people!) and adjusting the amounts of some of the other ingredients slightly.

I've never really known what to do with leeks. They show up in the weekly CSA box occasionally and almost always end up being turned into stock (the typical destination for veggies in my house once they've passed their freshness prime). This recipe has given me a new appreciation for them - I cooked them for the long end of the range called for, which meant they had begun to caramelize. The flavor is somehow delicate, sweet, and rich at the same time. I'm going to have to start experimenting more with leeks!

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes with Leeks
Serves 3-4

olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium leek (white and light green parts only), cleaned and finely chopped
6 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3 inch chunks
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. half and half
salt & freshly ground white pepper

Put peeled garlic cloves on a sheet of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil. Close foil around garlic to create a sealed package. Place on a cookie sheet and roast in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes. Set aside.

Melt butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute for 5-7 minutes, until softened. Set aside.

Immerse potatoes in cold water for 5 minutes to remove excess starch. Drain potatoes and put in a large pot. Cover with water, then bring to boiling and allow potatoes to continue to cook for 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes and return to pot. Over high heat, dry the potatoes, tossing them occasionally for 1 to 2 minutes, or until all the moisture has evaporated.

Put the potato cubes and garlic through a ricer or mash with a potato masher (I used a masher, as I like my mashed potatoes to have some texture). Add butter and olive oil. Slowly pour in the half and half, stirring until potatoes are creamy but not soupy (I added a little less than called for). Add the leeks and salt and pepper to taste.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

macadamia crusted halibut

Let's have something good for dinner
was JR's suggestion yesterday. Perhaps I should have taken offense at this. But I think what he meant is that, between the extremes of being sick and being go-go-go with houseguests and weekend trips for the past few weeks, it's been awhile since we just relaxed and had a nice meal at home. Time to remedy that.

I've had a leek in the fridge longer than I care to admit. In consulting my current favorite cookbook earlier in the week, I had come across a recipe for roasted garlic mashed potatoes with leeks. It sounded to me like the perfect balance - using up an old veggie in a dish that was more involved than something I might make on a typical night (thereby meeting JR's "good" criteria). That recipe will follow soon. Today, I'm sharing the fish that I made to go with it.

I'm typically a salmon girl. I get a steak of it almost every weekend at the farmers' market and if I had to pick one item from the sea as my favorite, it would be salmon for sure. Perhaps because of this, salmon seemed to regular for this particular meal. I honestly don't know why my mind landed on macadamia crusted halibut, but once it did, I knew that's what I had to make. Rather than consult recipes as I normally would, I decided to tackle this one on my own. The following preparation is simple, easy, and yields an entree tasty enough for a special dinner. We enjoyed ours while watching the DVR'd finale of Hells Kitchen. The perfect Saturday evening!

Macadamia Crusted Halibut
Serves 2

1/2 pound halibut filet, cut into 2 pieces
1/2 c. flour
1 egg
1/2 c. macadamia nuts, finely chopped

Rinse halibut and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Spread flour and macadamia nuts (separately) on two small plates. Whisk egg in a medium bowl. Dredge first piece of halibut in flour to cover both sides, then in egg, and finally, in macadamia nuts, pressing to ensure coverage on both sides. Repeat with second halibut piece.

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add halibut. Cook until golden (about 4 minutes per side).

I served the halibut over a bed of roasted garlic mashed potatoes with leeks (recipe coming soon) and garlicky kale.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

black bean soup with avocado lime cream

I've been sick. Nasty flu morphed into head cold, which left me with little energy or desire to cook (or, rather, my "cooking" lately has consisted of heating cans of soup). Though my cold drags on, earlier this week I decided to get over my cooking hiatus and get back in the kitch. On that particular day, we were in the middle of the first (maybe only?) fall storm in Northern California: winds up to 60mph in our area and a day and a half straight of rain (being from Seattle originally, I realize this is not actually a lot of rain, but I've quickly become used to the California sunshine, so even a brief amount of moisture from the sky seems unusual!). The storm made the house feel cold and made me want something hot to simmer on the stove. So, even though it's pretty much all I'd been eating for the past couple of weeks, I decided to make soup.

This recipe is from The New California Cook, a gift from my friend Dave. I have a number of the recipes in the book flagged to make, but this is the first one I've tried so far (I'm not sure what took me so long!). It turned out really tasty, so I'll definitely be consulting this cookbook more often for ideas in the near future.

I made a few slight moderations to the original recipe - (1) I substituted veggie stock for half of the water called for, (2) I omitted the ham hock, (3) the original topping recipe was lime cream; I added half an avocado to make it an avocado lime cream. The following reflects these modifications.

Black Bean Soup with Avocado Lime Cream
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 quart vegetable stock
1 quart water
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Avocado Lime Cream:
1/2 ripe avocado
1/2 c. sour cream (I used a vegan version)
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of freshly ground white pepper

Soak beans overnight in enough cold water to cover generously (or, if you're like me and don't think this far ahead, you can do a quick soak: bring the beans to a boil in just enough water to cover, boil for 2 minutes, then cover, turn off heat, and let stand for 1 hour). Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and saute until softened (about 3 minutes). Add jalapeno, garlic, bell pepper, cumin, coriander, and oregano and saute for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add drained beans, stock, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until beans are tender.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot, leaving a bit of texture (if you don't have an immersion blender, you can puree half of the soup in a standing blender, then return to pot). Reheat gently. Add lime juice, cilantro, and salt and black pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, you can thin it with water.

To make the avocado lime cream, mash the avocado then combine with other ingredients. Whisk or use immersion blender to create a smooth consistency.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with avocado lime cream, avocado slices, and a dallop of salsa, if desired. Let it warm you up on a cold day!

Monday, October 5, 2009

eggplant curry

This past weekend, JR and I rented a house in a tiny town called
Monte Rio along the Russian River. Our friends Todd and Rachael joined us. The weekend was filled with great conversation and food to match - artisan cheeses, meats, breads and wines. Our lazy mornings were spent enjoying walks, coffee and eggs, and dogs playing on the deck overlooking the river. It was a terrific weekend.

Back to the real world.

In the real world, I'm fighting off a cold (that for the moment I seem to be keeping at bay). And I'm freezing. It's that time of year when I start feeling I need to have a pot of something cooking on the stovetop. I'll admit that the leap from there to eggplant is not an obvious one. But I'm going to try to make it work.

Let me back up one more time. A couple of weeks ago, we were having dinner with Todd and Rachael (as coincidence would have it) in Palo Alto at a Thai restaurant (when it was still warm enough to eat outside...sorry, I digress). We didn't order it at the time, but there was an eggplant curry on the menu that caught my eye. Since then, it's been in the back of my head. Cross that with the fact that eggplant season is nearly over in California (which means I need to pack them in before they disappear from the farmers' market) and with my desire to have something cooking on the stovetop, and viola! - eggplant curry.

I've never made eggplant curry before, so I did what I do in situations like this - I started looking up recipes in my cookbooks and online. Nothing that I found was quite what I was looking for. So I started picking and choosing from different recipes. What resulted is a mixture of ingredients and a preparation that I'm pretty sure have only been combined in exactly this way in cole's kitch.

Eggplant Curry
Serves 4

1 large eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, peeled & minced
3 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. turmeric
1/8 tsp. Joe's special spice (a mix of hot red peppers)
1/8 tsp. red chili flakes
14.5 oz. canned diced tomatoes (including juice)
8 oz. vegetable broth
14 oz. unsweetened coconut milk (not lite)
naan or rice
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large pot (I used my Le Creuset soup pot). Add onions and garlic; saute until soft. Add ginger and spices. Stir to incorporate spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add eggplant. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil (don't worry if the liquid doesn't completely cover the eggplant - everything will reduce as it cooks). Reduce heat and simmer, uncover for 30 minutes, stirring regularly.

Serve in large bowls over naan or rice, topped with cilantro.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

recipe index

cf = cole's favorites




Eggs & Enchiladas

Pasta, Polenta & Gnocchi

Tofu & Tempeh






last updated on 10/22/2010
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