Monday, October 13, 2014

For the Love of Desire

I am not a huge fan of the changing of the season from summer to autumn and beyond. I never complain about the heat, and I am willing to suffer the thickness of a hot, humid day over a deep-set chill. I never used air conditioning until I moved in with my husband who starts whining about the weather as soon as it hits 75-degrees. I cannot stop the tilt of the earth, and I start layering on clothes once it hits 75-degrees. Why do opposites attract? The upside to the change of seasons is more time indoors which for me means more time in the kitchen – playing. And, this weekend was a perfect case for not wanting to venture too far – wet, cold and downright gloomy. I also knew I was going to have to bake something for it was our anniversary and I married a cold weather loving, sweet-tooth craving man. Did he want a carrot cake, cheesecake, chocolate ganache layer cake? The answer I got was, whatever you feel. With no direction I looked at my pantry and refrigerator for a suggestion. Not enough eggs for a layer cake. I have not replaced the last of the sweetened condensed milk so no “gook” for a carrot cake. And, cream cheese is not an item I tend to keep on hand. So, the go-to satisfiers where not going to be made.

It was our anniversary weekend, let the creation of a new idea be his gift. A stollen popped into my head, most likely prompted by the packet of yeast in the side door of the refrigerator. An odd thought for me given I am not a fan of these styles cakes. Anytime I get a Christmas stollen or panatone I confess to re-gifting it, or using it for a bread pudding. Nevertheless, I got stuck on the idea and maybe, I’ll create something that won’t get re-gifted.

Yeasted Fruit Cake – yields 1 cake

1½ cups warm water
1-packet dry instant yeast
4-cups all-purpose flour
1/8-teaspoon salt
½-cup sugar
2-tablspoon unsalted butter – at room temperature
1-tablspoon vanilla extract
½-cup golden raisins
1-cup chopped dried apricots
1¼-cups ground almonds

In the bowl of a standing mixer pour in the water, and then mix in the yeast, a pinch of flour and sugar. Allow this mixture to stand for about 10 minutes in order to bloom out the yeast. Once you notice the yeast’s activation mix in the flour, salt and sugar and beat until smooth – about 5 minutes. Then beat in the butter and vanilla to thoroughly incorporate. Mix in the raisins, dried apricots and almond to combine.

Cover with a clean towel and allow it sit at room temperature for 45 to an hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 375-degrees.

Grease a Bundt or stolen mold and pour the dough into it.

Bake the cake for 45 to 60, or until a cake tester comes insert in the cake of the cake comes out clean. Remove to a cooling, and allow it sit for 15 minutes, and then unmold. Let the cake completely cool. Once the cake has cooled pour over the glaze (recipe below).

1-tablespoon hazelnut oil
2-tablespoons half-n-half
4½-ounces chopped white chocolate 

Place the oil, half-n-half and chocolate in a bowl, and place over a pot of simmering water. Once the chocolate has melted remove from the pot, and whisk the mixture together until smooth and cooled. Drizzle the chocolate glaze over the cooled cake. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Starchy, Starchy Night

For the years I've lived in New York City I was one of the loyal denizens of the Union Square Market -- Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday -- rain, shine, snow, and bitter winds. I readily admit the market is one of the best shopping destinations in the city and I am a rabid exponent of the foods you can find there. My calendar it set to the comings and going of the stuffs that can be gotten there. Tender, crisp, thin asparagus; flats of violets and pansies waiting for fresh earth; blushes of vibrant chervil grown to perfection on the northside of oak trees are absolute signals of spring, the time my palate and everything else seems to come alive again.

By mid-August I am chomping-at the-bit waiting for the first new potatoes.  Not the golf ball or larger sized ones we all use but tiny marble sized beauties.  I excitedly dig through baskets filled to the brim to get to these gems that always seem to end up on the bottom -- Yukon Golds, Red Bliss, Purple Peruvians -- none are safe from my probing hands. 

On one particular visit a farmer spied my working through her large heap of potatoes and asked me what was wrong that I had to search so deeply.  I explained that my expedition was not just for potatoes, but for the exclusive and elusive marble-sized ones.  With a hearty laugh,  and a look like I was half cooked, I found another pair of hands mining for those starchy nuggets.  After we managed to retrieve about five pounds worth I thanked her dearly for the help and indulgence.  Of course, the big question was what do I do with these special spuds.  Well, since it was the beginning of the season, and my desire to eat them great I gave her my simplest application.  That is, I just toss them with virgin olive oil, coarse salt and black pepper, and then roast them in a hot oven until they are crisped. Then I eat them like popcorn, I said.  The following week she had already pulled five pounds waiting for my arrival ....and so it was for the many years.

My curiosity about these starchy tubers went beyond rummaging around the market for the smallest first-of-the-season harvest, but who are they? There are French and Russian fingerlings, German Butterballs, the blushing Desiree, and the always dirt encrusted Corolla. After years of knowing what to expect to find, and what the possibilities were someone new arrived to the party -- Papa Amarilla. The particular variety is a South American native that looks more like a waxy potato but will work for you like a starchy. The most exciting part of the discovery is that it tastes like chicken! I had never before tasted a potato with such a deph of flavor that required very little to bring it to the table. I was smitten.

I was celebrating one of those birthdays that ended with a zero, and decided it was the year to treat myself to an adventure I had always dreamed of – a sail through the Galapagos Archipelago. Ever since I was a little guy when my Dad I spent Sunday nights bonding, watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom I have dreamt of visiting all the places Merl took us to weekly. My eight day jaunt through these islands was one of those expectations that was even better in reality. Ecuador is home not only to the theory of evolution but my latest obsession, the Papa Amarilla. I knew the potato was a native of the Andes Mountains of Ecuador and Peru, and since I was going to be in the neighborhood I could not pass up the opportunity to stop by for a visit. I put together an intinerary that had me traversing the Avenue of Volcanoes down the center of the country stopping in towns on their market days. My first market was in Machachi, about an hour drive south of the capital Quito. It was held in an expansive paved over area of town sandwiched between the railroad tracks and town central.  There was nothing romantic about it, the market in fact it seemed like a utilitarian necessity for the town – their Safeway without the brick and mortar. There was much to choose from: Amazonian oranges, papayas, yucca, plastic wash basins, corn, tomatoes, onions, toilet paper, and piles of potaotes. I bought a kilo of potatoes and two rolls of toilet paper. One of purchases I could work with the other I had to figure out what to do with. In my 9-grade Spanish I got the kitchen back at my pension to boil up my purchase, which allowed me to have a potato tasting that night – of course, everyone thought I was just a bit off. But I was eating a Papa Amarilla right from its native earth.

Curried Potatoes  - yields 4 to 6 servings
2 pounds baby new potatoes
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tablespoons curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion - sliced julienne

Preheat the oven to 425 degree.  Wash the potatoes, and pat dry. If your new potatoes are larger than golf-ball size cut them in half or quarters.  Toss with the oil.  Sprinkle the curry powder, salt and pepper over the potatoes, and toss to coat all the potatoes well.  Lay them on a roasting pan, and place in the oven.  After 30 minutes distribute the onions on top of the potatoes, and roast for an additional 15 to 20 minutes.  The potatoes should be very crisp, and the onions caramelized.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A slice by request

The creation of the most simple is the most difficult. Take for example piecrust, which if judged by the ingredient list should be no problem. Then why is it so hard to find a good one? One that is flaky but does not crumble, or firm enough that it holds together yet does not tip over the edge to cardboard. With most endeavors the more seemingly simplistic, the fewer places you get to hide any mistakes. This could not be clearer then with a piecrust.

For so long I avoided making this dough leaving it in the hands of my pastry chef friends, and then I would go begging for some. I was finally force to attack this foe and with offered help of a pastry chef I got the support and coaching I need. I have a feel for food, and can execute that delicate balance been solid technique with a feathered touch. But I had in my mind an aversion to this most basic dough. It must have been my second term pastry instructor in culinary school who declared I would never make a pastry chef. And, he was correct. I knew that I had no feel for making marzipan roses or inscribing “Happy Birthday” in a fluid, wispy fashion with a paper cone filled with melted chocolate, and really had no desire to fiddle with that. I did know I have a palate that loved to explore, and a mind that could figure out the science of a problem.

Piecrust is a fast moving technique, well if you are in this century and are using a food processor. Everything in the ready, and once the flour has been spun for a minute the butter bits, and water following promptly and are done before I think. I always add an egg yolk to the dough in order the thwart the amount of shrinkage many of us have suffered – the add fat from the egg prevents the gluten structure from stretching too much and subsequently contracting – I have ended up with a disk as opposed to the pie shell I was trying to achieve.

I can whip out a pie-dough in minutes now, and using a rolling pin was never an issue. I also enjoy baking cakes and other confectionaries, though don’t confuse me with a baker for I will never pipe a greeting across the top of your cake or decorate it with anything then edible flowers I snip for the garden.

Pecan Pie – yields 10-inch pie
Pastry dough
3-cups all-purpose flour
1/8-teaspoon salt
6-ounces unsalted butter – cut into small pieces and chilled
2 egg yolks
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

To make the dough in the bowl of the food processor, fitted with a plastic blade add the flour and salt. Let the machine run for a minute then through the tube, with the machine running, start dropping in the butter pieces. Then add the egg yolks and cold water. As soon as the dough starts to pull together shut off the food processor. Turn the dough out on to a piece of plastic wrap, and tightly wrap up the dough. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours before using.

2-ounces unsalted butter
2-tablespoons honey or agave
2-cups dark brown sugar
1-tablespoon water
¼-cup half-n-half
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
2-cups pecans

To make the filling place the butter, agave, brown sugar and water in a 2-cups saucepan, and over a medium heat let the butter and sugar melt. Stir every so often to make sure everything melts evenly. Once the butter and sugar is completely melted, remove from the heat and stir in the half-n-half and vanilla.

Beat the eggs until voluminous and pale yellow in color. Slowly stir in the butter/sugar mixture into the eggs to completely combine.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface roll the piecrust out to about ¼-thick, and line a 10-inch pie pan with the dough. With the tines of a fork poke the bottom of the piecrust.

Place in the oven, and cook for 10-minutes. Remove from the oven. Place the pecans in the piecrust and then pour over the egg mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes, and then reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Continue baking until the center of the pie is set, approximately 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool. Once the pie has cooled refrigerate for a few hours before serving.