Monday, April 30, 2012

A Spicy Challenge

I’ve got a special post today, as it’s my first post as part of the 5 Star Foodie Makeover group!  I joined just in time for their May Event – Restaurant Wars.

For this event, the group got divided into teams of three.  Each team was responsible for choosing the theme or main ingredient for their restaurant.  Then each member produces an appetizer, main course or dessert. The first challenge was to decide on a main ingredient with my teammates Faith and Evelyne.  We wanted something a little different…  something challenging…  a vegetable none of us like?  Indeed, we’re trying to come around to this root vegetable ourselves :) 

Image source (with instructions)

Radishes are members of the mustard family Brassicaceae, along the likes of broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts.  The flesh of radishes is crisp with a peppery flavor.  Some of the more common varieties of radishes include red globe, black, breakfast and daikon. A favorite of any gardener, radishes are easy to grow and their rapid germination means that radishes will be one of your first harvests!  Radishes are a good source of fiber, vitamin B6, riboflavin, magnesium, copper, calcium, potassium, folate and vitamin C.

Image source
When buying radishes, choose ones that are firm, unblemished and brightly colored.  It is also good to make sure that the attached greens are nice and healthy as well.  If you aren’t using them right away, cut away the greens and pop the radishes into a jar and cover with water.  They’ll stay nice and crisp in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.

While they’re most often enjoyed raw or pickled, we thought radishes would be a worthy challenge for Restaurant Wars, where they are going to take center stage through a three course meal.  To make things even more interesting, citrus and vanilla will be incorporated into each dish.  Go ahead, have a taste!

Click to enlarge

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Green Garbanzos

I know, you wanted to see some more macarons...but you'll have to wait for those!  I just had to get this post up while fresh chickpeas are still in season!  For those of you in the area, I spotted them at Russo's this past weekend, but they've also been seen at Indian stores.

At first I had no idea what to do with them, but I opened one up to reveal green chickpeas!  When I came across a recipe for a Fresh Garbanzo Salad with Mango, I knew the fate of my little green brains :)  Check out the recipe at cate's world kitchen!

I brought this side dish to a friend's house for lunch, and everyone really enjoyed it.  The salad was delicious, and a hit with my friends, but next time I pick these up, I might just wind up eating them like edamame!

Have you ever tried fresh chickpeas??  If so, how did you prepare them?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Macaron Mania

Macarons have been on my list of things I wanted to make for awhile now, but they're a daunting proposition.  Luckily I had Elina to help tackle the challenge :)  Prior to our macaron date, I did some reading online.  There's lots of "advice" out there, but I found posts from 6 BittersweetsAn Edible MosaicTartelette (Demystifying Macarons), and BraveTart (here and here) to be particularly helpful.  Feel free to check them out for more step-by-step photos and even some videos!

Things went pretty smoothly for our first time, but I still learned some things along the way!

Lesson 1:  Use 1/2" tip with a pastry bag or cut an appropriately small hole in a plastic bag to use for piping the macarons.

Lesson 2:  Don't overmix the batter!  On one batch, I forgot to add the food coloring until it was a bit too late, and my batter was the consistency of pancake batter.  This, combined with a poorly cut "tip" in my plastic bag and my macarons were hard to pipe and came out quite large.

Lesson 3:  Don't make your macaron shells too large.  They'll start to brown on top long before they have cooked all the way through.  Macarons that aren't completely cooked don't come off parchment paper easily.

Lavender Macarons w/Honey-Vanilla Mascarpone
adapted from Gourmantine and Tartalette
Yield:  20-25

I only used about half of the mascarpone for one batch of the shells...  I'd recommend making another batch of shells ;)  While my shells look under-filled, you could definitely still taste the filling, so I'm not sure I would change a thing!

For the macaron shells:
110g [aged] egg whites, RT*
dash salt
25g evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar)
100g sifted almond flour
200g powdered sugar
1T dried lavender
food coloring, optional

For the Honey-Vanilla Mascarpone:
8oz mascarpone
2 vanilla beans
2T honey (I used clover honey and eye-balled it)

Sift powdered sugar into a medium bowl and then add sifted almond flour.  Grind lavender in a coffee grinder (or use a mortar and pestle) and then rub through the sifter to make sure you have a fine powder.  Whisk together powdered sugar, almond flour and lavender.

Using a stand or handheld mixer, whip egg whites and salt on medium-low until foamy.  Add the evaporated cane juice and continue beating, on medium high until you have flossy, medium-stiff peaks.  If you pick up the beater, the egg whites shouldn't drip off.

Add almond flour/powdered sugar mix to the egg whites.  Add food coloring to a rubber spatula (if using) and then get ready for the macronage!  Macronage, or the combining of egg whites with the almond flour/sugar mixture, actually deflates the egg whites so you don't have to be too careful with the folding.   Fold, vigorously at first, then a bit slower to evaluate the batter consistency.  The whole process shouldn't take more than 50 strokes (I didn't count).

What should perfectly-mixed batter looked like?  I've seen it described several ways, but the easiest way for me to test was to put a small amount on a plate; it should form a smooth dome when ready, if it forms a peak it is under-mixed and requires a few more folds.  You want to avoid over-mixed batter, which will be a bit runny and have the consistency of pancake batter.  Alternatively, you can use your spatula to lift and drop the batter onto itself; if the ribbon gradually disappears into the batter within 30sec, it's ready to go.

Spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" tip or a plastic ziploc bag.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and pipe batter into 1" circles, leaving ~1" in between each macaron shell.  I found a great template to use for piping the shells from Kevin and Amanda that I slide under the parchment paper to get the appropriate size.  Don't forget to remove the paper template before baking!  Tap the baking sheet (firmly!) on the counter several times to dislodge any air bubbles that might cause cracks when they're baking.

Let the macaron shells sit at RT for 30-60min, during which time the shell should become dry to the touch.

Preheat your oven to 300deg.  (I did this about the 30min mark, and by the time it was preheated it was about 60min after piping the macarons)

Bake macarons in preheated oven for 15-20min, or until the parchment peels away cleanly from the macaron.  If you see wet batter below the shell, it's not done yet.  Once the macaron shells have baked, let them cool completely on the pan.

The shells can be made a few days ahead and stored in a ziploc bag until you fill them.

To prepare the filling, split the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds and add them to the mascarpone.  Add honey and mix well (I did this in the mascarpone container, but you could certainly use a bowl).

To assemble the macarons (should be done at least 24hrs before you need them!), match up similarly sized macarons.  Pipe or spoon filling onto the bottom of one macaron, then place another on top of the filling (I actually used a spatula).  I didn't measure the filling, I just didn't want to overfill them so the buttercream oozed out the sides when I transported them.

Store assembled macarons in a parchment-lined airtight container and store in the fridge for at least 24hrs (up to a week or so).  Let the macarons come to room temperature before serving (an hour or so should do).

*For one batch, I separated my egg whites/yolks and aged them in the fridge for four days before bringing them to RT the day I made them.  Another batch got separated and aged for two days at RT before use.  Both seemed to work just fine!

These were pretty incredible, and a favorite of many who got to taste the two flavors I made for the baby shower :)  (It was a Thing 1 & Thing 2 theme for twins, hence the color!)  You'll have to stay tuned for the recipe for #2!

Have you ever made macarons??  Any tips to share?  Do you have a favorite place to eat them?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Veggie Sandwich

I like a really good sandwich from time to time.  This one, was really good.  Oozy egg yolk, flavorful and tangy goat cheese spread, roasted sweet potatoes...  this sandwich packs quite a punch.  It's one I will definitely be eating again soon!

Sun-dried Tomato Goat Cheese Spread
Recipe by Shannon

2oz goat cheese
1oz sundried tomatoes (not in oil*), roughly chopped
1/8t salt
2T parsley
1 garlic clove
~2t extra virgin olive oil
almond milk

Add goat cheese, tomatoes, salt parsley and garlic to the small bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until starting to combine, then add in olive oil.  Run for a little bit longer, then taste and adjust to taste with salt and pepper.  Process again, adding enough almond milk to achieve a spreadable consistency.  Store in the fridge.

For the sandwich...

Hearty bread (I used some Irish Soda Bread similar to this w/o raisins)
Sunny side-up or poached egg
Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds
Sliced Red Onion
Sun-dried Tomato Goat Cheese Spread, see above
Avocado Slices (optional)

What is your favorite sandwich ingredient??

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Things

I love my new spice rack.

My absence of late can in part be due to these...  read in a total of 10 days.  Woops?

Excuse the cell phone picture (clearly not an iPhone!)

My cousins make some cute kids ;)  I was lucky enough to spend some time with them this weekend!

It was also a good year because my attempt at Babci's poppyseed bread came out better than last year!  You'll see it again soon, when I have time to type it up...

How did you spend your Easter/Passover weekend?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Soup's On!

As soon as the temperatures dropped after the week of beautiful weather, I immediately craved soup.  How about a two-fer to make up for the scarcity of my online presence the past few weeks?

First up-- a garlic-infused soup reminiscent of a stuffed baked potato.  Hearty and creamy (w/o the cream), load up the toppings and dig in!!

Baked Potato Soup
adapted from Smitten Kitchen (& Cook's Illustrated Garlic Potato Soup)
Serves 4

1/2-1 head of garlic (whatever you have on hand)
1T butter
1T extra virgin olive oil
1/2-3/4c thin sliced leeks, just use the white and light green parts (or shallots, if you can't find leeks)
5-6c low-sodium broth (chicken or veggie)
2 bay leaves
3/4t sea salt
2-2.5lb potatoes (I used PEI potatoes, but Russets would be a good choice)
1/2c greek yogurt (2% recommended)
freshly ground black pepper

topping suggestions:
thinly sliced scallions or chives
crumbled bacon
grated cheddar or gruyere
sauteed mushrooms
anything goes ;)

Rinse a head of garlic (or the half you have left, in my case) to remove any dirt.  Cut the top third off the head of garlic as well as right along the base (with the roots).  Remove any loose papery skins.  Pop out the top thirds of the cloves and mince them.  Take the bottom two thirds and make a bouquet garni in a square of cheesecloth with the bay leaves.  Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to form a sachet.

Melt the butter in a heavy pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the oil and leeks and cook until soft, ~5min.  If you walk away and come back to some browned butter, don't worry, the soup will still turn out ;)  Add the minced garlic and cook 1min.  Add broth, bouquet garni and salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 40min, until garlic in the bouquet is very tender.

While the broth is simmering, chop your potatoes to 1/2" dice.  Whether you peel them is up to you, I tend to leave them on, both for taste and nutrition.

Add potatoes and simmer, partially covered for 20min, until the potatoes are tender.  Remove the bouquet garni and remove from the heat.  Stir in greek yogurt and then using an immersion blender (or blender or food processor) puree to your desired consistency.  I went for a slightly chunky soup and only pureed about half.  Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.  Serve with your desired toppings.


Can you believe that I'd never had French Onion Soup until I made it myself?  Anything with caramelized onions has my name all over it, so when my roommate made some homemade beef stock, I decided it was finally time.

French Onion Soup
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4-6

~2lbs yellow onions, thinly sliced
2T unsalted butter
1T extra virgin olive oil
1t salt
1/4t evaporated cane juice (or granulated sugar)
3T white whole wheat flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
dash worcestershire sauce
dash reduced sodium soy sauce
~1t dijon mustard
1/2c dry white wine (or dry white vermouth)
4c homemade beef stock
4c homemade veggie stock
freshly ground black pepper

for garnish
thinly sliced baguette
finely grated gruyere

Melt butter and oil in a large dutch oven over medium low heat.  Add the onions and stir to coat.  Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low.  After 15min, turn the heat to medium low and uncover the pot, add salt and sugar and stir to combine.  Cook onions for 30-40min, stirring frequently, until the onions are a deep golden brown.

Once the onions have caramelized, sprinkle them with flour and cook for a few min, stirring.  Add the wine, garlic, soy and worcestershire sauces and dijon mustard.  Add both stocks, a little at a time, stirring between additions.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and continue to simmer, partially covered for 30-40min.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325deg.  Arrange ovenproof bowls or crocks on a baking sheet.  If you're going for appetizer-sized portions, 6 will do.  Ladle soup into each of the crocks and then top with a slice (or two) of baguette and the finely grated gruyere, how much is up to you ;)  To finish, bake the soup for 20min or so, and then broil a few more minutes so the cheese gets bubbly.  Serve immediately, with pot holders!

I should note that the soup is delicious in its own right (without the melty cheese on top), and my next version might use a hearty mushroom stock to make a vegetarian version!

Hopefully soup time is coming to an end, I'm ready for asparagus and peas and rhubarb and...  strawberries!!    What's been going on in your kitchen lately??
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