Sunday, May 30, 2010

Provencal Tomato Soup

What do you do when you have a surplus of fresh tomatoes? I often make either a quick or a long-simmering tomato sauce. In the summer my default plan is gazpacho. But the last time I had an overstock of tomatoes on my counter, I was in the mood for a different kind of soup. I searched my cookbooks and found a promising candidate - a soup with the herbal flavors of Provence.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe is from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper

- I used fresh tomatoes. The author is very clear that Roma tomatoes are not good to use for anything, and recommends using the best tasting fresh tomatoes available, or good quality canned.

- The recipe's ingredient list specifies dried herbs. It was quite tempting to substitute fresh herbs from my little garden, but I didn't. Boy was I glad when I turned the page and found this note:
"Resist substituting fresh herbs for the dried ones called for here. They should be dried (but never powdered), just as they are in Provence's famous blend, herbes de Provence. The ready-made blend is often stale. Here you will be making your own."
- I removed the skins from my fresh tomatoes by immersing in boiling water for 1 minute then immediately putting them into an ice bath. After that the skins just rub off easily.

- I was a bit leery of the cinnamon in the recipe and used less than half and it was almost too much.

- At the end, goat cheese is stirred into the soup. I had a lovely seven-pepper-encrusted goat cheese from the farm box, which added a bit of spicy heat to the soup.

- The recipe has a variation where the dried herbs are replaced by fresh basil, and I plan to try that next time.

the verdict:

This was an unusual take on tomato soup, and I enjoyed every spoonful. The cinnamon nearly ran away with the soup, though, so next time I would add only the smallest pinch, then adjust to taste.

the recipe:

South of France Tomato Soup with Young Chevre
from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper

generous 1/2 tsp dried basil
generous 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
generous 1/2 tsp dried oregano
generous 1/2 tsp dried thyme
extra virgin olive oil
3 med onions, finely chopped (I used about 9 ounces)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
generous 1/4 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup dry vermouth
2 pounds good tasting tomatoes (not Romas), peeled, seeded, and chopped, or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with their liquid, crushed
approximately 28 ounces of broth and 2/3 cup water
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon, or to taste (I used 1/8 tsp of Vietnamese cinnamon, and would use less next time)
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1. Combine the dried herbs in a small cup. Crush them lightly until they become fragrant. Set aside.

2. Film the bottom of a 6-quart pot with olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Stir in the onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the onions are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the reserved herbs and the garlic. Continue cooking until their aromas open up, about 30 seconds.

3. Blend in the tomato paste until there are no lumps; then add the vermouth and tomatoes. Boil for 2 minutes. Pour in the broth, stir, adjust the heat to a light bubble, and cover the pot tightly. Cook for 20 minutes. Then blend in the cinnamon, and taste the soup for seasoning.

4. Ladle the soup into bowls, and top each serving with crumbles of goat cheese.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

{TWD} Coconut Banana Coconut Ice Cream Pie

When the May recipe selections for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group were announced, I puzzled for a minute or two about the Banana Coconut Ice Cream Pie, but then I had the perfect plan: the folks at my gym are crazy about coconut things (whereas my husband, who generally loves ice cream, definitely is not, nor are my book group members) so I decided I'd make this one for an upcoming party at the gym. In order to fit my tasters, I adapted it to be gluten-free, and I decided to up the coconut factor too; if I'm going coconut, I might as well go all out.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The pie was chosen by Spike of the blog Spike Bakes. You can find it on her blog post.

- There's actually no baking involved in this recipe, which makes it perfect to make - and eat - for hot weather. The pie has a press-in toasted coconut crust and an ice cream/banana filling, along with some sliced bananas in the middle and on top. I decided right away to skip the banana slices but keep the mashed bananas in the ice cream filling.

- The pie's filling is made with premium-quality ice cream that is whirled in the food processor with some mashed bananas. Dorie calls for chocolate ice cream but luckily gives her permission to choose an alternate flavor. Chocolate + banana is still not my preferred combination, so I decided to churn some coconut milk ice cream for this pie. I wanted a creamy, custard-style ice cream, and started with this this recipe and made several changes in ingredients and method - scroll down to the end of this post, below, to see the recipe for the ice cream I made. Because I used palm sugar (another coconut ingredient) my ice cream was a tan color. I wish I had some coconut extract because I would have used it. Oh, and the recipe called for rum, but I left it out. 6:00 am is rather early for pie, but definitely too early in the morning for pie with alcohol.

- Dorie's crust contains butter, toasted sweetened shredded coconut and crushed butter cookies. I used unsweetened coconut flakes which toasted to a deep golden color and crunchy texture. To make the crust gluten-free, I skipped the cookies and added an equivalent volume of almond meal and toasted pecan pieces. I also added a bit of palm sugar to make up for some of the sweetness from the lost cookies and my unsweetened coconut. It's worth being a little sloppy when pressing the crust in the pie pan, because the crumbs are scrumptious!

- My pie looked a little naked (no bananas on top) so I wish I had toasted some extra coconut for garnish. Actually, I think that whipped cream and toasted coconut would have been pretty good as a topping.

the verdict:

The filling was smooth and creamy and just a little sweet, with hints of banana and coconut. The real star of this dessert was the crust: it had a surprisingly complex combination of tastes and the well-toasted coconut and pecans ensured a crispy crunch.

People seemed thrilled with the pie, and we kept having to cut smaller and smaller slices to make it stretch as folks came into the gym, until it was all gone except for a few crumbs of crust (the best part!)

I'd love to try this recipe again with different flavors of ice cream, maybe sans banana; Spike made a version with coffee ice cream, my favorite flavor, which sounds fabulous. I also think the crust would pair well with chocolate. Or possibly make the crust all by itself, just to nibble on...

the recipe:

Coconut Milk Ice Cream
my adaptation

4 egg yolks
scant 1/2 cup palm sugar
pinch of salt
2 (13.5- ounce) cans regular coconut milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or coconut extract)

1. In a large bowl, whisk yolks, sugar, and salt together until pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes.

2. Heat coconut milk in a medium heavy bottomed pot over medium heat until simmering.

3. Have an ice bath ready, big enough to fit the pot.

4. Pour the hot coconut milk into the egg mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly, to temper the eggs.

5. Scrape the liquid back into the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until just thickened and mixture coats the back of a spoon, leaving a track when you run your finger along the spoon. It should register 65-70 degrees C. on a digital thermometer. This can take up to 7 minutes but start checking temperature almost immediately. Be sure not to let the mixture boil.

6. Remove pot from the heat and stir in vanilla.

7. Transfer contents of pot to a bowl and chill until cold, preferably overnight.

8. Process mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions then transfer to a container with a lid and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours more.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Turkey Curry with Condiments

Even though I'm getting quite used to coconut in my sweets, curry is a coconut-free zone. I'll take an Indian curry over a Thai curry any day. This is my favorite recipe for curry, from Michael Field's Culinary Classics and Improvisations; (subtitle: "creative leftovers made from main-course masterpieces") If you ever come across a copy of this 1967 cookbook, buy it! Field was a classically-trained French cook, and his recipes are detailed, creative, culturally wide-ranging, a tiny bit involved, but always well worth the effort. When I have any kind of leftover meat or poultry, this is the first cookbook I consult.

I've been making this for many years, and it's a lovely curry.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The recipe is below at the end of this post.

- Instead of curry powder, sometimes I use and equal amount of Patak's Curry Paste (it comes in hot or mild. I love the hot!). This time I used homemade curry powder - from a recipe in Thomas Keller's cookbook Ad Hoc at Home.

- Although the recipe's directions call for straining the sauce, I usually don't strain. I hate to throw away any of the good vegetables! This time the apple I added was quite firm - the type that holds its shape as it cooks rather than gets soft, so I used an immersion blender to smooth the sauce.

the recipe:

Turkey Curry with Condiments

from Michael Field's Culinary Classics and Improvisations; (creative leftovers made from main-course masterpieces)

2 T butter
1 c onion, finely chopped
1/2 c celery, finely chopped
1 small tart apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1/2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
2 T flour
3 T curry powder (I've also used curry paste)
1 tsp tomato paste (I keep this in the freezer)
2 c turkey or chicken stock
1/2 c (or less) heavy cream (I've used yogurt, too)
1 tsp lime juice
2-3 cups cold cooked turkey (or chicken) cut into 2 inch dice
boiled rice


currants or raisins soaked in cognac or sherry
coconut, fresh or canned, shredded
scallions, thinly sliced
bacon, crisp and crumbled
avocados, sliced and sprinkled with lemon or lime juice
almonds, toasted and slivered
hard-cooked eggs, sieved
Bombay duck, heated and crumbled (this is some sort of dried fish)
pappadums, deep-fried or pan fried in butter

1. In large frying pan, melt the butter. Stir in the chopped onions and celery and saute slowly. When the vegetables are soft but not brown, mix in the chopped apple and garlic and continue to cook until the apple is soft enough to be mashed with the back of a spoon. Remove the pan from the heat.

2. In a small bowl combine the flour and the fresh curry powder. Add this to the mixture in the frying pan, stir in the tomato paste, and mash it into as smooth a paste as possible. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat for about 3 minutes.

3. Now, little by little, pour in the 2 cups of turkey or chicken stock, beating slowly with a whisk, then add the cream.

4. Over moderate heat bring the sauce to a boil, still stirring. When it is quite thick and smooth, lower the heat to barely simmering and cook for about 20 minutes with the pan partially covered.

5. Then strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a small casserole, pressing down on the vegetables with the back of a large spoon to extract all their juices before throwing them away.

6. Stir in the lime juice and salt to taste; if at this point the sauce seems too thick, thin it with a little more cream or stock. Now you need only heat the cooked turkey in this, but be careful that the sauce doesn't boil or the turkey may toughen or shred.

7. Serve with plain boiled rice and any or all of the condiments.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

{TWD} Apple x 5 Bread Pudding

If you don't like bread pudding, this looks like an ugly mess with ice cream, but if you do, this represents a delicious confection!
One thing I've learned as a food blogger is that it really only makes sense to post food dishes in the appropriate season. Hearty foods in the cooler months, cold salads in warmer ones, and so on.

That doesn't mean, however, that I prepare food that is solely redolent of the current season. In the privacy of my kitchen I might be baking pumpkin bread in March or simmering a hearty beef stew in June. But it's not likely to be reflected on my blog. I'll take the photos and write up my notes and save the draft until it feels more seasonally appropriate to post.

Lately I've been eying my stash of apples, which have been hanging around the fridge since at least late winter sometime (apples last nearly forever). Last week I cooked up a big batch of homemade applesauce, some of which I used in applesauce muffins for my mother (saved n the "drafts" folder until the fall.) I also baked Dorie Greenspan's Oatmeal Breakfast Bread, which calls for applesauce (saved in the "drafts" folder until the recipe gets chosen for TWD. Sneak preview: it's delicious!) That left me just a few more slightly shopworn apples kicking around.

Enter the genius of Liz of the blog Cake... or Death? (if you think the blog title is cute, just check out her blog!), who brilliantly chose Apple-Apple Bread Pudding for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie selection. The recipe is beautifully adaptable - Dorie gives instructions - for seasonal produce, yet it allows folks like me to use up those lingering apples in the back of the produce drawer. And I can post an apple recipe in May and not have to wait until September. See how that works? Perfect.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Liz has the recipe on her blog post, but as always I urge you to buy the fook Baking: From My Home to Yours.

- There are actually a fair number of steps and elements required by this recipe, and I decided to make it a bit more complicated. Here's the basic method: take slices of a plain, preferably buttery, bread, cut it in triangles, spread one side with apple butter, layer it in a baking pan with caramelized apples in between bread slices. Then pour a custard over everything, let it soak into the bread, and bake in a water bath until done.

- I was planning to bake some yeast bread for this recipe but then I realized that there were 2 slices remaining of Dorie's oatmeal breakfast bread. (You can find the recipe by clicking here). I baked my loaf with lots of homemade applesauce, along with whole wheat and oat flours, palm sugar, currants, pecans and some fragrant spices. I wasn't sure how a quick bread would work as a bread pudding base, but I figured it was worth a try. I guessed that my bread was the right amount for 1/3 recipe of bread pudding.

My mother gave me her old food mill last year; it has come in surprisingly handy. In this recipe, the apples are put through the mill, core, peel and all.
- I decided to use up some more apples by making my own apple butter. I found an apple butter recipe on the blog Simply Recipes. The only real change I made was to use palm sugar. While the apples were cooking, all I could smell in the house was the apple cider vinegar, but luckily the finished apple butter tasted very nice. Apple butter is not difficult to make, but it has several steps and takes a fair amount of time and some specialty equipment. I got to use my mother's old food mill, which I've actually used on several occasions in the past year.

This was the apple after being cooked, milled, and combined with sugar and spices. The next step was more cooking/thickening.
- I changed up the custard ingredients just a bit, using boiled apple cider from King Arthur - a very intense apple syrup - instead of vanilla, and palm sugar for a sweetener. Also, I was out of milk, so used a combination of cream and buttermilk.

- Although dried fruit is pretty common in bread puddings I've known and loved, I've never heard of a bread pudding with fresh fruit. Dorie includes caramelized apples in this recipe, which I made with Honeycrisp apple and granulated maple sugar.

Some of the apple-y bread pudding elements:
top, apple butter,
bottom, left, oatmeal breakfast bread with apples and currants,
bottom, right, caramelized apples with their buttery juices

- When I assembled the bread pudding the slices of bread were too thick to layer and too delicate to handle much without crumbling. I just spread apple butter on the bread, tucked the caramelized apples around as best I could and poured custard into the dish until it looked "right". There was a lot of custard left over. Consequently my bread pudding had a higher proportion of apples because I didn't use all of the custard and I didn't have a ton of bread.

- I popped the pudding into its water bath in the oven without giving it any soak time. I baked it until the custard was set.

- Dorie lists an optional glaze for the top of the pudding, using apple jelly boiled with water. I could not resist an easy opportunity to add another form of apple to my pudding, so that's why it is so shiny in the pictures.

- I served the warm bread pudding with leftover burnt sugar ice cream, and drizzled it all with some more of the King Arthur boiled cider syrup.

An apple jelly glaze made the pudding nice and shiny!
the verdict

Bread pudding haters are legion, and I'm not sure that my pudding will convince any of them to change their views. As I look at the pictures, everything looks messy and smooshed-together, and really, it was that way. But a spoonful of this mishmash creation is Bread Pudding Heaven combined with Apple Heaven.

The caramelized fresh apples - along with the apple quick bread, apple butter, boiled apple cider and apple jelly - took this from being a typical bread pudding to something quite different and very complex. It reminded me a lot of an apple crisp, but without the crisp. It was soft but firm with a hint of spice, and the currants, nuts, and whole grains of the quick bread lent the pudding a bit of heft. All of the many elements combined together to produce a lovely effect.

This dessert was perfect when eaten warm with ice cream, but proved irresistible cold from the fridge. Thanks, Liz, for the great pick; it's the best thing to come out of my kitchen in quite a while!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

{TWD} Quick Classic Berry Tart

I am always excited to see one of Dorie Greenspan's tarts come up in the recipe rotation for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group. So far, Dorie has batted 1.000 on her tart recipes. And if I can use the early local strawberries from my farm box, then so much the better! This week's Quick Classic Berry Tart was a perfect choice for this week.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The tart recipe was chosen by Cristine of Cooking with Cristine. You can find the recipe on her site or on page 377 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

- Dorie calls this tart "Quick" - right there in the recipe's title. While it's not exactly difficult I wouldn't be tempted categorize it as a fast recipe. The tart consists of a shortbread-like crust, pastry cream filling, fresh fruit and a jelly glaze. For best results, the tart is assembled at the last minute.

- I've always loved Dorie's tart crust. I chose to make the version with nuts, using almond meal to replace 1/4 cup of the recipe's flour. Dorie gives quite detailed instructions for making the crust; the key elements being: freezing the butter before mixing it with the dry ingredients in the food processor, processing the ingredients long enough for the dough to form into "clumps and curds", and freezing the formed tart shell before baking. Nothing too tricky, but a bit time consuming. If you have the foresight to keep an extra tart shell in your freezer (actually a great idea) then this recipe might qualify as quick-ish, but there's still the matter of making pastry cream.

- Pastry cream is a cousin to custard, in that you are using egg yolks (and cornstarch in the case of pastry cream) to thicken a liquid mixture over heat on the stove top. We've made it for other TWD desserts, so I while I wasn't particularly worried I did want to make some changes. In the past my pastry cream has been passable although you could say it puts the "paste" in past-ry cream. It always thickens immediately without giving the cornstarch a chance to cook. I decided to try for a thinner consistency this time around, so I reduced the cornstarch and made sure that my egg yolks were not super-large (I used 99 g of yolk total for a full recipe of pastry cream) The cream was a lot more manageable this time; it cooked for a while before I deemed it thick enough. In retrospect, I probably should have left it on the flame for just a little while longer.

- I piled the pastry cream high in the tart shell, disregarding Dorie's directions to fill to below the rim of the shell.

- The fruit topping was no more difficult than washing the berries (and slicing in the case of the strawberries). When I assembled the tart, I arranged the different berries in stripes so each person could cut a piece with a favorite type of berry.

- The tart's final element is a glaze made from red currant jelly boiled with a bit of water. I surveyed my jam collection two or three times without locating the currant jelly I was sure I owned, before using the apple jelly that was in my fridge. Dorie gives the option of dotting each piece of fruit with a drop of glaze, or brushing the glaze over the entire surface of the fruit. I painted my glaze with a pastry brush, and had a ton of glaze left over. A tablespoon or two of jelly with a few drops of water would have been sufficient.

- I brought the tart to book group last Thursday. The combination of the slightly thin pastry cream and the overfilled nature of the tart shell made the tart very difficult to transport. I wouldn't use the word "sloshed" but every time the car turned a corner, there was a wave-like effect in the pastry cream, and some spilled over the sides. Luckily I had taken pictures before it left my kitchen.

the verdict:

The book group members devoured the tart, and while I agreed that it was delicious, I was distracted by my disappointment at how poorly the tart had survived its 5 mile car trip, and by my nagging worries that the pastry cream was too thin. In truth, those things did not matter; the tart was quite good.

In fact, thanks to my husband I now know that I can bake as authentic a French fruit tart as a French restaurant in town. It turns out that on the day I served this tart at book group he had eaten a business lunch at a lovely French restaurant and had ordered fruit tart for dessert. He told me that mine was pretty much equal in taste.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Roast Chicken in Milk

I'm drawn to new recipes for roasting chickens like a moth to a flame. When I saw the wild acclamation for Jamie Oliver's recipe for Roast Chicken in Milk on this post I knew I had to try it for myself. What an unusual set of ingredients - milk, lemon, sage, cinnamon!

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I used my shallow 3 quart cast iron Dutch oven for this recipe.

- The recipe is not difficult but it does require browning the chicken in butter and olive oil before adding the other ingredients and roasting in the oven.

- Any time that I can use large quantities of sage from the garden, I'm automatically predisposed to liking the recipe.

the verdict:

This chicken was incredibly moist and filled with flavor from the lemon, garlic, and sage. The cinnamon was not noticeable, but played a nice supporting role. Rather than truly being roasted I'd say the chicken was almost braised in the milk. We enjoyed every last morsel. Was it our favorite way to cook a whole chicken? Truthfully, I prefer the simple, nearly perfect roast chicken from Thomas Keller (which I posted here), although the two recipes are quite different in taste and method, and there's certainly room for both on my dinner table!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

{TWD} Burnt Palm Sugar Ice Cream

You know that we're heading into warmer weather when ice cream is in the lineup of recipes for the Tuesdays With Dorie baking group - this week's assignment is Burnt Sugar Ice Cream. Luckily I've made enough caramel in the past couple of years that hot sugar no longer strikes terror into my heart, and making custard-style ice cream base is almost second nature by now. We eat a lot of ice cream around here; in fact the ice cream maker has a permanent spot right on the countertop.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- The ice cream was chosen this week by Becky of Project Domestication. The recipe is included in her post or you can find it on page 432 of Dorie Greenspan's book, Baking: From My Home to Yours.

- As ice creams go, this recipe is on the higher-maintenance side. First you have to make caramel on the stovetop, then make it into a custard, also on the stovetop. Then the whole thing chills for a day or so before the ice cream churn gets to work its magic.

- I'd previously made caramel ice cream from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook, posted here, and it's my absolute favorite ice cream. I was sorely tempted to make Dorie's as written so that I could compare the two recipes, but instead I took the ice cream in a different direction. In some of my baking lately I've been using palm sugar, a sweetener with a lower glycemic index than cane sugar. I was very curious to see how it would caramelize, so I decided to use it in this ice cream. Sarah of the blog Blue Ridge Baker uses palm sugar regularly, and I turned to her post where she made caramel corn (seriously amazing-looking stuff!) for some caramelizing pointers.

- I cooked my caramel to 250 degrees as measured on my instant read thermometer. This target temperature was a huge help because it was otherwise hard to tell when the sugar was done because it naturally has a deep caramel color.

- I was low on milk, so I used half & half and heavy cream. My guess is that the finished proportion was probably 1/3 milk to 2/3 cream, similar to other ice creams I've made (rather than the higher quantity of milk that Dorie specified).

the verdict:

The ice cream turned out smooth and creamy with a subtle burnt sugar edge. I sprinkled cocoa nibs on some, which added a good textural contrast. My husband and I both liked the ice cream, but I must say, as far as caramel ice cream, I preferred the opulently strong caramel flavor of Thomas Keller's (and my husband's favorite ice cream is still vanilla!) I'm glad I learned that I can use the palm sugar successfully in ice cream - even when it has a starring role.