Saturday, February 28, 2009

Daring Flourless Chocolate Cake

Do you know what time it is?

I think so, but how are we going to make pencils that taste like bacon? Or maybe we should make bacon that tastes like pencils? (Narf.)

(Ten points to anyone who understands that.)

It's Daring Bakers time!

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.
We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.

The flourless chocolate Valentino was mandatory, the ice cream encouraged but not required. Thank goodness, because I just did not have enough time this month to make ice cream. I don't have an ice cream machine and between spending nearly the first half of the month in Florida and the last half of the month with my nose buried in text books, I just didn't have the time.

Which is unfortunate, because I really wanted to try it out.

I'm sure I'll get there eventually.

I've always been intrigued by the mechanics of flourless cakes - it just doesn't seem right that delicate, wispy egg whites should be able to support such a heavy ingredient like chocolate. But they do, and they do so quite nicely. It creates a cake that veritably melts on the tongue. One of the best aspects of making a cake like this is the amount to which the chocolate is showcased. It's not masked or disguised with other flavors - the cake will taste exactly like the chocolate used.

This is all great and lovely if you are a huge dark chocolate fan, but I'm not. I was unsure of how to proceed until I had a great epiphany - mint chocolate! I love dark chocolate and mint together. And oh boy was it delicious.

It was like eating a slice of those Andes mints. Pure heaven.

If you've ever entertained the idea of making a flourless chocolate cake but haven't because it sounded too difficult or intimidating - try this recipe. I'm the worst whipped egg white folder in the universe and it worked perfectly for me. It's probably one of the easiest things I've ever made.

A big thanks to Wendy of WMPE's blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef for such a fun and novel challenge. Of course a big thanks to our lovely founders, Lis and Ivonne.

Please be sure to check out all the other Daring Bakers to see their amazing creations this month too.

Chocolate Valentino

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter.
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.

Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.

10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tupelo Honey Glazed Roasted Chicken

I love honey. I always have.

When I was very young my family lived in an agricultural community in Northern Washington. We lived on a defunct raspberry farm surrounded by strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry fields, dairy farms, hazelnut orchards - and only a few miles away from a great uncle who kept bees.

There are few things I remember more fondly about food in my childhood than a bowl of fresh raspberries from the back yard and a bowl of fresh milk - maybe with a sprig of mint - or a piece of still warm from the oven bread slathered with my great uncle's raw honey.

Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

So started a life long love affair with honey, whether it was used as a sweetener, a flavoring agent, or just eaten out of a jar (not that I would ever do that) I'm always game to eat some honey. Kind of like Winnie the Pooh I guess.

I like it in tea, in yogurt, on cakes or in cookies. The more varied kinds of honey the better - orange blossom, clover blossom, spiked with cinnamon or infused with berries. So it was with great anticipation that I bought a bottle of Tupelo honey while on vacation in Washington D.C. last Christmas.

If you're unfamiliar with Tupelo honey it is honey made from the blossoms of the White Tupelo Gum Tree. The Tupelo tree grows in flooded areas in the South - Georgia, Florida, Louisiana - but the trees used to produce the honey commercially are typically along the Choctawhatchee, Apalachicola and Ochlockonee rivers. It is prized for it's unique flavor and inability to granulate. It is also the most expensive honey because of the great pains taken to produce it in its purest form.

Beekeepers fastidiously clean out the honeycomb right as the Tupelo trees blossom to eliminate the flavors of previous honeys. The bees are then usually set on elevated platforms just beneath the trees to encourage them to only collect from these trees.

The result? A honey with a beautiful tawny color, a sleek, smooth mouthfeel and the most captivating depth of flavor. It's not saccharine sweet like most commercially produced honeys, instead leaving the mouth with a feeling of heaviness and complexity. Not in a cloying way, but in a substantial way. It coats the tongue and slides down smoothly - an altogether pleasing experience.

I decided to glaze a chicken with it - for no other reason than I thought it might be tasty.

It was.

You should try it.

Tupelo Honey Glazed Roasted Chicken

1 whole chicken, approx. 4-5 lbs.
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Tupelo honey

Rinse the chicken thoroughly removing all organs from the cavity. Pat dry. Sprinkle liberally with salt and roast in a 425 F oven for 50-55 minutes until a thermometer inserted in a fleshy part of the thigh registers 170 F or a knife inserted between leg and body produces juices that run clear. Melt together the butter and honey and brush over the chicken liberally. Put back in 425 F oven for 4-5 minutes to darken, taking care not to let the skin burn - that is the tasty part after all. Remove from oven, brush with remaining glaze and allow to rest for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Meatballs in Broth with Little Pasta

I'm pretty sure you can't go wrong with a combination like meatballs and pasta. Granted, usually they're in a more traditional application like spaghetti and meatballs, but this adheres to similar guidelines. Well seasoned, highly flavorful meat and sauce/broth to cover up the fact that I'm too damn lazy to make my own pasta and I buy the tastes like cardboard stuff.

You know, the same guidelines everyone follows.

This soup really does rely on the quality of a good broth, so ideally use homemade. I know, it's a pain, but homemade stock really is the foundation of a good soup. So get to boilin'.

This would look way cooler if you used a pasta like ditalini - but tiny shells like these will do in a pinch. You know, the kind of pinch that involves not wanting to drive to the grocery store to buy ditalini.

That kind.

Meatballs in Broth with Little Pasta

24 oz. broth/stock (chicken or beef, choose your poison)
1 1/2 cups little pasta
8 oz. ground beef
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
2-3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, minced
1 egg
1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
salt and black pepper to taste

grated parmesan and chopped parsley to garnish

In a bowl combine beef, garlic, parmesan, parsley, egg, and breadcrumbs until thoroughly combined. Shape into 1/4 oz (about half the size of a quail egg) meatballs. Bring the broth to a boil in a medium pot. Add meatballs and boil for 5 minutes. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Serve hot with parmesan and fresh parsley to garnish. Pairs well with a Sauv Blanc and crusty bread.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quinoa with Braised Greens and Applewood Smoked Bacon

Quinoa (keen-WAH) is well known for it's nutritional benefits. It's low in fat, high in complex carbs and 1 cup contains 58% of the recommended daily intake of manganese (strengthens cell walls and stimulates collagen production - reportedly also helps in the boudoir). Plus, the 8 grams of protein in each cup of cooked quinoa are complete proteins. That means it contains all 8 essential amino acids, all necessary for tissue development and healthy body function. Basically, quinoa is awesomeness incarnate.

There's only one problem...

It tastes like bird seed smells.

I might be named after a bird but that doesn't necessarily mean I want to eat like one.

Nonetheless, Mr. TA is currently training for a marathon in April, and as such we're trying to maintain a diet that keeps him nourished and energized, but doesn't make me a big fat cow. Sorry, as much as I like going to the gym I'm not running a marathon. I would die.



Enter quinoa. Great source of nutrition, itty-bitty footprint on the caloric scale. (I just thought of that scene from Aladdin where the Robin Williams says, "Great-Big Cosmic Power! Itty-bitty living space. I loled.) I decided that I had to discover some way to cook it to make it more palatable to my non-bird-seed-loving tastes and developed this.

It's good.

Quinoa with Braised Greens

1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
10 oz. baby spinach
1/2 yellow onion, chopped fine
2 slices applewood smoked bacon, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock

In a small saucepan with lid rinse quinoa until water runs clear. Drain completely. Add 1 1/2 cups chicken stock and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Cover, reduce heat to low, and let sit 20 minutes undisturbed. Meanwhile, in a large skillet brown the bacon over medium-high heat. When browned and starting to crisp stir in the onion and cook until beginning to soften. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the spinach in bunches until it all fits. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and cover. Let cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid and cook until most of the braising liquid evaporates. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve over the quinoa.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mycology 101.2

Mushroom identification is hard.

Very hard.

It takes years to develop the skill to forage fungi on your own, and even then it is common to encounter specimens that seem to fit no category.

However, it can be done, quite obviously, or we would never have discovered the delicious mushrooms we consume regularly.

The first step is to understand the key parts of a mushrooms form:

Noting key characteristics of a mushroom in the field can save you a world of trouble. How frustrating would it be to collect dozens of fungi, and traipse miles back home to discover that because the annulus ('ring' in above diagram) is too prevalent - this isn't some tasty treat, it's some deadly treat?

Next, you need a mushroom foraging kit. Carpenter recommends taking these items with you:

*Wicker Basket for carrying fungi (never put mushrooms in a plastic container, they sweat and begin to decay almost immediately)

*digging tool (a common garden spade/trowel works wonderfully)

*brush (preferably very soft) for removing dirt and litter without damaging the fungi

* knife

*magnifying glass (optional, but very helpful to those of us who don't have 20/20 vision)

*wax paper bags for organization (useful not only for carrying, but also for separating specimens)

These books are also highly recommended by Carpenter:

All the Rain Promises and More

Mushrooms Demystified

Steps to Collect and Identify

  1. Dig up entire mushroom, including the base. Also take some of the leaf litter surrounding the mushroom and keep that as well.
  2. When possible, attempt to collect at least three stages of each mushroom (i.e. baby, young, and mature), this can make identification much easier.
  3. Make note of the habitat in which the fungi is growing: is it in the grass or dirt? Is it growing near other plants or is it isolated?
  4. Is the mushroom growing out of the ground or is it stemming from wood? Be sure to check under the layer of leaf litter to see if the fungi is growing from a buried log or branch. This can be key to identification.
  5. Note and staining or bruising when the fungi is rubbed or cut. Some specimens will exude a pleasant or noxious scent, some will turn blue or red when rubbed.
  6. Make note of any distinctive odor.
  7. Take a spore print with a mature mushroom (remove stem and place cap of mushroom, gill side down, on a white piece of paper/paper towel - this will provide a 'print' of the spores from the gill, giving a more accurate spore color).
  8. There are further steps for identification, including biting and chewing a small piece of the mushroom to sample taste, but I won't go into those. The last thing I need is for some Darwin Award candidate to read my blog and decide they can taste test the mushrooms growing in their back yard.
  9. And finally, take the mushrooms to a professional. Don't ever eat a mushroom without having it identified by an outside source. That's just asking for an uncertain fate.

Finally, take note of the immediate surroundings of the mushroom. Many mushrooms maintain a mycorrhizal relationship with trees or other organisms. For instance, some kinds of mushrooms benefit from growing near pine trees, others prefer oak. The roots of the mycelium body intermingle with the roots of the tree, passing or exchanging nutrients. In fact, Carpenter related an anecdote about an instance in Australia with Monterey Pines. Apparently some people decided they loved Monterey Pine trees so much they absolutely had to have some home in Australia. They took some shoots back with them, and though they grew, they didn't perform nearly as well as those in Monterey. They inquired from some scientist/local guru/hippie (?) in Monterey why their trees weren't growing like they should be and were told that Monterey Pines were dependent upon a certain type of fungus for successful growth. Sure enough, the Australians brought back some of the fungi and their trees perked right up.

I have no idea whether or not this actually occurred, but it should illustrate the need to identify not only the mushroom, but the surrounding organisms as well. After all, misidentifying one mushroom could lead to a one way trip to the county morgue, so it's worth it find out the difference between a pine and an oak tree.

Next up are some of the mushrooms my class found on our hike through Garland Ranch Regional Park.

This is an Amethyst Mushroom Laccaria amethystea

This is the same species, but mature

I'm not quite sure what these were, but they were one of my favorite non-edible ones we found. They're just so adorable...

Again, I don't know what this guy is, but he smelled deliciously of almonds. Not 'like' almonds, but exactly like an almond croissant or marzipan. So much so that I nearly made some almond madeleines when I got home.

This one was unfortunately inedible, it looked so big and tasty. Held in the hand of a lovely fellow named Jerome. He and his wife were great fun.

Finally, this was my least favorite of all of the mushrooms we found. I absolutely love the colors in the stem, but if you look very closely you can see tiny black dots all over the mushroom - those were creepy crawly little bugs that swarmed over your hand in seconds. It was effing gross.

And so that ends my amateur musings over mycology. Perhaps one day I'll be able to forage on my own. That's just as likely as my actually buying Phil Carpenter to do so for me though. (But hey Phil, if you're interested...) I'd like to thank all the lovely people at Garland Ranch Regional Park, Joe Narvaez, Ranger John (sorry, that's all I ever heard you called - thanks for the roaring fire though!)and others. Thanks to Phil Carpenter for a lovely and informative class. And last, thanks to all the really cool people I met in the class (Hi Jill!), hopefully I'll see you all at one in the future?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Superpowers and Mussels

I would like everyone to know that I have super-powers.

That's right. I'm a genuine, bona fide, non-cape wearing, spandex-eschewing super hero.

Would you like to know what my super power is?

Bringing the frigid cold to any tropical climate I visit. Isn't that nice?

Honestly, the moment a warm climate learns I am coming to visit the sun goes on strike, the wind starts a-blowin' and the icy fingers of doom start creeping their way towards my locale.

How else can you explain 22 degree weather in Florida? Especially when the week before I got there it was 80 and the day I left it warmed back up to 75. I'm cursed. And yes, this has happened on a few trips to Florida.

I think my brother-in-law may actually start barring my entrance to his state if I keep this up. I'm totally harshing his surfing mellow...yo.

In any event, that explains my silence for the last ten days - a trip to Florida to see my lovely sister A., her husband, also A., and my nephew R. My sister is pregnant with her first child (R. is technically a step-nephew), and though I'll be traveling out when she delivers this summer, I was anxious to see her one last time before she was a mom. I swear she's the most gorgeous pregnant woman I've ever seen too - it's not very often I'm jealous of a pregnant woman's figure, I'll tell ya that much.

I had actually uploaded photos so I could post while I was away, but I forgot to write down the recipes for this mussel dish and totally forgot what I did. Thankfully they still needed some improvement, so it's not like I lost some epic recipe. I'll just have to post about mussels again when I make them next time. I will say this - Applewood Smoked Bacon and Mussels are great friends. They should never be separated. Not ever. It's like heaven in your mouth.

Even though they weren't exactly what I was looking for, they were still very quickly devoured with a nice sourdough baguette.

Up next I'll be posting the next segment from my mushroom foraging class with a bunch of pictures illustrating what we found on our hike. There are some real pretty ones I'm excited to show.

Now I just have to get it up before spring semester starts on Saturday and I'm once again mired in piles of homework...