May 16th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
I know that many will disagree but, for me, this decade will go down in history as the ten long years of molten chocolate lava cakes. My first experience with them came not in a restaurant but in my own kitchen. Armed with Nigella Lawson’s classic cookbook “How to Eat” (Wiley, 2000), I set out to create her gooey chocolate puddings. These wonderfully decadent treats, I later came to learn, are also known by such monikers as molten chocolate cakes, chocolate lava cakes, and chocolate cakes with warm ganache centers. Same dessert. Countless names.
Check out the dessert menu at any upscale and/or New American restaurant and I bet that you will spot this sweet. Every 21st century chef seems to have fallen for this moist and oozing chocolate specialty.
Although the recipe is quite simple, many mess up the molten chocolate lava cake (MCLC). Usually the chef has baked the pudding for far too long. Insert your fork into one of these overcooked MCLC’s and you’ll not see that glorious stream of steaming chocolate cascade onto your plate. Instead you’ll have a forkful of dry chocolate cake.
To avoid this disappointment, I’ve stopped ordering MCLC’s altogether. If I want to indulge in one, I’ll just make it a home. The recipe couldn’t be easier.
To make MCLC’s or gooey chocolate puddings as they’re called in Lawson’s cookbook, melt chocolate and butter together. Add the liquids to a mixture of sugar, flour and eggs and whisk until a smooth batter forms. Pour the batter into greased and floured ramekins and bake until the edges are firm and cracking but the centers are still very soft. Invert the warm MCLC on a plate and serve with ice cream, chocolate syrup, raspberry coulis or dusting of powdered sugar. If you’re as impatient as I am, you could also eat it straight from the ramekin.
GOOEY CHOCOLATE PUDDINGS
From Nigella Lawson’s “How to Eat” (John Wiley and Sons, 2000)
4½ ounces bittersweet chocolate
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large eggs (or egg beaters)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grease and flour 4 1-cup ramekins.
Put the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and the two are well-blended.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar and flour. Add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture and whisk together.
Pour the pudding mix into the ramekins. Place them on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until tops are set. Serve immediately.
May 8th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
Ah, beignets and funnel cakes. I can’t think of two more delectable, fried, sugar-coated snacks. After years of gorging on beignets each time that I visit New Orleans and of living next to Apple Frankie, the undisputed “funnel cake king,” I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the two. So, with a nod to the aforementioned A. Frankie, I shall attempt to determine, once and for all, which is truly the best greasy sweet.
Although I flew back from New Orleans over a month ago, beignets linger on my palate and mind. Blanketed with powdered sugar, these pillows of dough are served hot and as a trio at the Crescent City landmark Cafe du Monde. Light and oh-so sweet, they are a heavenly treat. To balance out the avalanche of sugar hitting my bloodstream and clothes, I pair beignets with a decaf, chicory-laced cafe au lait and plenty of napkins.
While I associate beignets with New Orleans, they actually originated in France. Made from the delicate, spongy pâte à choux, these airy, square pastries are found throughout the country. They likewise pop up in such French-influenced regions as Quebec and, of course, New Orleans.
Because of their lightness and semblance to a doughnut, I may eat beignets for breakfast or as a late night bite. I would not do this, though, with a funnel cake. Heartier and bigger than a beignet, this golden latticework of deep-fried batter seems better suited for dessert, if not for a decadent dinner.
Not everyone shares my view. Called “drechter kuche” by its creators, the Pennsylvania Dutch, the funnel cake was reputedly served to farmers as a mid-morning snack. Today, however, most people consume them at street fairs, carnivals, festivals and concerts.
Unlike beignets, the funnel cake starts with a batter of eggs, milk, flour, brown sugar, vanilla and baking powder. Drizzled into a deep fryer, the resultant cake gets sprinkled with powdered sugar and optionally topped with apples, strawberries, or chocolate sauce. No question that it’s a bit heavier — and sweeter — than its French counterpart.
So, which is the better deep-fried sweet? After years of random samples and thoughtful analysis I fear that I have to sit the fence on this one. Whether for breakfast, dessert, dinner or a late night snack both are a divine delicacy.
BEIGNETS From Rima and Richard Collin’s “The New Orleans Cookbook” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004) Makes roughly 5 dozen beignets
*Note that the dough must be prepared in advance and refrigerated overnight. If you don’t wish to make the beignets right away, the dough will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup undiluted canned evaporated milk
7 cups flour
1/4 vegetable shortening
oil for deep frying
Put the warm water in a large bowl, add the dry yeast and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add the sugar, salt, eggs and evaporated milk. Slowly stir in 4 cups of flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and well combined. Beat in the shortening then add the remaining flour, about 1/3 cup at a time. Stir until it becomes too stiff to do so and then work the dough with your fingers. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
On a clean, floured surface roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into rectangles measuring 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Preheat the oil in a deep fryer to 360 degrees Fahreheit.
Fry 3 or 4 beignets at a time until they are puffed and golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Using tongs, turn them over once or twice so that they are evenly browned. Drain each batch on a wire cooling rack. Place them on a platter covered with paper towels and put the platter in the oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining beignets.
Liberally cover the beignets with powdered sugar and serve hot. Yum!
May 1st, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
On the East Coast we’re in the middle of a spring heat wave. Sunshine. Ninety degrees. Pleasant breeze. All this beautiful weather spurs me to do one thing — drag my deathly pale, vitamin-D deprived body outside to dine al fresco.
Italian for “fresh” or “open air,” al fresco refers quite simply to eating outdoors. At one time I thought that this was ridiculous. Who wants to swat away flies and bees, listen to irksome traffic and breath in pungent car exhaust as she eats? As it turns out, I do. As soon as the thermometer tops 55 and restaurants start erecting those towering, tree-like space heaters, I’m sliding into a wrought iron cafe chair and dining in the bracing spring air.
Why the radical change of heart? After a cold, dark winter spent indoors I no longer can bear to waste a minute of sunlight. Pass me my sunglasses and I’ll be off to bask in the sun and nosh on refreshing, seasonal fare.
No gazpacho or vichyssoise on the menu? No problem. Although lighter dishes seem more appropriate for an al fresco atmosphere, I’m not opposed to a plate of spaghetti or bowl of hot parsnip soup. As long as I can consume it under bright skies and in fresh air, I’ll be happy with the cuisine.
When cooking for an al fresco night at home, I tend to steer clear of heavier foods. A chilled couscous salad, plate of steamed asparagus, zahtar-seasoned chicken or simply a bowl of strawberries Romanoff are all favorite offerings for a warm evening of outdoor eating.
CHILLED COUSCOUS SALAD
Serves 6 to 8
8 ounces Israeli couscous
12 ounce can of chopped tomatoes, drained
2 red bell peppers, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into small chunks
3 tablespoons of Moroccan (black) olives, finely chopped
handful of chickpeas
¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cook the couscous per package’s instructions then tumble into a large bowl.
Add the tomatoes, peppers, scallions, cucumber, olives and chickpeas to the couscous. Toss to combine.
Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, curry and cayenne pepper then pour over the couscous. Stir until dressing is evenly distributed. Refrigerate and allow the salad to absorb the dressing for at least 1 hour. Serve cold or at room temperature.
½ cup olive oil
4 chicken breasts
2 to 4 tablespoons zahtar
Pour the oil in a baking dish and put the chicken breast in the oil, flipping over and coating each side completely. Sprinkle the zahtar on both sides of the breast, patting the flesh to embed the slivers of sesame seeds, etc.
Cover, refrigerate and allow to marinate for a few hours.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the chicken in a room temperature baking dish and insert in the oven. Roast for 45 minutes or slightly longer, until chicken is well-cooked. Sprinkle over a little sea salt and serve.
STRAWBERRIES ROMANOFF IN MERINGUES
Courtesy of Liz Theisen
2 quarts ripe strawberries, washed
1 (6-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, defrosted
1 cup port wine
3 tablespoons Mandarine liqueur
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Forgotten Meringues (recipe follows)
Flowers or flower petals or shelled pistachios
6 egg whites
1-½ teaspoons lemon juice or ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups sugar
Hull strawberries and place in a large bowl. Add orange juice concentrate and port and season to taste with a little sugar, if desired. Gently stir and allow berries to mellow in this mixture for 2 hours. Add Mandarine liqueur, taste and add more sugar, if desired. Whip cream with or without sugar to taste. Fill meringue shells with berries, garnish with flowers or pistachios and serve with whipped cream on the side. Serves about 10.
Forgotten Meringues: (These meringues bake while you sleep.)
Beat egg whites with lemon juice or cream of tartar until frothy. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff and glossy. Pipe into 12 nest shapes or drop by small spoonfuls in circles on brown paper on a baking sheet.
Place tray in preheated 400-degree oven, close door and turn off the heat. (Don’t peak!) Let stand overnight in the oven. Meringues will be baked by morning. Makes 12.