Sunday, March 29, 2009

Asparagus & Potato Tart

This tart was inspired by a french L'Aligot tart I had made for some of my girlfriends which seemed to make them almost literally swoon. The recipe is loosely adapted from Tamasin Day-Lewis' great book, The Art of the Tart. Now, I want to say straight away that if a French person is reading this post, I fully realize that this is not even close to a real L'Aligot Tart and I am not trying to make it so. This is merely my American take on Ms. Day-Lewis' English take on a traditional French tart. So there.

I suspect its deliciousness comes from the fact that the filling, is essentially, mashed potatoes. The first time I made it I spoke with my local cheesemonger about what cheese could be substituted for the traditionally used, soft, white French cheese. She suggested a Tickler Cheddar, known for it's melting qualities and slightly pungent taste. It worked perfectly, but I suspect that a number of good melting cheeses could step in just fine.

For the tart shell:
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons cold milk or cream
  • 1 egg, beaten and set aside
  • 1 rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom

In a food processor, combine the flours, salt, and butter and pulse until the mixture looks crumbly. With the processor running, add 1 tablespoon of the milk, and if it does not start to form a ball, and another tablespoon. Place the dough onto a sheet of wax paper. Flatten into a disk, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or longer.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and with your hands, form into a skinny rectangle. Roll the dough out so it is slightly larger than the tart pan, about 1-inch or so on all sides. Carefully place the dough into the pan and press against the sides and bottom discarding any extra. Place the tart pan onto a baking sheet. Place a piece of parchment paper over the dough and fill with dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, discard the paper and beans, prick all over with a fork, brush with the beaten egg, and bake for 5 more minutes. Set aside.

For the filling:

  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 1/3 cup half & half
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 a bunch very thin asparagus tips, cut into 3.5-inch lengths
  • 1/4 pound white cheddar, grated
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives

Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil, simmering until the potatoes are easily pierced with a knife. Drain and set aside. In the same pot over medium-low heat, add the half & half and butter until melted. Return the potatoes to the pot and mash until fairly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

In a bowl add the cheddar, chives, and potato mixture and stir together until well-mixed. Spoon into the prepared tart pan and smooth the top. Lightly press the asparagus tips into the top, alternating top to bottom. Turn the oven down to 325 degrees. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chèvre Cream Frosting

After I made Cajeta, I really liked the idea of using goat's milk in other sweet ways. Its tang adds a nice balance to sugary items and since everyone likes frosting (don't tell me otherwise), I thought that a chèvre frosting might just be the thing. I say this emphatically, it was G-O-O-D.

The nice folks at Stickney Hill were clever enough to sell a Honey Chèvre at my local store which I am certain was meant to be whipped into a creamy, delectable frosting. I didn't want to scare people off with the goat thing, so I halved it with cream cheese and the resulting mix was just right. I suspect if I could have kept quiet and not told anyone who would listen that it was a frosting made with goat cheese, a few people wouldn't have known.

The cupcakes themselves are a very nice spice cake from the Joy of Cooking. The recipe doesn't appear here because I didn't change it up at all and besides, if a copy of Joy isn't on your shelf at this very moment, well, that is just a sad state of affairs that I hope you will remedy. The Chef and I have 3 copies of Joy--one from the 50's, one from the 90's, and the latest one that came out a couple years ago. Yeah, that's nuts, I realize.

I knew this recipe was one I would make again because after the cupcakes were frosted, I got out a spatula, thoroughly scraped the inside of the bowl picking up any frosting remnants and ate a semi-giant dollop of it with delight.

For about 2 cups of frosting:

  • 1 cup Confectioner's Sugar
  • 4 ounces Honey Chèvre
  • 4 ounces Cream Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Heavy Cream

In a food processor, add the sugar and pulse to remove any clumps. The chèvre and cream cheese need to be cold so take both out of the fridge and add it to the bowl. Process again until thoroughly combined. Last, add the cream, pulse again until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Agua de Horchata

Guestblogger Manda: I’m not a Mexican but I try to be one from time to time. Sometimes I think people like me best because of it. Thanks to Erin for letting me showcase one of the beverages from the Morales house. Mexican - Irish, kinda different but kinda the same…

I do my best to try to keep my newly immigrated husband happy by making food he grew up with. I also like to impress his family with my gringa methods and positive outcomes. One of my favorite mexi-treats is Agua de Horchata. Each time I have traveled to Mexico, I have survived the trip on this yummy beverage as I think much of the food his family serves me is too oily. I instead opt for the jug of delicious cinnamon rice milk. Some people think it tastes like a candle, I think it tastes refreshing. Agua de Horchata is best served very cold over ice in a tall glass.

Here’s how you make it:

Soak 2 cups of white rice and a cinnamon stick in water to cover over night. The next day, drain off the water, bust out the blender and blend the rice and cinnamon stick on high for a long time. You will need to add a little water as it blends to keep the mixture smooth and creamy. Once you can smell the motor burning and are tired of listening to the grind, pour the rice/cinnamon mixture through a sieve into a gallon pitcher. Add cold water to fill the pitcher, 1 1/2 cups of sugar and vanilla to taste. Stir thoroughly.

You must drink up the Agua within a day or so because left over Agua de Horchata is smelly and not good. Impress your friends with this traditional Mexican drink, but make sure to stir it up before pouring it into their ice-filled glass. The mixture tends to settle, leaving all the love at the bottom.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Roasted Carrots with Whiskey Glaze

This recipe was an on-the-fly success. I had friends over for St. Patrick's Day dinner and knew I wanted to roast some carrots instead of serving up the plain, boiled variety. I thought it would be extra-festive if I could somehow incorporate some Irish whiskey into the mix. It was immediately clear that whiskey and carrots belong together.

When carrots are roasted they take on a sweet potato quality and some of their carroty sharpness is mellowed by the caramelization. My friend Scott declared that this was the first time he liked cooked carrots in his entire adult life. Anytime a hater can be converted, the recipe is a keeper....and no, I cannot be converted, I won't suddenly find that cilantro "brightens" a salsa.

For 2-4 servings:
  • 2 bunches of carrots with tops
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1-2 glugs good Irish whiskey
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut off all but 1 inch of the carrot's green tops. Peel the carrots, halve lengthwise, and set aside on a baking sheet. Generously drizzle some olive oil over the carrots, sprinkle with salt, grind some pepper over the top and toss with your hands to thoroughly coat. Place the pan on a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Roast for 20-30 minutes (depending on the thickness of your carrots), tossing twice while they are roasting. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and whiskey. Microwave for 30-45 seconds until melted, or, if you are anti-microwave, heat in a small saucepan.

After the carrots are nicely roasted and browned in spots, pour the glaze onto the pan, quickly toss the carrots, and place back in the oven for 2 more minutes. Remove and serve.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The First Sign of Spring

One week ago I was standing at the bus stop, the wind was howling right through me and I was wondering for the billionth time this Winter why I live in the Midwest. When the wind chill is -20 and the actual temperature is -5, there are no comforting answers to that question.

Oh, but fickle Minnesota went ahead and decided to have a 50 degree jump in temperature in just one week's time. Yesterday when I was out enjoying the unfamiliar warmth, something caught my eye...something GREEN. Hallelujah! At least the chives think it's warm enough to wake up and show themselves. And no, I will not consider the fact that a blizzard could still descend upon me at any moment. I simply refuse to believe it.

These chives were planted in our yard 3 years ago and have always flourished. My love for chives is strong, and I absolutely prefer them to scallions. I adore the green, subtle onion flavor, the slight crunch, and the myriad ways there are to use them.

In case you also have chive-love, here are some tasty-sounding recipes:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Red Currant Vodka

As your brother-in-laddy, I am happy to write up a recent drink concoction for your blog...

When I was studying in northern England, I noticed the residents there seemed obsessed with black and red currants… the tiny pearl-sized berries were everywhere. Sugar dusted scones studded with currants lined the bakery shelves, currant jams and fresh currants lined the store shelves and current juices, hot teas, and sodas quenched the thirst of the residents. I followed their lead and it became a favorite soon enough. One particular favorite of mine was Ribena, a black currant non-carbonated soft drink. This fall my CSA crop-share offered us fresh red currants and once it brought back those memories, I started thinking of ways to use them up. I had made liqueurs and flavored gins in the past and thought a red currant vodka infusion would work well.

This isn’t really a recipe as much as a how-to guide for a simple combination of alcohol and fruit. I used about a pint of fresh red currants and good quality vodka. First, I picked through the currants to get rid of any loose stems left behind by the harvesters haste in picking, also removing some overripe fruit or smashed berries. Personally, I didn’t choose to remove all the stems, or smash/prick each berry with a pin to release the juice. I think this is unnecessary since you aren’t eating the fruit afterwards (it has given up all its goodness to the liquid anyways) and those currants are awfully small. I then washed them in a small colander. Using a funnel or curled piece of paper, I poured them into a decorative vessel with a stopper (I get them at antique fairs, Pier 1 or the dollar store) then topped the fruit with the vodka. The brand of vodka isn’t important to the fruit – you should use what you drink normally although the super-premiums would be wasted (in my opinion).

I got a nice flavor with a ratio of 1 pint of berries to 4 cups of vodka. Seal/cork the bottle and store in a dark space for at least 4 weeks (better for 8-12 weeks or longer as it just improves with time). I try to peek at it once a week and give it a toss upside down to mix up the liquor.

The end result is currant-flavored vodka with almost zero sweetness, ideal for mixing into cocktails all night long. Try a Currant Vodka Sour, C&T (currant and tonic) or a Current Vodka Martini served in a sugar rimmed glass. Beautiful and delicious!

Note: This was made with red currants but black currants, pomegranate seeds, or other small fruits would work as well.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Coconut Cashew Cornflake Bars

Are there people in the world who don't like rice krispie treats? I don't think it possible but, then again, I know lots of people, including The Chef, who eat the devil weed known as cilantro willingly and on purpose.

These sweet and slightly salty bars use cornflakes instead of rice krispies and are chock-full of toasted coconut, salty cashews, and crushed banana chips. I also can envision adding some carob or chocolate chips as well.

The Chef ate one of the bars, came back for a second right after the first one was gone, and returned a last time, leaving the kitchen with two more. I guess he liked them.

For a pan of bars that likely won't last too long:
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 10.5 ounces mini marshmallows
  • 1 cup banana chips, placed in a ziploc bag, and crushed with a rolling pin, hammer or whatever other weapon is convenient
  • 1 cup roasted, salted cashews, coarsely chopped, leaving some whole
  • 2 cups raw, unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 cups cornflakes
  • 1 small pinch of sea salt

Prepare a square 9 or 10 inch pan by lining it with wax paper, making sure the paper hangs over two sides, and spray it with cooking spray.

In a non-stick skillet over medium high heat, add the coconut and, stirring and shaking the skillet constantly, lightly toast it. It can go from pleasantly toasty to bitterly burnt in no time. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the marshmallows and stir frequently until melted. Add the rest of the ingredients, turn the heat off, and stir quickly and thoroughly making sure everything is well distributed. Pour and spoon the contents into the prepared pan. I found the easiest way to deal with the sticky bars was to coat my hands with cooking spray and firmly press the bars into the pan with my hands.

Set aside and let cool. Lift the bars out of the pan with the wax paper, turn it over onto a cutting board and peel the wax paper off. With a sharp knife, cut into square bars and store in a covered container for several days.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Blueberry Corncakes

Aren't we all trying to eat more whole grains...even if the end result is coated in maple syrup, butter, and served with a side of bacon or sausage? These pancakes fit the bill, made with whole grain cornmeal which is decidedly different than the typical soft-as-sand stuff that is the kitchen standard.

Real, coarse cornmeal and I have become friends lately. I love the chewiness it imparts, and the golden flecks that appear in all baked goods are evidence of it's whole grain goodness. I used Bob's Red Mill coarse grind cornmeal for this recipe, and in fact, got the inspiration for these pancakes right from the package. My favorite frozen blueberries from Trader Joe's add another dimension of superfoodiness to these cakes and I've decided that whole grains+blueberries somehow cancel out any negative effects of bacon....? I know, it's a complicated math equation that you may not be able to grasp.

For four servings:
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup coarse grind cornmeal
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sifted White Whole Wheat Flour from King Arthur Flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, (I used Wild Boreal Blueberries, unthawed, from Trader Joe's)

Heat oven to 180 degrees. Pour boiling water over cornmeal in a large bowl and set aside for 15 minutes. Whisk in the buttermilk and eggs. Sift the flour, cardamom, baking powder, salt and baking soda over the bowl and stir until mixture is just combined. Melt the butter and stir into the batter. Mix in the blueberries.

Heat a nonstick pan or griddle over medium high heat. Now, here's where I went wrong with the first couple cakes. This batter is definitely delicate so the pancakes must be made smaller, no more than 4-5 inches in diamater or it will be quite tough flipping them. And, make sure that they are fully cooked on the inital side before flipping otherwise the result is a sloppy, broken mess of a cake.

Keep the pancakes warm in the oven as they are finished. I had leftover cakes and found that they were almost equally good the next day, quickly warmed in the microwave.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Roasted Squash Soup

On the weekends, I like to have a lot of things happening in the kitchen whether it be something baking in the oven or simmering on the stove. This soup is the best of both worlds as the squash are roasted, caramelizing nicely, and then pureed into a silky sweet soup that hardly cooks for any time at all. I prefer acorn squash for it's pretty buttery yellow flesh and the subtle sweetness it imparts but use whatever squash you like.

For four servings:
  • 3 pounds of acorn squash
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • I medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Fresh sage leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle some olive oil on a baking sheet. Cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, sprinkle the insides with salt and pepper and place flesh side down on the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, turn the squash over, and roast for another 20-25 minutes until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Set aside, or cool and refrigerate up to a day in advance.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and add the onion and garlic, sautéing for 5 minutes. Scoop the flesh out of the squash skin with a spoon and add to the pot, stirring frequently for 2 minutes, breaking it up as you stir. Add the wine and stir until most of it has evaporated. Add the broth, bring to a boil and then simmer for 15-20 minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, then lucky you. Mine took a tragic fall off the counter one day and shattered into more pieces than I thought possible. If your life is immersion-free, than ladle out 2 cups at a time into the regular old blender, being sure not to let the squash lava escape and cause a mess (and burns). Puree it for a nice amount of time, the end result should be silky smooth, and pour the puree into a separate bowl. Once all of the soup has been processed, give the saucepan a quick rinse and pour the smooth soup back in, warming it over medium-low heat.

Stir in the half and half and cook until it is just warmed through. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and add about a quarter-inch of olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add the sage leaves, being sure the pan isn't overcrowded, and stir them around a bit, immediately removing them to a paper towel lined plate to drain. They won't need to cook for much more than a minute. Use the sage leaves as a tasty, green garnish for the soup.