Thursday, June 28, 2007
Before the dipping started, we narrowed the pool of strawberries down looking for size (large, of course!), shape (not too deformed), color (bright red not dark red), blemishes (not terribly bruised) etc. After all of that, I came to the conclusion that none of it would even really matter because the chocolate would hide most of the flaws. Probably the most important quality was the bruising because that affects taste.
Then there was the dipping technique. I took to dipping the strawberries straight in to the chocolate when I started out and when the chocolate became less, I tried dipping it side ways, and twirling it around in a circle like a ballerina in the 2nd grade who's trying to say in her circle but some how manages to pop out of it. The long of the short is that no technique or skill is required. The results are fool proof.
Unlike commercially made chocolate dipped strawberries, mine were delicious. The strawberries were flavorful and the chocolate adhered to the strawberries so that every single red-liscious bite had equal parts chocolate and strawberry.
Have you ever noticed that the chocolate on store bought strawberries is too brittle and chunks of it come off when you bite in to the strawberry? Now, that's a waste of perfectly fine chocolate. Commercially made CDS' use dark chocolate which tends to be really quite hard at room temperature, more so if it's been chilled.
In high school I made chocolate covered bananas and I found the dark chocolate really difficult to work with, and quite frankly, the bananas didn't taste very good. It was utterly disappointing. A few months ago, I saw Ina Garten make these treats on her show, Barefoot Contessa, on the Food Network Channel, and was inspired to make them again. The thing that caught my attention was her use of cream and how it made the chocolate stay liquid-like even after the chocolate is removed from the heat.
Try this recipe -- I think you'll be super happy with the results.
Serves as many people as you want
Cooking Time: 5 minutes to melt chocolate
-1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
-3 T heavy cream
-Strawberries (long stemmed if you can get them)
Melt the chocolate and cream together in a bowl set over simmering water until just melted. Stir and remove from the heat. Dip each strawberry in the chocolate and set aside on waxed or parchment paper to dry.
I made the mistake of storing them in containers. While they tasted fine, they looked like they were sweating so the strawberries will not be as attractive. I don't know why but the 'sweating' kind of made me think of when you first hold hands with the person you're interested in, your heart's kind of racing, and your hand starts to sweat. It's kind of like that.
Anyway, I digress. Store uncovered and eat within the next day or two. Using hand picked strawberries especially means that the shelf life is short.
I quadrupled this recipe and there was enough chocolate to cover 110 small to medium sized strawberries, and there was still chocolate left over. Now, that's a problem I can deal with!
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I searched online for several jam recipes when I came across this one that hails from Santa Maria, CA which is known for producing high quality strawberries so I decided to go with it. Jam is so easy to make. It's a one pot process and requires very little effort. I don't know why more people don't make jam themselves. It tastes much much better than commercial brands and is better for you. Actually, it's probably not better for you but the use of real sugar is a plus.
Time: 1 hour
-8 cups hulled strawberries
-8 cups sugar (used 4.5 cups)
-Juice of 2 lemons (used 1 lime since I didn't have lemon)
1. Clean and hull enough strawberries to make up eight cups of cut strawberries. Throw into a large pot and stir in sugar and the lemon juice. Consider the pot too small if more than half the pot is full of strawberries.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat to keep the mixture boiling but watch it carefully as it will bubble up and, if the heat is too high, boil over. You do not want this to happen because the jam is extremely sticky. Hence the need for a large pot.
3. Boil the strawberry mixture for between 30 and 60 minutes (for me, this was about 45 minutes). Skim the bubbles off the top if enough form to cause problems. What you are looking for is the liquid to come off the spoon slowly instead of draining off quickly. It will be obvious when this happens. My jam became quite thick.
I don't think it matters so much if you use lemon or another citrus. It's not for the flavor but to help preserve the color, otherwise the strawberries may become very dark. So while the taste will still be excellent, its appearance may be slightly off putting. I only had 1 lime which was not enough for the quantity I made. I bet orange juice would be really nice.
Watch the sugar. This recipe, as most others do, calls for 1 cup of sugar for every cup of fruit. Really, I think it depends on how sweet the fruit is. In my case, the strawberries were really sweet so I only needed to use half the sugar. Like when adding salt, it's better to start with less and add more until it's just right. Start with half the suggested amount and increase with 1/2 cup increments. With 4 cups of sugar it was sweet but still slightly tart. The additional 1/2 cup made it perfect.
As the jam maker and perpetual taste tester, I actually didn't like the taste of the jam. Perhaps I had tasted and looked at one too many strawberries in a short period of time. I was kind of disappointed. The jam just didn't taste the way I thought it should but that's the fun part of cooking. Food can taste good even if it's not what you expected. The lesson learned is not to have ideas of grandeur...well, actually it is to have reasonable expectations of the food tasting good but not to be so set in your ways as to know what it should taste like before you've tried your food, if that makes sense. Having made this connection about my thought process, I had two pieces of toast and spread my jam on it, and I have to say it was really quite amazing, especially since I spread butter on my toast too!
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I fibbed. I'm not going to write about the jam recipe. Still too close to home. After hulling what seemed like an endless mountain of strawberries Saturday morning, I was only too happy to make something quick, easy, and tasty for my kind hosts. It wasn't hard to twist my arm -- anything with goat cheese is a big plus.
While the flavor was mild, it was delicious. The ingredients are simple, wholesome, and healthy. Even the picky host thought so and he's a discriminating critic let me tell you! Again, this recipe comes from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Serves 4 to 6
Cooking Time: 15 minutes prep, 15 minutes active
-Salt and freshly milled pepper
-1 bunch scallions, including an inch of the greens, finely sliced
-1 garlic clove, minced
-1/4 cup chopped parsley
-1 T chopped marjoram, plus extra for garnish (used 1 T dried oregano which the recipe called for if marjoram was not available)
-1 T each butter and olive oil, or a mixture (used olive oil exclusively)
-4 Roma tomatoes, halved, seeded, and diced (skipped seeding)
-2 ounces feta, thinly sliced (used crumbled goat cheese instead)
Beat the eggs with a few pinches of salt, then add the scallions, garlic, and herbs. Preheat the broiler.
Heat the butter and oil in a 8 or 10-inch skillet until foaming. Pour in the eggs, lower the heat, and distribute the tomatoes and cheese evenly over the top. Cook until eggs are set, then slide the pan 4 to 6 inches under the broiler and brown the top. Instead of inverting the frittata, slide it onto a large platter, keeping the top side up. Garnish with additional marjoram.
Since I didn't have a skillet that could go into the oven, I used the stove top method. Let the eggs set, about 5 to 7 minutes, may be longer. Usually, I use the spatula to pull the edge of the eggs away from the side of the skillet. If I see brown, it's ready to be flipped. To flip, firmly hold plate over skillet and flip quickly, and slide back into pan. Some egg will leak. Don't worry about it, it happens. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
I also sauteed the tomatoes in a little olive oil to soften them because I wasn't sure if the stove top method would cook them enough before the eggs were done. After softening the tomatoes, let them cool before adding them to the egg mixture.
The key to getting the eggs right is the heat. You don't want the heat so high that it cooks the outer part before the insides have finished cooking. Try medium heat or lower.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Well, I finally did it. I went berry picking and it was so much fun though I have to say we went a little nuts and purchased way too many strawberries. I know, 20 lbs! What were we thinking? That's exactly it, we weren't. As we were picking, the sun fried every single of one our brain cells and prevented any logical, rational thought from occurring about what we were going to do with our brood. We were deceived because they looked so tiny in our boxes. When we rang up, even the clerk couldn't believe it.
In this area of California there are many variety of strawberries. I'm not sure what variety we were picking but they were the more "homely" type, the kind that don't look amazing but are full of flavor and taste amazing. Once you taste one, you over the look the flaws. Then there is the Watsonville variety which are deceptive because they are large and nicely shaped, and really quite handsome but have poor flavor. The Watsonville variety were not available to pick because we weren't in Watsonville but they were for sale at the stand but a taste test verified that the one's we hand selected were indeed the best.
Anyway, as soon as we got home I was online looking up every single strawberry recipe you could possibly imagine because I could not think of ways to use all the strawberries. There aren't lots of recipes that call for large quantities of strawberries. Eights cup of hulled strawberries, 4.5 cups of sugar, and 3 hours later, I had a pot full of incredible strawberry jam (recipe to come tomorrow). My fingers are stained pink because that's how many strawberries I cut up. Sadly, the fridge is still stuffed with containers of fresh strawberries. What's a girl to do?
If I see another strawberry in the next year, it will have been too soon!
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Prep: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes inactive
Always use a stainless steal knife and pot because iron or aluminum foil will discolor artichokes. As you work with artichokes, rub cut areas with a lemon (not sure why). Deborah Madison says to do this and since I didn't have a lemon, I skipped this step. Cook artichokes with 2 tsps each of flour and olive oil which helps them keep their pale green color.
Clip the thorns from the leaves, slice off the top third of the artichoke, and trim the stem so that it can stand upright, removing as little as possible from the base. Give them a good rinse, pulling the leaves a part to flush them out.
Set the artichokes upside down on a steaming rack over boiling water. Cook until a leaf comes off fairly easily when you tugged, approximately 30 to to 40 minutes, depending on the size. If you plan to serve them cold, run them in cold water or dip in iced water to stop the cooking process.
I do recommend eating them cold, it's quite refreshing on a hot summer day. I'm off to berry pick now!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
This recipe is easy and the results are nothing short of amazing. The crust is flaky, buttery, light.....
Prep Time: 5 minutes
-2 cups all-purpose flour or whole-wheat pastry flour (I used all purpose)
- 1/2 tsp salt
-1 tablespoon sugar (for savory galette, I used 1 tsp)
-12 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
-1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water as needed
Mix the flour, salt, and sugar together in the a bowl. I'm kind of stickler for keeping things cold, so I put the dry ingredients in the fridge for 30 minutes before using. Cut in the butter by hand or with a food processor, leaving some pea-sized chunks. I place the butter in the freezer for 10 minutes to make it really cold and firm. Sprinkle the ice water over the top by the tablespoon and toss it with the flour mixture until you can bring the dough together into a a ball. Once again, I found that I needed more water than the recipe called for, say about 3/4 cups.
Press it into a disk and refrigerate for 15 minutes if the butter feels soft. I refrigerated for 2 hours because I really don't want the butter to melt.
The key to flaky pastry is making sure there are chunks for butter in the dough so be careful not to over process if you're using a food processor. I find that 7 1-second pulses is just about right. Don't get too concerned about the number of pulses. Just take a look at it to see what size the butter chunks are. If they're pea sized, you're golden.
Deborah does not use the parchment paper method -- she just flours the surface of the counter. I think it could probably work but I used the parchment paper method, but only one piece so that I could bake the galette on the parchment. Roll out the dough on parchment and lightly flour the rolling pin and the top of the dough. You shouldn't have any sticking issues.
If you don't use parchment, flour the counter and roll dough into 14 inch irregular circle about 1/8 inch thick. Fold into quarters and transfer it to the back of a sheet pan or a cookie sheet without sides. Unfold it. It will be larger than the pan until you fold the edges over the filling.
So simple. Your friends will be impressed.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Having made a dessert galette with success, I thought I would try my hand at savory one. Friends were coming over for a good-bye dinner (so sad!) and I wanted to make a dish that would show them how much they mean to me. I also wanted something that you can't traditionally get at a restaurant (at least not any I've been to) and I wanted to try my hand with leeks. I've had bad experiences with leeks in the form of poorly made leek soup so I wanted to see if I could put them in my good graces again. I think I did!
I was a little worried because yet again I was going to make guinea pigs out of my guests. I always do this -- try something brand spanking new. Why? Isn't there etiquette about such activities. As much as I want my guests to enjoy their meal, I think it's a lot of fun to be as surprised as the guests. Since this recipe had nearly 2 sticks of butter, there was no way my arteries could have possibly taken a practice run!
Leeks are a milder than onions and don't cause the same outpouring of tears. While you can replace leeks with onions where a small quantity of leeks are required, in this recipe leeks must be used. If it's possible, this crust was even more amazing and delicious than the crust for the rhubarb and strawberry galette though the dough recipes were similar. The crust was like puff pastry, really light, crispy, flaky, and golden. Not sure why it turned out better. Perhaps I didn't work at the dough so much? Not sure.
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course, more if you serve as an appetizer.
Cooking Time: 5 minutes for dough, 30 minutes for leek mixture; 25-30 minutes oven time (It took me 45 to 50 on the lower 3rd of the oven)
-6 large leeks, including an inch of the green (enough to get 6 cups thinly sliced)
-3 T butter
-1 tsp chopped thyme (substitute 1/3 tsp to 1/2 tsp dried)
-1/2 cup dry white wine
-1/2 cup cream (I left this out)
-1 egg beaten, reserving 1 T
-3 T chopped parsley or 1 T chopped tarragon
-1/2 to 1 cup soft goat cheese to taste, about 4 oz.
-1/2 tsp salt
Thinly slice and wash the leeks, you should have about 6 cups. Having a food processor helps a lot but is not necessary.
Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add the leeks, thyme, and 1/2 cup water. Stir over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the leeks are tender, about 12 minutes. Add the wine and continue cooking until it's reduced, then add the ream and cook until it just coats the leeks and little liquid remains. Season with salt and plenty of pepper. Let cool 10 minutes, then still in all but 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg and 2 tablespoons of the parsley.
To shorten the baking time, you may need to move the galette to the middle rack but I like using the lower 3rd because it guarantees that the bottom gets nice and crispy too!
Notes on the dough will come in a separate entry.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
This recipe, while shared in the newspaper, originally comes from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere. The focus of the article was not so much the desserts but about under privileged youth learning about how to eat well and cook on farm where they use local fresh ingredients. I was totally impressed by the kids, the farm, and the food they make. It was completely inspiring it (this is where the Halleluah song comes in). Having never made a galette and with strawberries in season, I was up for a challenge.
This galette is amazing. It's both sweet and tart, it's sassy, it's gorgeous. It tastes even more amazing than it looks. It's like a hot man/woman that has an even more amazing personality.
The recipe below is presented as it was written up in the newspaper. It mostly worked but I had to modify it to make the crust work better. But if you can get it to work, this is one FINE crust. It's crispy, flaky, buttery and all the things one would desire in a crust. After spending about 24 hours in a fridge, it was still pretty crispy. Two days later, still crispy, still great.
-2 cups all-purpose flour
-3/4 tsp kosher salt
-15 T chilled unsalted butter, in small pieces (1/4 inch cubes works for me)
-1/4 cup ice water
-1 1/4 pounds rhubarb (enough for approx. 3 3/4 cups)
-1 pint strawberries
-1 cup sugar
-2 1/2 T all-purpose flour
-1 egg yolk whisked with 1 tsp water
-Coarse decorating sugar
To make the dough, put the flour and salt in the food process and pulse to blend (why is this even necessary?). Add the butter and pulse until all the butter pieces are coated with flour and are about the size of large peas (about 10 1-second pulses). Do not over blend.
Transfer to a bowl and stir in the water with a fork, mixing until the dough just begins to come together. With one hand, knead it briefly, just until you can collect the dough in a single shaggy mass. Resist the temptation to add more water. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and press it into the shape of a large round hamburger patty. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
This recipe did not call for enough water at all. After I put in 1/4 cup, it was dry and wouldn't come together in a "single shaggy mess." It was just shaggy all over. I probably added another 1/4 to 1/2 cup (1/2 to 3/4 cup total), and while it came together a bit more, I still felt it was not what it was supposed to be. But I avoided the temptation to add any more water and packed it up in the fridge over night.
In the morning, it was still dry so I added a bit more water and dampened my hands, and squished the down together. Not too much but enough to bring it together in a shaggy mass.
Anyway, preheat oven to 425 degrees. If you have a baking stone, put it on a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat for 30 minutes. I do not have a baking stone and I still put it on the lower third of the oven.
Remove the dough from the fridge and let it soften for about 15 minutes so it will be easier to roll.
To make the filling, trim the ends of the rhubarb stalks, and the cut stalks into 1/3 inch-wide slices. Hull the strawberries and chop medium fine (I just sliced them). In a large bowl, toss the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar and flour until well blended.
Roll the galette dough into a 15-inch circle between two large sheets of parchment paper. If the dough threatens to stick to the paper, lift off the paper and dust the dough lightly with flour. This will definitely happen so just flour everything well before starting to roll it out.
Transfer the dough, still between sheets of parchment paper, to a rimless baking sheet. Remove the top sheet of paper. Top the dough with filling, spreading it evenly but keeping it about 2 inches from the edge. Working quickly, slide a chef's knife or spatula (in my case) under the edge of the dough and fold it over the filling to make a wide border all around. Be fastidious about patching cracks in the dough or the filing will leak out.
Brush the rim of the dough with the egg wash (I didn't have an egg so I used milk). This is purely cosmetic so you can skip it. Sprinkle the rim generously with coarse sugar. Course sugar is decorative and can be expensive. A small jar (think the size of a bottle of herbs) costs $5. Puh-lease. It's sugar that is not granulated, not anything fancy shmancy so don't buy it. Instead, I used raw cane sugar which is of course, much cheaper (2 lbs costs $3.5o), gets the job done, and tastes better with the crust and the filling.
If you're using a baking stone, slide the galette, still on the parchment paper, directly onto the baking stone. If you are not using a baking stone, bake the galette on a rimless baking sheet.
Bake until the crust is well browned and the filling is bubbling, about 50 minutes. Slide the galette onto a rack to cool. Let cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing.
FYI, to appropriately work up an appetite for such a decadent dessert, it really does help to smack a few (or in my case A LOT) of golf balls while pretending it's your least favorite person's head. It really does work up a healthy appetite and opens the heart and mind to something so sweet and perfect.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
A lot of people might be turned off by having to use their hands to peel off the shell while eating a nice pasta meal but we thought it was a lot of fun and made the experience that much more enjoyable.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
It's easy, simple, fresh and clean. The lemon and arugula add freshness and zing. It's perfect for a warm night and has the added bonus of taking fewer than 30 minutes. With the addition of one ingredient and reduction of another, I found this recipe to be totally faboo!
Cooking Time: less than 30 minutes
-1/2 cup olive oil (I only used 1/4 cup)
-1 lemon, zested
-1 pound linguine pasta
-2 tablespoons olive oil (I used the equivalent amount of butter)
-2 shallots, diced
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-16 ounces frozen shrimp
-1/4 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
-1 lemon, zested
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
-3 ounces arugula (about 3 packed cups -- use more)
-1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
For the lemon oil:
Combine the olive oil and the lemon zest in a small bowl and reserve. I used 1/4 cup and it was perfect. I think 1/2 c would be make the dish way too greasy. Ugh.
For the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet warm the oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until pink, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked linguine, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Toss to combine. Turn off the heat and add the arugula. Using a mesh sieve, strain the lemon zest out of the reserved lemon olive oil and add the oil to the pasta. The zest can be discarded. Add the chopped parsley to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Saute the garlic and shallots in butter instead of oil. It smells great and adds a different flavor.
Throw in the shrimp frozen.
Salt is key. Cook the pasta in salt and add it to the shrimp. The lemon juice really reduces the saltiness so you have to make up for it by adding more. The dish will be a little bland if not well salted. Also, the lemon juice is key. My friend and I were so eager to eat we plated the food and then noticed the lemon juice on the side so we dumped the food back into the pan, threw in the lemon juice, and tossed again! Funny. We thought the recipe could do with more arugula. It really does wilt into nothing so I would say add twice as much, say 6 cups.
Add freshly grated Parmesan and you have perfection in one pan.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
My friend went strawberry picking and made jams and all sorts of goodies for the freezer that she can pull out in the the fall and winter, when in the dead of a Midwest winter, such fruit won't be available. She's so darned clever. She talked about freezing the strawberries whole on a cookie sheet before storing packing them away in a bag or container, this way the berries don't stick to each other as much, and most importantly they don't get mushed! In the winter, think of all the things she can make, like galettes, pies, jams, smoothies, and so much more!
Monday, June 11, 2007
Sunday, June 03, 2007
I love sitting on sunny patios with a glass of wine. Not many things can beat this leisurely activity when you have a good company. The experience is completely enhanced when grilling, and that's exactly what a friend and I decided to do. In an hour (including shopping time), we had a beautiful summer feast that included grilled marinated shrimp, scallops, asparagus, zucchini, and yellow squash. We supplemented with herb rice.
There's something about eating food with grill marks -- I don't know what it is but it makes everything taste fresher, healthier, and better. May be it's the sun, the wine, or the company, or all of it. Food just tastes better off the grill and outside in the sun.
It was all very simple and easy. Rinse the asparagus and slice up the zucchini and squash length wise. Toss together with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and you're good to go. The asparagus was a bit tricky. The zucchini were ready before the asparagus and then we left the asparagus on a bit too long but it still tasted good, even if it was a little soft. Grilled softness is better than steamed softness.
We deveined the shrimp and marinated in a very good teriyaki called Veri Veri Teriyaki made by Soy Vay. Soy Vay is salty so perhaps cut some of it with water. I don't think I would have noticed the salt except that my grill buddy pointed it out. In comparison to everything else, it was salty but not in a bad way. If you're salt sensitive you could probably cut the salt by diluting with a bit of water.
It probably could have used a good 2 hours or marinating time but we were hungry and probably did it for 20 minutes. The shrimp cook quickly -- as soon as they are pink take them off otherwise they're a bit tough. I deveined shrimp for the first time. Just make a slit on the underside of the shrimp and pull out it's intestine -- it will be blue in color. After deveining, rinse the shrimp.
We didn't do anything to the scallops -- just placed them right on the grill. Probably out of laziness but hey some of the best things come out those things that are not overly done up. I am glad that we left them alone because I actually noticed the scallop flavor for the first time. At restaurants they have a tendency to drown them in some sort of sauce to mask the taste but a scallop all by itself tastes really great. Not too fishy like salmon. I bet it would taste awesome with a lemon butter sauce, a condiment that would enhance the flavor without masking it altogether.
I would say we did really well considering everything was done on the fly, and we didn't even get in a plane.