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27 February 2010

TRUFFLE MASHED POTATOES

One night recently we had (another) roasted chicken. We have this often, because we can get three or four meals from a chicken. I make it more or less the same way each time, changing the herbs or the lemon or whatever else makes sense given what I have. I like to slice the cold meat for sandwiches. A little mayo, a grind of salt, some good bread, maybe some lettuce and tomato, maybe just some pepper. YUM!


But I’m getting ahead of myself. When we had the chicken recently, I wanted to make some mashed potatoes. Not normal ones, but special ones. Fancy, even. So I looked around and found that I had some peccorino cheese with truffles in it. I know, it must seem that I eat truffles in EVERYTHING, but I really don’t. They’re not good in orange juice, for example. But they’re FABULOUS in mashed potatoes.


Normally I don’t peel potatoes that I’m going to mash, because I LIKE the peel. Our friends in Ireland are grossed out when we eat the peels of baked potatoes, but I think they’re nice with a little salt and butter. However, I didn’t want the peels in these potatoes, so I took them off.


This is a really great dish when you want something a little special to dress up a plate. Or a palate. (heh) It’s good for company, with quail sitting on it, or with just a little gravy. Oh, my. This is company food.


Before we look at the recipe, though, I want to mention again the Hope for Haiti raffle. The original deadline was tomorrow, Feb 28. It’s been extended to Sunday, March 7. This means that you still have a chance to buy a raffle ticket for cookbooks signed by the authors, for tote bags and jewelry, for gift certificates or a hand painted stole, or for some awesome Belgian Chocolates. Tickets are only $10 US. I know which one I would choose...




Truffled Mashed Potatoes


4 large floury potatoes

about 1/2 cup milk

knob of butter

1 cup grated peccorino cheese with truffles

salt and pepper


  • Wash the potatoes, peel them and cut them in reasonably-sized pieces and boil them in salted water till they’re fork tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Drain and mash them with a potato masher. Add the milk and butter and continue mashing till they’re fluffy. You can use a mixer for this, but the texture will be different.
  • Add the cheese and mix until the cheese is melted.
  • Serve immediately. Strap yourself in, you’re in for a real joyride!


Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.



NOTES:

  • This is one of those things that has to be done at the last minute. It doesn’t hold well. If you HAVE TO hold it, though, put it in a covered dish in a slow oven. Good luck.
  • There is not a lot of truffle in the cheese, but it’s enough to flavor the potatoes. Truffle is wonderful, but too much is too much. This is just right, I think.





24 February 2010

TODAY...




Today.


Today the snow is finally gone.


Today My throat no longer feels like it’s shredding itself every time I swallow.


Today my cough is better. I woke up having slept all night. Dan too!


Today I have no fever, no chills, no aches, no pains.


Today the sun in shining in my corner of the world.


Today the light is different. It’s warm, it’s alive.


Today the air kisses my skin with the promise of spring, of summer. Of new life.


Today.


Today, in Haiti, people are still dying.


Today, in Haiti, there’s no food, no water.


Today in Haiti, there’s no medicine, no tools.


Today in Haiti, there’s no help. No hope.


This is where we come in. The first wave of support comes easy, when the horror of the photos is fresh and the hope for survivors lingers. Now, when we’ve moved on to the next tragedy, to the Olympic games, to the next thing, It’s harder to go back, to feel the same urgency. But the need is still there.


Dan does a lot of volunteer work with Doctors Without Borders and they’re telling him that they’ve never seen anything as bad as this. They need everything.



Jeanne, at Cooksister is sponsoring a raffle to benefit Haiti. I’ve donated two boxes of the best gifts of my host country , chocolate by two famous chocolatiers, Jean-Philippe Darcis and Pierre Marcolini. You can bid on them, and I’ll ship them to you wherever you are.


I’m in veryvery good company. David Lebovitz, among others, has donated prizes to this raffle. So head over to Cooksister and see what you might want to buy a ticket for.


Go ahead, do it.


Today.




21 February 2010

Citrus and Samurai

On my kitchen counter right now are citrus fruits: lemons, blood oranges, clementines and limes. Beside them is a jar of Samurai sauce (or Samourai sauce, if you’re Dutch). This is a bad omen in my house.


When I start to get sick, often the first sign is that I start to crave sour things. And hot spicy things. Sour I understand--it’s the Vitamin C. Ok, but spicy? Beats me, but it’s an infallible sign when combined with sour.


So here we are, with the dreaded hot and sour combo. And sure enough, I have a bug. A cold. It’s settled in my throat and I sound like a frog. Ew. Not a good thing when you’re glib for a living.


I can hear you, you know. I can hear you asking yourself (and me too): What’s that Samurai sauce? I’ve never seen it before! I’m so sorry. You’ve really missed something special.


You may know that Belgians love their fries. Fries here are served with a variety of sauces, with ketchup being only one of many choices. (I can see that we’ll have to take a side trip to a friterie soon. Sometime when I don’t sound so much like Kermit.) The classic, of course, is mayo. But there are lots of others: Bearnaise, Tartare, Andalouse, Curry. Given my innate bias towards spicy foods, my favorite is Samurai. Especially when I’m sick. Or sounding froggy.



Samurai sauce is like mayonnaise but with a real kick. It’s mayo grown up. It has hot chili peppers in it. It has its own facebook page. By now you’re probably saying, “How could I have missed this?” Me too. When I first tasted it, I wondered how I could have lived without it for so long. I think it’s because it’s pretty much only sold in Belgium and maybe the Netherlands.


Samurai sauce is great on fries, of course. But it's also good on chips--potato or corn. Or on breadsticks. Or on sandwiches in place of mayo.


I’ve never tried to make Samurai sauce. When I look at the ingredients, I think I know how I’d approach it, though. It has vegetable oil, egg yolk, vinegar, red pepper, mustard, water, sugar, chili, salt. Hmmm...it sounds like mayo with chili and red pepper in it. I’d probably begin by roasting a red pepper and pureeing it, then making (or buying) mayo and adding the pureed pepper and some pureed chili.


I googled Samurai sauce, and found only one recipe for it here in Dutch or here in English. This just says to mix mayo and pureed chili peppers. I tried it, and that’s close, but not exactly the thing. I think it’s missing the roasted red peppers. The color is paler and the taste is not quite the same. My pureed chili peppers are preserved in vinegar, which gives this too much of a vinegar bite. It needs that little bit of the pepper’s mellow sweetness to balance the mayo and the chilis. IMHO.


So I’m sitting here drinking tea made from ginger (hot) and lemon (sour) and a little honey. For lunch I’ve made some chicken soup with rice. With it think I’ll have some rye crackers with Samurai sauce. It's my favorite remedy. A few days of this and I should feel better...


Citrus and Samurai--good for what ails you. What's your favorite cold remedy?





P.S. Have you seen Jamie Oliver’s TED talk? If not, go here. It takes 22 minutes, and it's very important. Especially if you have children.


18 February 2010

BLUEBERRY WINTER TREAT


I don’t know about you, but about this time of year I start to look for things that remind me of summer, of sunshine, of warmth. I start to pull out things that I put up or froze or saved during the summer.


One of the things that I save in the summer is blueberries. I love their intense color and the lovely flavor they bring to things. Also, they make my tongue blue, which is always a nice thing.


When they’re ripe and cheap, I buy a lot of them. I freeze them on a cookie sheet and then put them in ziploc bags in the freezer. Then, when the winter is entrenched, I pull them out and make this treat.


Today, for the first time, the air has that warm edge that presages springtime. We still have snow on the ground, but I can see patches of green (and mud brown) poking through. I long for warm sun, for ripe fruits, for blueberry weather. Also, I seem to have picked up a little bug and I want something that feels healthy and still lets me spoil myself.


Luckily, I have just the thing. Full of the goodness of blueberries with the added zip of yogurt, this is just what I wanted today. The photos were rushed because it was starting to melt and I wanted to get my blue tongue as soon as possible. Heh, heh. Charming.


Although this would make a perfect light dessert, I always think of it as a late morning snack, something for those days like today when my breakfast just doesn't stick with me. I’m almost embarrassed to write this as a recipe, it’s so easy. But you need to have this. You need to make this. So here it is:

Blueberry treat

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

1 Tablespoon maple syrup


  • Put all ingredients in a small food processor or a blender and blitz.
  • That’s it. Enjoy!


Enough for one



NOTES:

  • I used lowfat yogurt because that’s what I have. I think this would be awesome with a greek yogurt.
  • I have a small food processor that I use for this. It’s easier to clean than the big one.
  • It probably doesn’t need the maple syrup, but I like that little earthy maple taste.
  • You might want to brush your teeth after you eat this, ‘cause while a blue tongue might be cute, blue teeth are...ummm...not.



14 February 2010

CHOCOLATE VALENTINES


Calling all Chocolate Lovers! Is there a day that’s more appropriate to celebrate with chocolate than Valentines day? I don’t think so.


To honor the ultimate chocolate holiday, I’ve gathered a group of bloggers who are all making something with chocolate today. Belgian chocolate, of course! I hope you’ll cruise around and visit them. I know they've all made something wonderful from their chocolate. Unless, of course, they've just eaten it and not told me...hmmmm, maybe you'd better go check. I'll wait.



The Chocolateers are:

2 Stews

A Southern Grace

A Spoonful of Thyme

Cooking Stuff

Hungry Dog

Junglefrog Cooking

Kitchen Butterfly

La Table de Nana

Nightowlchef

Normandy Life

Once in a Blue Moon

The Gypsy Chef


I’ve made something chocolate as well. You knew I would. I made a Chocolate Prune Cardamom cake. I found this recipe on Pastry Studio, where I also found the Cardamom Upside-down Cake. As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew that I’d have to make it. Chocolate and cardamom--is anything better than that? Yes, actually. It turns out that you can improve on chocolate and cardamom.


This recipe has prunes in it. Now wait. Don’t scrunch up your face like that. Have I ever led you astray? Remember the fish with anchovies in the bread crumbs? Wasn’t that good? Stop wrinkling your nose, then. Let’s just call them dried plums. Better? Ok, then. These dried plums are soaked in Earl Grey tea to give them a lovely flavor of bergamot. In the cake they add a moist sweetness that makes people ask what’s in there.


This recipe also uses canola oil, (or colza or rapeseed oil, depending on where you live), which was a surprise. It added an interesting flavor to the other interesting flavors. Although I never would have thought to use it, I really liked it in this.


The combination of chocolate, cardamom, dried plums, earl grey tea, and canola/colza/rapeseed oil was gorgeous. In fact, this cake exceeded my veryvery high expectations for it. It was amazing. This is real company food. The glaze was perfect--it reflected the flowers I put on it like a chocolate mirror. We served this with a small scoop of vanilla gelato, and that’s all it needed.


In truth, I changed this recipe very little. It was written for an 8-inch cake pan, and I only had a 24 cm one, which is about 9.45 inches. If I remember my high school geometry correctly, the area of a circle is pi x radius squared*, which means that...lemesee...carry the one...divided by...(counting on toes)... my 24 cm pan holds about 39.53% more than an 8 inch one. See? And you thought you didn’t need geometry. Sister Mary Francis would be proud of me now.


So I increased everything by 50%. I tried to use 1.3953 eggs, but it was easier just to use one egg and one egg yolk. Oh. Sister Mary Francis is now disappointed in me. Again. I’m sure this is going on my permanent record. Again. Sigh.


Where was I? Oh, yes. So I increased everything by 50%. Except the cardamom. I doubled that. And the cocoa too, because I always increase the chocolate content of whatever I bake. Oh, and the lemon zest too, because who can zest 3/4 of a lemon?


Because I made more batter than the 1.3953% that I needed, I had some left over (exactly 10.47%. See Sister?) So I made some cupcakes with the extra. 3.643 cupcakes, to be exact. No, actually it was four. (Too late. I’ve got detention for making that fraction up. Again.)


Are you still here? Then you deserve a reward. And you shall have it! Here’s the recipe for this amazing cake. If you have an 8-inch cake pan, the recipe is here. If you have a 9.45 inch pan or even a 9 inch pan you probably want my version. Sister Mary Francis says it’s ok to make cupcakes with the leftover batter. But you’ll have to send her one or it’ll go on YOUR permanent record too.


Chocolate Prune Cardamom Cake

from Pastry Studio

30 prunes

3 Earl Grey tea bags

Boiling water to steep tea (about 1 cup)

210 g / 1 1/2 cups cake flour

3 Tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

175 ml / 3/4 cup canola/colza/rapeseed oil

315 g / 1 1/4 cups + 2 Tablespoons sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature

zest of 1 lemon

175 ml / 3/4 cup plain yogurt

1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Chocolate cardamom glaze


1 cup heavy cream

1 Teaspoon corn syrup

8 cardamom pods

220 g / 8 oz dark chocolate


  • Boil the water and steep the tea. You’ll want it strong for this.
  • Chop the prunes fine--about the size of raisins. When the tea is done, remove the tea bags and put the prunes into a bowl with the tea. Leave them in the tea for about 1/2 hour, or until they’re softened but not mushy. You want them to hold their shape.
  • Meanwhile, preheat oven to 160 C / 350 F. Cut a circle of parchment or baking paper to fit the bottom of your pan. Lightly oil the pan, put the paper in it and oil the paper too.
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa, cardamom, baking soda and salt. Drain the prunes well.
  • Whisk together the oil, sugar, egg and yolk until smooth and well blended. Add lemon zest, yogurt an vanilla. Slowly sift in the dry ingredients, stirring until well blended.
  • Fold in the drained prunes. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes. Run a thin bladed knife around the edge of the cake and turn it out on a wire rack. Peel the paper off the cake and let it cool completely.


I made cupcakes with the extra batter. I baked them for about 20 minutes, AFTER the cake had come out of the oven. It didn’t seem to hurt the batter to sit for 45 minutes waiting.


Make the Glaze:

  • Chop the chocolate into very small pieces and place in a medium bowl.
  • Bring the cream and corn syrup to a simmer. Crush the cardamom pods with a mortar and pestle and add to the cream. Take off the heat, cover and let steep for about 1/2 hour.
  • When the cake is completely cool, place it on a 9 inch/24 cm cardboard round or removable tart pan bottom. Put it back on the cooling rack and put a baking sheet lined with parchment paper under it.
  • Strain the cardamom out of the cream and reheat until just simmering. Watch it carefully--you don’t want it to boil because then it will develop a skin that you’ll just have to get rid of. When the cream is just starting to steam, pour it over the chopped chocolate and let it sit for about 3 minutes. Then stir slowly and gently, starting in the middle until thoroughly combined and then working outward in concentric circles until the mixture comes together. It will. Have faith.
  • Pour the glaze quickly in the center of the cake and around the edges. Let it run off. If necessary, tap the baking sheet on your work surface to encourage the glaze to run down the sides of the cake. Just as it begins to dry, run a small spatula around the underside of the cardboard round to smooth the bottom edge and prevent ‘feet’ from forming. Let the glaze firm up before serving.


Serves 12 if you’re being elegant or 8 if you’re feeling piggish. Or if you’re all alone, nobody will know how many it would have served.



Notes:

  • The original recipe called for buttermilk. I don’t have that, so I used plain yogurt.
  • I don’t have vanilla extract, so I used 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla powder.
  • The original recipe called for bittersweet chocolate. I used a very dark (74%) chocolate.
  • I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup instead of corn syrup.
  • I didn’t have a cardboard to put under the cake, and my tart pan bottom is larger than the cake (no comments on large bottoms, please). I put it on a plate and glazed it there. I wished later that I had taken the time to cut a piece of cardboard the size of the cake pan so that I could have let the excess glaze run off the cake. It would have been more attractive than the ‘feet’ that I ended up with. This is such a beautiful cake that it’s worth the extra step.
  • I had glaze left over. I used it on the cupcakes, natch.
  • I had found some edible yellow pansies the day before I made this cake, so I put them on the top to decorate it.


* Did you notice that I did NOT make any cracks about pi R squared and cakes R round? Oh, darn. I guess I did... I know, Sister, I know. Again.

11 February 2010

Fish Cakes

Do you ever just open the fridge and find parts of things left over? Of course you do. We all do. When that happens, sometimes Dan and I just eat little bits of things for dinner. At our house we call that ‘grazing’. Other times I make something that ends up being really good, and then I wish I had taken the time to write it down so that I could make it again.


When I made these fish cakes, I opened my fridge and what I found was some baked fish and two baked potatoes. I immediately started to think about fish cakes. I wanted something kind of chunky, not really fine. Rustic. I also had some Asian spices and some herbs. The result was, if I do say so myself, very good. And I somehow thought about jotting down how I made them. I know. I’m very glad I did. You will be too, I think.


Of course, I don’t have to tell you that all of the measures here are approximate, and you can change them as much as you wish. You can change the herbs and spices as well. Go ahead, make this dish your own!


I used tilapia for this. I had baked it with ginger and lemongrass leaves and a chopped red chili. The fish already had a lot of flavor, but I added a little more. If you’re starting with raw fish, bake it in a hot oven with milk for about 15 minutes till it’s flaky. Then drain it and let it cool. This recipe is written as if your fish is already cooked, but without the Asian flavors already in it.


Fish Cakes


250 g / 1/2 pound baked fish

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

4-5 lemongrass leaves, chopped fine

small piece of red chili, chopped very fine

2 baked potatoes, cold

dash fish sauce

a good handful of cilantro, chopped

Salt

Pepper

Oil or butter to fry


  • Flake the fish into large-ish flakes.
  • Peel the potatoes and crush them with a fork, again into large-ish bits.
  • Add the ginger, lemongrass leaves, chili, fish sauce and cilantro with the potatoes. Mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the fish and stir gently to mix.
  • Form patties with your hands. Heat oil or butter in a large pan until a drop of water spits when added to it. Put the fish patties in the pan and cook till golden brown on one side. Gently turn them over and cook till brown on the other side.


Serves 2 if they like it and 4 if they don’t.



NOTES:

  • Everything here is already cooked, all you’re doing when you fry these is browning them and heating them up.
  • We ate this with a salad and a little sauce made by mixing mayo with balsamic vinegar and some of the herbs from the fish cakes.





08 February 2010

Adopt a Blogger

Kristin at Dine and Dish sponsors a program called “Adopt a Blogger”, in which experienced bloggers act as mentors to newer bloggers. The idea is for the new blogger to be able to take advantage of the the experience and expertise of the experienced blogger. In this way we build communities and pass on what we've learned.


What a great idea! Since my blog is only 6 months old, and I have a lot to learn, I signed up as a new blogger. I now have my assigned mentor, and have the great pleasure to introduce her to you.


I am so doing the happy dance here!


This blogger is very well known to you, I think, as an amazing baker and photographer and writer of one of my favorite blogs. I know that I've referred to her blog often in trying to improve my photography. I drool over each and every one of her recipes and I use her recipe for pie crust, because it's just like my grandmother made. I have read her blog since I first started reading blogs. I made one of her recipes (adapted, of course, because that's what I do...), and it has been one of my most popular posts. Now I have the opportunity to pick her brain directly about blogging and photography and baking and cooking. WOWIEZOWIE am I excited!


Have you guessed who it is yet? I'm even more excited because this is someone who has also moved from her native country to another one with different language and culture. She is clearly at home in her new country (not so new, really―she's been there a long time, but still...), so I think she can help me juggle the different 'parts' of my blog to make them more coherent.


All this and it seems that she can make macarons in her sleep.


NOW do you know who it is?


Are you sitting down?



My blogging mentor is none other than Tartelette.



I know.



I'm thrilled!


06 February 2010

FLASHBACK: The Best Laid Plans...(part 4)


Note: This is a continuing story. Part 1 can be found here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here.

After Dan’s accident in 1999, we finally decided it was time to do what we’d talked about for so long. I gave my consulting firm 12 months notice, and began the process of turning over my clients and my expertise to others. I was working with a very talented team and the process went relatively smoothly.