Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Homemade Marzipan and Napoleonshatte

It’s rare that Hubby asks me to make a particular food, so when he requested Napoleonshatte, I couldn’t very well turn him down, could I? Never mind that I’m a mediocre baker at best and baking anything besides brownies or banana bread can be a risky venture.

Napoleonshatte are cookies (that look like Napoleon’s hat!) filled with marzipan and dipped in chocolate. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them offered here in the States, but every respectable pastry shop in Denmark carries them. So simple a creation, but looks can be a bit deceiving. I wouldn’t say they are hard to make, but for a beginner the shape can be difficult to achieve. At least it was for me. Halfway through, I switched to making Napoleon’s logs :P Surprisingly the marzipan filling was not as difficult as I expected. It just required a little patience.

If I actually knew anything about baking and pastries, I could be more specific about the cookie dough. The only thing I can say is the perfect specimen is made with a dough that is slightly crumbly, but also chewy, maybe some kind of cross between a sugar cookie and a pate brisee (likely made with some almond flour), if that makes any sense at all. There are a few recipes out there, but the one I chose seemed easy and straightforward. However I’m not going to link to it because 1) it’s in Danish and 2) the recipe didn’t give me the texture I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong, they were fine, resembling sugar cookies, but I wanted more of the chewiness. I've got a couple recipes I want to try, but if you have a killer recipe, do let me know. When I do find that perfect recipe, I will definitely post the link.

I have 2 logs of marzipan left, totaling a little over 1/2 lb. Any ideas what I should do with them?

I do, however, have a link for the marzipan. It’s from Sara Moulton, one of my all time favorite chefs. She’s just got a down-to-earthness about her that is often missing in the new generation of chefs. The recipe is fantastic. Hubby, the marzipan expert in this house, raved about the result. The only thing I did differently was use 1 tsp almond extract instead of 4 tsp vanilla because I didn’t want any competing flavors. The grinding was a bit taxing on the nerves because the almonds have to be ground to a fine powder. That’s hard to do with most home spice grinders. I had to walk away a couple of times so my grinder could cool down. Count on it taking at least 1 hour (not 15 minutes as stated in the recipe) with the blanching, chopping, grinding, sifting and mixing. Other than that, it’s a perfect recipe. Not too sweet, which is often the case with store-bought, mediocre marzipan.

Lastly, the chocolate ganache. I just melted 8 oz (by weight) dark, semi-sweet Belgian chocolate in ½ cup heavy cream. I did this in the microwave on 50% power, stirring every 2 minutes until the chocolate was melted and uniform. Some people add a pat of butter (but I never do). The ganache takes a few hours to set up. Don’t be tempted to put the cookies in the freezer to speed up this process. You’ll just end up with condensation or something that affects the texture of the coating. The fridge might be okay after a couple of hours. Traditionally the cookies are only coated on one side, but I completely coated a few of the logs, thinking I was doing my chocoholic husband a favor. I stopped when Sonny commented that they looked like turds. Don’t you just love the unbridled honesty?

This is my entry to Weekend Wokking, a blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks that highlights a different theme ingredient every month. This time it's almonds. If you want to get in on the action, send your submissions to me, blazinghotwok(at)gmail(dot)com, by Sunday, March 1st. Guidelines about the event can be found by clicking the link, and be sure to check back for the round-up on the March 4th.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A few words...

I almost peed my pants when I came to my site earlier and saw it was gone. Apparently Hubby forgot to renew the hosting service. Oops. But everything's up and running smoothly again. Yay!

Secondly, I want to remind my readers here in Oregon that this is the last week of Blog for Food, a fundraising campaign sponsored by Oregon Food Bank. Just to sweeten the deal, through Feb. 28th, Gilt Club is offering a free appetizer to anyone who brings in a donation to the Oregon Food Bank. All they ask is that you keep it to "one per party per visit" and don't abuse the offer, since it is for charity. Very sweet deal, if you ask me. Gilt Club is an excellent establishment, and if you don't believe me, read the reviews yourself.

In addition, until the end of the month food donations can be made at the following locations:
-Saraveza in North Portland (1004 N Killingsworth)
-Vino in Sellwood (1226 SE Lexington)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Regional Recipes India Round-up!

We are fans of Indian food in this house, so when Susan of Open Mouth, Insert Fork announced India as the next stop for Regional Recipes, I got excited. Really excited.

I distinctly remember my first encounter with Indian food. During my sophmore year in high school, a friend and I spent spring break with my crazy cousin, who lived in Santa Monica. One evening she took us to dinner at a shabby Indian-Irish pub near UCLA called McGinty’s. I recall my friend and I were not enthused since we'd never had Indian food before, but Mom raised me not to complain when someone is being hospitable. And Crazy Cousin convinced us there’d be a lot of cute college boys there. That sealed the deal.

Since I had no idea what the heck to order, I left that to Crazy Cousin. She ordered saag paneer and eggplant curry. My friend ordered a French fry sandwich (for reals--French fries on white bread with ketchup!). When the food came, I was still feeling unsure, especially because it looked like nothing I'd ever eaten before, but that dissipated pretty quickly after tasting it. I have been a believer since that first time and McGinty's became a tradition. Whenever I was in LA, I ate at McGinty’s.

Shortly after Hubby and I were married we visited Crazy Cousin. I was so excited to take him to McGinty’s. I talked it up, built up the anticipation. And guess what? It had closed down! Oh, the disappointment! Years later and I still get a pang of disappointment thinking about it. I've had a lot of good Indian food over the years, but nothing will ever beat McGinty's.

Enough nostalgia. On to the submissions. Shall we start with a drink?

Chai Black Tea submitted by Wandering Chopsticks. Why bother buying Chai teabags or the premixed concentrate when you can make a superb one yourself? It’s as simple as using a good quality black tea and adding your own cardamom and cinnamon.

Chicken Biryani submitted by Sidewalk Shoes. You know what I love? When people put their doubts aside and try something new. Pam decided to give Indian food another try and found something she loved! Yay! If you’re having doubts about Indian cuisine, perhaps her chicken biryani will make you a believer.

Samosa Cups with Mango Chutney submitted by sauced. Love samosas? Hate standing over a pot of hot oil frying them? Then these little lovelies are the perfect thing. Samosa filling inside baked wonton cups. I might need to throw a cocktail party just to serve these!

Pasanda Kabab (aka Beef Ribbon Kebab) with Cilantro Chutney submitted by [eatingclub] vancouver. Tender beef grilled on a stick served with cool cilantro chutney? Yes, please! Man, I can’t wait until the weather warms up here because this is at the top of my list! Click on the link to see more food porn!

Malwani Chicken Hirwa Masala (aka Chicken in fresh green masala) submitted by Kits Chow. I love love love (love!) cilantro and this fresh green masala is made with a cup of it! Now that is my kind of seasoning!

Indian Beet Salad submitted by Open Mouth, Insert Fork. Beets are one of my favorite vegetables, not only for their wonderful earthy taste, but who doesn’t like the vibrant red color? Seasoned with fennel, cilantro and chilies then tossed with yogurt, this sounds like a wonderfully spicy-cool side dish.

Goan-style Shrimp Curry submitted by Eat.Drink.Think. Looking for a weeknight dinner packed with fiery flavor? Look no further. This shrimp curry can be done in one pot and it’s fast and flavorful. I’m all over this one.

Fried Egg Curry submitted by yours truly. Once upon a time, Hubby and I used to actually cooked together. We weren't particularly good at it, but we enjoyed trying out new things and this is the first Indian recipe we ever tried out of the first cookbook we bought together. Sweet, no?

Thank you to all the participants! They made this a great round-up. There is a nice variety so I’m sure there’s something here for everyone. If you aren’t sure how you feel about Indian food, I encourage you to give any of these entries a try. I know you won't be disappointed.

I have to announce the next region, don’t I? Where to go? Where to go? I think it needs to be somewhere warm because I AM SO OVER WINTER! A place where I can sit on a beach, with a cocktail in hand. Pack your swimsuits and sandals (or shorts and hiking shoes), we’re going to MEXICO!

Interested in participating? Read the guidelines here. The host next time will be Wandering Chopsticks. Please send submissions (with a photo approx 200x200 pixels) to wanderingchopsticks(at)gmail(dot)com by March 15th.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

When Pigs Fly

I made licorice ice cream.

Sounds like a pretty neutral statement, but if you know me, you’d be looking outside to see if pigs had truly learned to fly.

Black licorice is one of my least favorite flavors in the whole wide world. I can’t really describe why I don’t like it, except to say it’s too strong of a flavor. Believe me, I have tried to like it. Candy, ice cream, custard, vodka shots--nothing can change my mind. Hubby, on the other hand, loves it. Of course he does! He’s Danish! The Danes are gaga over black licorice. It’s a cultural phenomenon I can’t even begin to understand.

As a general rule, I don’t like to prepare foods I’m not going to eat. I mean, why put in the work if you don't get to enjoy the fruits of your labor? But what am I supposed to do when my kid says he wants to make licorice ice cream to surprise his Bedstefar, who traveled all the way from Denmark to pay us a visit? Besides, I was feeling a bit guilty because it took the tooth fairy 5 days to visit our house. Sonny was afraid she wasn’t going to come at all, so he wrote her a short note:

Now if that doesn't tug at your heartstrings, you've got a heart of ice.

Licorice ice cream comes in many flavors, if you will. The color and strength of the ice cream will depend on your starting material. I’ve seen it sold as black ice cream bars (marketed as Batman ice cream in DK) or tubs. To make a black ice cream, I think you have to use licorice candy to infuse the cream. Hard candy is probably best. Hubby has used this method to infuse vodka for licorice flavored vodka shots. In Italy we found licorice gelato that was probably flavored with an extract because the color was white. To me the white ice cream is more appealing, but I couldn’t find the extract. However, I did find dried licorice root in the bulk spice section of Whole Foods and that worked well.

Truth be told, the ice cream base was not bad (that’s right, I said it and it’s probably the only time you’ll hear it from me!). I infused the cream for half and hour, which was enough to get a robust licorice flavor. Sonny asked me to throw in some of the soft candy, which I chopped up into bits the size of mini chips. If you like the flavor of licorice, then definitely try this ice cream.

Licorice ice cream
Makes about 1 generous quart
  • 3 cups cream
  • 1.5 oz dried licorice root, chopped or broken into bits
  • 8 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup (or more to taste) chopped soft licorice candy (optional)

Start by infusing the cream with the licorice root in a medium pot. Bring the cream just to its boiling point, remove it from the heat and let it sit, covered, for 30 minutes. After that time, taste the cream to see if the licorice flavor is to your liking. Keep in mind that you will be adding some sugar and another cup of liquid (later) to dilute it down. Once you achieve the desired strength, add the sugar and bring the cream back up just to the boiling point. Stir to help dissolve the sugar. Strain the cream into a clean pot.

In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks until they are pale and thick. Add the hot cream slowly while whisking to prevent the eggs from cooking. Return the custard to the pot and cook it, stirring constantly, until the temperature reaches about 175°F. Remove from heat and add the cup of milk, then pour through a strainer into large clean bowl. Chill thoroughly before churning. Add the candy bits during the last 3 minutes of churning.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Showing My Sentimental Side with Fried Egg Curry

It’s funny to see people in new relationships. They do everything together. Things like grocery shopping or cooking dinner or laundry at the laundromat or working out. They hold hands everywhere they go and kiss on the bus or cuddle while waiting on the corner for the signal to change or play Scrabble in the park. Yes, I love seeing young couples in love. They remind me of Hubby and myself back when we were young and foolishly in love.

One of the things we used to do together was cook. We were both pretty inexperienced in the kitchen, but we enjoyed trying out new recipes. I remember the first cookbook we bought together, The Complete Hot & Spicy Cookbook. Guess how long ago that was? Twelve years!

As far as cookbooks go, Hot & Spicy is pretty good. It’s one of those compilation cookbooks with recipes from several different cuisines. The Indian recipes were our favorites and we learned a lot about Indian food, mostly through trial and error. For instance, did you know that feta cheese is not a suitable substitute for paneer.? We didn’t, until we tried to fry it. And did you know there are two kinds of mustard oil? One is used as a moisturizer and the other for cooking. The food grade oil is nearly impossible to find, but we didn’t know that until we had used half a bottle of the body oil. (Note to self: if labels are written in a foreign language, ask for help translating!) And speaking of body oil, did you know that ghee can also be used as a moisturizer? If you don’t mind smelling like buttered popcorn.

I haven’t touched Hot & Spicy in a while, but since Regional Recipes is going to India, I thought it would be a hoot to revisit the first Indian dish we ever made together (fried egg curry) out of the first cookbook we ever purchased together. Sweet, huh? You thought I was all logic and practicality, but I do have a sentimental, romantic side!

I should mention that we weren’t really impressed with the results the first time around, and we thought it was just a bad recipe because we followed the recipe to the T (including hand chopping 3 onion into a paste and frying 8 eggs to split between the two of us!). In retrospect, it was a perfectly good recipe but we were just too inexperienced to work with it. This time around, it turned out great. It really helps that I now own a food processor and we halved the recipe. Also added the tomatoes for a little more depth. It definitely won’t take 12 years for me to make this again. More like 12 hours. That's how much we liked it.

Fried egg curry
adapted from The Complete Hot and Spicy Cookbook
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 knob ginger, about the size of an adult thumb, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • chilies, to taste
  • 1 tbs vinegar
  • ½ tsp ground tumeric
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • a pinch sugar (probably about ¼ tsp)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes (from a can works perfectly well)
  • salt to taste
  • 4 eggs
Using a food processor, make a paste with the ginger, onion, garlic, chilies and vinegar.

In a small frying pan, heat about 2 to 3 tbs oil with the cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves. When the oil is hot, add the paste and fry until the oil looks like it’s separating back out from the paste, probably 8 to 10 minutes. Be sure to control the heat, because if it’s too high, the paste will burn. Add in the tumeric, chili powder, and sugar and continue to fry for about another minute. Finally, add in the tomatoes and cook a bit longer (until they soften, if using fresh ones). If the mixture gets too dry, add a little water. Season with salt and remove from heat, but keep warm.

In another frying pan, heat up a little oil to fry the eggs. I just fried them all at once and spooned the curry mixture over the eggs as they were cooking. This method leaves the yolks creamy while the whites cook. Alternatively, you could cook the eggs one at a time and remove them to a plate. Once they are all fried, put the curry mixture back over low heat and carefully turn the eggs in it. This is the method given in the book, but I’m too scared to break the yolks or overcook them this way.

Garnish with chopped cilantro (something I forgot to do) and serve with naan. Be sure to break the yolks, mix everything around and use the naan to sop it all up!

Blazing Hot Wok
This is my submission to Regional Recipes, the blogging event that takes us around the world to spotlight different regional cuisines. This time we're in India and I'm hosting. The deadline is officially Feb 15th, but if you're really nice, I'll take submissions up until the 20th, which is when the round-up goes up.

Here are some other Indian inspired dishes you may enjoy:
Creamy chicken curry
Indian spiced lamb shank
Saag paneer or gosht
Vegetable smash (curried vegetable)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pasta with Kale and Caramelized Onions in Blue Cheese Sauce

I was wandering around my local grocery store today, just wasting time. I was only there to get a couple items, but it’s impossible for me to not peruse if I have a little extra time. Definitely could not leave without checking out the cold deli counter. If you didn’t know, I’ve got a deli obsession. Ultra-thin prosciutto and coppa, peppered salami, pastrami, honey ham, liverwurst...I love love love them all! Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the cheese! Lordy, do I get excited when I see a cold case full of cheese.

As I was waiting for the deli guy to slice my coppa, I notice they were offering a Gorgonzola, walnut and grape pasta salad. I’m not really a fan of cold pasta and I’m wary of buying the stuff at the deli. In my experience deli salads rarely taste as good as they look. A light bulb did go off in my head, however, and I knew what I’d be making for dinner.

This pasta is easy and creamy (which I didn't do a good job of capturing). If you're worried about the cheese being too strong, no need. It mellows out when it's cooked. With that said, the quality of the blue cheese is important here, since the whole dish is based on the sauce. I do not recommend those pre-crumbled blue (or feta) cheeses available in most supermarkets because I think they taste terrible. My favorite blues come from Rogue Creamery, an Oregon cheese producer that makes fantastic (and award winning) blue and cheddar cheese. For this pasta I used their Smokey Blue, which had a nice distinct taste, although I wouldn't have guessed it was smoked.

Pasta with caramelized onions and kale in blue cheese sauce
Serves 3
  • 1 cup pecans , toasted on a pan or under a broiler for about 5 minutes and lightly crushed (optional, but highly recommended)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • 4 oz of your favorite blue cheese, plus some for crumbling on top (I don’t recommend one that is too soft)
  • a little milk, if necessary
  • ½ lbs pasta like spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Start by caramelizing the onions in a large pan with a little olive oil. When they are just about done (about 20 minutes or so), add the kale and sauté until wilted. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.

Once your onions are going, put on your pasta water. You’ll want to cook the pasta at least 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions, since they will get additional time in the sauce.

In the same pan you used for the onions, add the cream and cheese. Once the cheese is melted, add the onions and kale back in and mix well. Turn off the heat until the pasta is ready. Don’t worry if the sauce seems thin. It thickens up nicely once you turn the pasta in it.

Once you are ready to dump the drained pasta in, put the pan back on the heat and mix everything together. The pasta will finish cooking and absorb some of the liquid and at the same time, the sauce will thicken. If it gets too thick or dry, add a little milk to loosen it. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, topping each serving with some of the crushed pecans and crumbled blue cheese.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blog for Food

One of my resolutions this year is to waste less food. I’ll admit, I can get carried away and cook like I’m feeding an army, when in fact we’re only 3 people who live in this household. When I think about the manpower and natural resources that go into growing food and raising livestock, it is just irresponsible to use more than we need then let it go to waste. And in these tough economic times, being responsible about our food is all the more important.

I realize our family is fortunate to be able to afford to put a variety of nutritious food on the table as well as enjoy a nice dinner out once in a while. With a lot of attention being (rightly) paid to worldwide hunger, it’s easy to forget that there are people who are hungry here in our own backyards. Families struggling to put food on the table. Seniors who have to decide whether to buy medicine or food. It doesn’t really matter the situation, no one should go hungry in Oregon, in American or anywhere else.

When I heard Oregon Food Bank was launching Blog for Food, I knew right away I wanted to participate. OFB is not just about collecting food at local food drives. They work with a variety of sources, like farmers, wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers and government entities, to collect and distribute food to regional food banks throughout Oregon and southern Washington. The food they collect supplies missions, soup kitchens and families in need with nutritious food. But recovering and distributing food is only the beginning. They want to eliminate the root causes of hunger by providing nutrition education, advocacy, and working with people to teach them how to grow food in their learning gardens. I encourage you to check out their website to see what OFB is all about, why they need our help and find out other ways to help.

To keep up their massive effort, it takes not only food, but also money. Through the Blog for Food campaign, they are hoping to raise $5000 in the month of February. Considering they are facing increasing demand, it’s a modest sum to help support an extraordinary effort. Donations don’t have to be extravagant to make a difference. Think, if just 1000 people donate $5 each how quickly we can reach the goal! Click on the logo up top or in the right sidebar to go to OFB’s online donation page. Be sure to enter “Blog for Food” in the tribute section so the donation is counted towards the campaign. If you prefer, donations can be sent to Oregon Food Bank, PO Box 55370, Portland, OR 97238-5370.

Of course, OFB always welcome food donations. Please read the donation guidelines to be sure the food you donate can be accepted. Click here to find a drop-off site near you. In addition, during the month, food donations can also be dropped off at Saraveza at 1004 N. Killingsworth.