Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pt 3 Macarons - Fillings

Berry filling tart and sweet.

Just imagine all of the fillings the delicate macaron cookie could compliment. Really, you do all of the imagining. I already made a list in Pt 1 of the Macaron Series. I went for Lime Curd, based loosely on the Barefoot Contessa's recipe, Berry Jam based on the fact that fresh fruit is cheap in the summer, and Almond Honey Paste based on the fact that I had extra almonds.

Lime Curd

2 limes, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
4 tblsp butter, or half of one stick, room temperature
5 egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 cup honey
pinch of salt
2 tsp corn starch mixed with 2 tsp cool water

Zest and juice the limes, keeping 1/4 cup juice separate. Add the zest and granulated sugar to a food processor, blend for 1 minute. Add butter and pulse until butter and sugar are creamed. Add yolks, one at a time, pulsing until evenly combined. Add lime juice, salt, honey, and corn starch mix to the food processor and pulse again until combined to complete the lime curd base.

Bring lime curd base to a 2 quart sauce pan. Heat over medium low heat. Stir constantly until beginning to bubble and curd thickens. Remove from heat, place in fridge to cool for 4-5 hours.

Berry Jam

1/2 pint blueberries
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon blackberry brandy (or other dessert liquor)
1 teaspoon lime juice
6 oz mixed berry jam

Place the first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat until boiling and bubbling readily stirring. Lower the heat to medium, continue to stir until mixture thickens and coats a spoon, about 15 minutes. Add the jam and boil 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, place in fridge to cool for 4-5 hours.

Almond Honey Paste

1/2 cup leftover homemade almond flour
(see Pt 2)
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 tsp canola oil
1 tblsp confectioner's sugar
1 tblsp honey

Place almond flour, salt, and 1 tsp oil in a small food processor or coffee grinder. I used my coffee grinder. Grind for 1 minute until paste starts to form. Stop and stir, if the paste looks too dry add more oil. Grind 1-2 more minutes until smooth. Using a spoon or spatula scrape the paste into a bowl. Add the sugar and honey. Mix with a spoon until smooth. Its all about being smooth. You may need to adjust the sugar, honey, oil ratios at the end to get a desired consistency. I made mine thick and on the saltier/savory side.

All of these fillings may be made a 1-3 days in advance and kept cool in the fridge. Spoon a small amount of filling into the center of a macaron cookie, so that just a small amount squishes out when sandwiched. Keep the lime curd macarons chilled. I packed mine in foil and have stored them in the freezer until their moment of truth.

Pt 2 Macarons - Brooklyn Style

Macarons left to right - mixed berry, almond honey paste, and lime curd.
I made it all from scratch.

I had almost nothing I need on the macaron equipment and ingredient list, and no experience. No fear, I'm a brave Brooklyn home baker spending her weekend tackling the french treat. I spent my weekend preparing and attempting to follow my recipe. I can barely follow a recipe, so I made my own way.

First - Acquiring & Creating ingredients
I spent Friday looking for almond flour after work. Dean and Deluca's has it, $9 for about 2 cups. Whole Foods on Bowery does not have it, though they have hazelnut flour. I looked online, and it lthe flour can be bought for prices around $10-15. No way. I went to the grocery store and bought 1 1/2 lbs of raw almonds. I toasted them in my oven, cooled, and pulsed them in my food processor. Pulse being key. Clumping means you have begun to go too far, so stop. This homemade flour solution is barely acceptable. Commercial almond flour is finer and drier. Mine has texture and color, but that sounds more like my life, yah.

Confectioner's sugar is a snap to find at the store. Extra fine sugar can be made in a food processor (dump regular granulated sugar in and buzz it for 1 minute.) Parchment paper for the cookie sheets is easy, and I got mine at Sur La Table. I also picked up some jam, honey, blueberries, and limes at the store for filling.

I separated my egg whites on Saturday morning as suggested. I saved the yolks to make filling. Both stayed in the fridge.

Second - Filling
This is a whole separate post, but I suggest doing this before you bake your cookies. I feel like it frees up your mind to ponder the nuances of the macaron.

Next - Almost Ready
Sunday morning I got the egg whites out of the fridge about 2 hours before I wanted to begin. I cleaned all of my cooking utensils to prevent contamination of any lingering savory flavors. I assembled my pastry bag, which incidentally I am missing parts for. I was left using a star tip instead of a round tip, and it worked fine. I lined 2 cookie sheets with parchment, because I don't own a silpat. The parchment must be cut to fit slightly smaller than the cookie sheet so curling edges don't deform your macarons.

Not perfect in shape, but light and chewy

Fourth - Dough
The big annoying job is sifting the almond flour (grainy and homemade by me) with the confectioners sugar. I only have a strainer with semi-small holes. My cookies as a result have semi-large crumbs of almond giving them a speckled appearance. Next, I whipped my egg whites, perfectly. Yes, the only step I correctly followed. Folding, my advice, just go slow, and use a spatula. I didn't dye my dough. I couldn't bring myself to make a mistake and create some awful puke colored cookies.

Loading and piping the dough out of the pastry bag is tricky. The slack dough likes to ooze out of the bag before you are ready*. Its tempting to pump out the cookies quickly. Many of my cookies were oval or odd and not even sized. I was happy to walk away from them for 20 minutes to let the skin form.

*Note: My directions indicate beating whites to a medium peak, but I'm finding lots of recipes indication whipping to stiff peaks. I will try this next time. I think my oozing dough might have been under whipped.

Fifth - Baking
The macarons I baked on a thin sheet cookie did better than the insulated sheet, and I don't know why. My first batch started to crack, so I put a wooden spoon in the oven door, and no more cracking! The smell was perfect, and I was pretty happy to see a nice bubbley foot, which is the rough bottom edge of the macaron. Damn this is a complicated cookie.

Nice foot! Some of my macarons cracked. This one is a little over-done.
Pale edges and bottom, not golden, have a chewier taste.

The recipe yielded about 90 cookies, to make 45 macarons, minus a handful of broken cookies. I filled with almond honey paste, lime curd, and berry jam. They are going to be served to lucky people at a 4th of July event this week. I'm keeping them in my freezer for now. My cookies are not french or perfect. They are rustic looking, but very very very good. The lime curd is my favorite. I feel like I have barely gotten to know this complicated cookie, shall I may try again.

Pt 1 Macarons - Parisian Style

I got my hands on a real Parisian Macaron recipe based on Christian Godneau instructions. Macarons are the essence of air. Egg whites whipped, folded with a few dry ingredients and baked to until crunchy and a touch chewy. The dainty cloud like cookies are sandwiched with whatever gooey delight your mind can dream up between. The recipe is a simple list of ingredients, that require the utmost skill and technique, a few specific kitchen tools (pastry bag and icing tips, silpat/parchment paper, standing mixer, sifter/sieve)and experience. The recipe is more tips than steps.

French Macarons:

12.5 oz or 3 1/4 confectioner's (powdered sugar)
6.33 oz or 2 cups almond flour
5 egg whites (brought to room temperature)
2 oz or 4 tblsp extra fine granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.

Sift the almond flour with the confectioner's sugar, and pick out large almond bits which were not ground finely.

In a standing mixer whip the egg whites on medium speed until soft, or past the foamy stage. Gradually add the fine granulated sugar and continue to whip until medium peaks form.

Remove bowl from the standing mixer, and hand fold in the sifted almond and confectioner's sugar. Dough will be slack and fall in ribbons. Add food coloring to dough, color represents filling, so pink=berry or green= pistachio etc.

Attach a 1/2 inch round icing tip to the end of a pastry bag, fill with dough. Pipe quarter-sized circles onto a silpat lined cookie tray. Allow to rest for 20 minutes or more until a dull skin forms. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool, and fill. Example fillings include: fruit jam, lemon curd, mocha butter cream, chocolate ganache, pistachio/nut paste, salted caramel, etc.

Key Tips to Remember:
-- Best made on dry days. Humidity prevents the cookies from properly drying out and egg whites from whipping well.
-- Make sure your tools are exceptionally clean. Keep water away from your standing mixture, your whites will never firm.
-- Pre-crack the whites, and let sit uncovered in the fridge for 1-2 days. Is this an evaporation thing? Could be, I don't know what this step is about.
-- Keep the handle of a wooden spoon in the door of your oven to prevent it from getting too hot. I found this tip on serious eats where you will find another tutorial.
--If cracks appear in your cookies:
--a- your oven is too hot
--b- too much humidity in the air
--c- egg whites were over-beaten
--d- dough was too moist, allow to form more of a skin/dry before baking
--e- the almond flour contains too much fat
--f- all of the above

Even if you screw up, your macarons will taste great. Dive right in and make some mistakes. You can tell all of your family and co-workers about it while they delight in your hard work. Thanks to Claire Michie for sending me the info.

Final Note: These are macarons not coconut mounded macaroons, but those are tastey too.

Almost Fatoosh

Fatoosh is a Middle Eastern salad normally topped with toasted and crushed pita chips, and signature sumac, a delightfully sour seasoning. I don't have any pita chips, but I still have a ton of vegetables.

1/2 cucumber, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
2 green onions, chopped
5 radishes, diced
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sumac (optional)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tsp dried mint, or 1 tblsp fresh chopped
pepper to taste
1 tblsp olive oil

Mix it all up and eat! Fatoosh tastes better if you let it sit for about 2 hours. Its a pretty and refreshing salad to bring to a cook out and compliments meat exceptionally well.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Garlic Zucchini & White Beans

Radicchio: nature's favorite shade of magenta offsets that charred zucchini just so.

Out with reflection and commentary on meals, right back in to recipe writing, starting now:

Garlic Zucchini & White Beans

1 tblsp olive oil
1 large zucchini, sliced into half moons about 1/8 inch thick
salt / pepper / red pepper (to taste)
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
8 cloves garlic
1 tsp white wine
(I use dry vermouth, cheaper & last longer then just white wine in the fridge)
1/2 head radicchio, thinly sliced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 cans white beans
(cannellini, small white, butter beans, navy beans, or chickpeas)
more salt pepper and oil to finish

Heat oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add the zucchini, salt, pepper, red pepper and nutmeg. Stir to coat. Let is sit for about 4-6 minutes, but don't go away. You are looking for a good brown crust on the zucchini. Stir once, and wait another 4-6 minutes, trying to turn over exceptionally uncooked pieces so they get more heat. Add the garlic and stir every 4 minutes, cooking until all zucchini are a deep golden-brown and garlic is toasted. Lower heat and add the white wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan to remove browned bits. Remove from the heat.

In a bowl add the radicchio, onions, and white beans. Add the cooked zucchini and garlic and stir. Finish with oil, salt, and pepper to taste.

I divided this recipe up into 4 containers, and boom, lunch, for most of the week. Also I cooked mine in the grease leftover from a hamburger, that I fried as I cut my veggies. Is that too carnivorous? I decided to write olive oil in its place, but still the zucchini tasted assertively better from the grease.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

csa week 1

Above average amazing tasting csa share, which I laid out on my floor with care.
It was hardly fitting on my kitchen table to photograph for the blog-o-sphere.

Does a 14-16 inch zucchini seem obscene? How about 2 of them? Today was the first week of my csa (culturally sponsored agriculture) pickup for 2009. Its my 3rd year and 3rd farmer. The farm van arrived 30 minutes late, but it was jammed with the largest variety and portion of vegetables I've ever received. In previous years I've signed up with farms named something like Garden of Dirt or Shady Root Farms. This year I got Jorge, and I got to say hi and thanks to his help Hector. This is already so much better. Here is the contents:

Lettuce, 1 head
zucchini, 2 obese ones, about 4 pounds total
cucumbers, 2
red beets, 7
sugar snap peas, a big bag
spring onions, 5
garlic, 2 heads
tomatoes, 2
radish, 8 big ones
turnip, 3 very hunky ones
Greens of unknown variety
(I overheard them being described as Mexican green that can be cooked like spinach)
1 dozen eggs (extra but worth it)

I pick up a full share every other week. The list above is what I am eating for the next two weeks. I will post the salads and ideas I've already whipped up for this week later on. Those vegetables aren't going to eat themselves.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Variety Spread

Brian making a hungry face at cocktail hour, devouring his anitpasto

I attended the wedding of a handsome Italian lady and serious Wyoming Western dude. It was a perfect combination of honkytonk music and Italian decadence, not to mention pretty wild. The anitpasto was enormous. I counted over 8 kinds of cured smoked ham cuts, more cheeses, countless spreads/tapenades, roasted veg, fruits, olives, a few pastas, bean salads, fresh breads plain and seasoned. Enough to make most of the guests think twice about dinner.

I have a lot to learn from these caterers.

Dinner was well organized around stations. Beef and salmon straight off giant grills behind the tables hanging off the back of the barn, pasta, salad with fixins. My favorite was the mashed potatoes served in a martini glass. You could choose from one of 4 varieties, and 20 plus toppings. Lots of people, lots of variety, and even more condiments, zero complaints.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

pangs of being black in the stomach - recipes gone bad

No updates for awhile, uuuh, yeah. There haven't been many meals in my life for a while despite my beckoning, stocked fridge. I am recovering from mother hugging food poisoning. Instead of a recipe, here is a some advice.

1) After the first upset instance, do not try to chug water to rehydrate. If you are really sick this will let loose more pain and anguish on your system.

2) Sip water, take 1 advil (cause you are in for some time and space altering cramps), wait 45 minutes.

3) If you can keep that first advil down, take a second advil with another sip of water, and wait another 45 minutes. If not, too bad, try again.

4) Now you have cramp pain under control, sort of. Sleep. You can't lose it if you are sleeping, you can have weird dreams, but much less discomfort for sure.

5) Call in sick to work, they are probably wondering about you. One time I had a friend call in for me because I couldn't speak with out crying, but oh lord that's another story.

6) After your nap, try drinking only 6 oz of water, and waiting. If you can manage this, you can try eating. I recommend instant soup or miso. Its the only thing I can keep down when I'm sick. I love and miss Batchelor's cup of soup. You can also eat one scrambled egg or dry toast, but really go for instant soup.

7) Keep yourself entertained. I tried watching 9 episodes of Lost Season 2, in a row. This was a mistake, because its getting creepy and loud noises are disturbing. I suggest reading comics. Quiet-like. Madlibs are excellent sick day entertainment.

8) The rest of my/your week may/still sucks. Be careful, and eat slowly. Definitely no coffee for a few days. I still can't stomach a meal. But I promise to post when I'm back to cooking. Right now its lots of protein powder, bananas, bagels, and instant soup.

9) Do not eat leftovers more than 5 days old! That's how I got into this mess. Being lazy, and eating old lentils. Gross.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bittman's Flatbread

Sesame seeds make me want to eat everything.

Hot flatbread is a treasure. Its easy with practice, or if you are Mark Bitman, simple right off the block. I experimented with his 4-ingredient (one is water) flatbread from his NYT's article. I am not a purist, so I added black pepper to the batter and sesame seeds on top.

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup flour
(good flour counts in a recipe like this. I'm using King Arthur's 12 grain, which is superior)
1 big pinch salt
8 grinds pepper from a mill
1-1 1/4 cup water
sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile in a 10-12 inch skillet, over medium heat, warm up the olive oil. The oil should generously coat the bottom of the skillet. Mix flour, salt, and pepper in a bowl. I mixed mine up in a medium cereal bowl, because this isn't a giant recipe. Whisk in 1 cup of water, mix until mostly combined. Add remaining water until batter resembles thick pancake batter. Add to the skillet, top with sesame seeds, and place entire skillet in the oven. Bake 50 minutes, cool, and serve.

I had great crust on my flatbread, but the center was moist like a bad pancake. I probably need a bigger skillet for this recipe. It could almost be called fried crust, as there isn't much rising action or other flavor to define the bread. I am excited to try making the bread with beer in place of half the water, or try another with a dollop of tahini to complete the sesame seeds on top.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Select Grade A Friends and Lamb

Sarah & I have been eating rare tender cuts for almost 10 years, and I think she's special for it.

I can't share a big hunk of meat on the bone with everyone, only a special breed willing to indulge in clams, stuffed pork chops, standing rib roasts, meatballs, and yes, lamb. These grade a friends (you know who you are) encourage me to experiment with meat-based meals (because lets face it, I can bake a mean fucking vegan cupcake, but really I'd rather eat a steak), and I lovem for it!

Leg-o-lamb, lightly seasoned & roasted, perfectly cooked, and an expression of love.