Friday, April 30, 2010

Risotto a la Rose

The first time I was served risotto, I had no idea what it was.  We were having dinner in Napa and the creamiest rice imaginable sat on my plate.  It took one bite to convince me it was the best rice on the face of the earth.  Still, I honestly thought it was plain rice mistakenly undercooked, yet it was soft and creamy. This was years and years ago, before risotto became the rage.

I have read many recipes for risotto but never mustered up the nerve to face a pot of rice, slowly, ladle full by ladle full, add broth and stir stir stir.  Well, after mastering lemon and orange curd, sugar syrups and persnickety buttercream,  I decided it was about time to overcome risotto phobia.  Besides, Rose has a recipe for risotto in her Celebrations book. If anyone could walk me through it, I felt confident she could. And she did!

She offers two methods; one with a pressure cooker and the other with a heavy pot.  I chose the latter lest I launch a pressure cooker like a bottle rocket through the ceiling.  It took a great deal of stirring, a great deal of adding hot broth bit by bit, but eventually the arborio rice  absorbed the liquid and became creamy.

The only thing that could possibly top being able to make risotto is going to Italy again and savoring risotto.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Coffee Chiffonlets with Dulce de Leche Whipped Cream

Chiffonlets, what a cute name!  Makes me want to scour the SPCA for a forlorn little poodle mix, take her or him to the dogie parlor and re-christen her Chiffonlet.  Or if it's a him, Dulce.  These little cakes are stunning.  Espresso on a fork.

Simple ingredients really; cake flour, sugar,leavening, instant espresso, eggs, oil, vanilla and cream of tartar poured into a non-stick mini bundt cake pan.  They stuck anyway and had to be hacked out.  A Kahlua sugar syrup brushed over the cake made for a depth of coffee flavor.  The crowning glory for these tiny little cakes was the incredibly delicious whipped cream with caramelized condensed milk.  I will never look at a can of condensed milk the same way again. 

This Dulce de Leche Whipped Cream is so exquisite there  really is no need for the cake, judging by all the spoons I washed, the dibs over bowls and beaters.  I suppose as a caramel lover it's only natural to be completely captivated by dulce de leche.  One of my very favorite Hagan Daz ice cream flavors is their Dulce de Leche.  My paternal grandmother made a rice pudding which was frequently stirred while baking in the oven, producing a caramel, chewy candy throughout.  I realize now it was a version of dulce de leche.

This is the first attempt at caramelizing the condensed milk.  It came out of the oven resembling curdled custard.  Using a cast iron pan for the water bath probably was just a little too hot.  Carnation has a double boiler method on their web site so I gave that a try.  It was easier and less terrifying for me than facing a pie pan floating precariously on scalding water.

This recipe goes to the top of the Favorite Cakes list.  Next time I'll make it in a regular size angel food cake pan if I have not found the mini angel food cake pans since this recipe totally justifies buying them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Here's a dose of controversy

If you thought you knew what was in your food, this article on nanotechnology may make you rethink a thing or two. 

Rose's Carrots and Mushroom Saute

This recipe is from Rose's Celebration's, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc.  She credits her friend Susan Doris for inventing this dish.  Susan, it seems, needed an extra pan to heat a baby bottle and combined a pan of cooking carrots into a pan of sauteing mushrooms.  Forgetting about them, she opened the pan thirty minutes later discovering a delicious new way to cook carrots.

In an attempt to improve my laxidasical cooking skills and same old repertoire, I'm making an effort to cook a new recipe each week from Celebrations or Melting Pot.  Since both are out of print, I'm guessing it is safe to post the recipe.  If not, someone please let me know and send the cheese police.
(Be forewarned, risque inuendo, but hillarious definintion of cheese) Both books are available at Alibris

Carrots and Mushroom Saute
(slightly modified)

6 med carrots, scraped and cut into 1/8 inch rounds- 3 cups, 1 pound or 454 grams
unsalted butter,  2 tablespoons, 1 oz or 28 grams
1 med clove garlic, smashed and peeled, 5 grams
fresh mushrooms, sliced, 2 and 1/2 cups, 8 oz
salt, 3/4 teaspoon
pepper, freshly ground, 1/2 teaspoon
fresh thyme, 1 tablespoon
sugar, 1/2 tsp

In a medium saucepan, place the carrots and add boiling water to cover them by about 1 inch.  Boil the carrots, partially covered, until tender-crisp, 5-8 minutes.  Drain and set aside, covered.

Meanwhile, in a large heavey skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Add the garlic and mushrooms.  Cover and cook for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms give up their liquid.  Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the drained cooked carrots, salt, pepper, thyme and sugar and cook over low heat for 30 minutes, stirring three or four times.  Increase the heat to medium high and cook, stirring often, until the carrots and mushrooms are golden brown, about 5 minutes.
Delicious!  I never would have thought the combination of carrots and mushrooms together would complement each other so well.  The only thyme I had was growing in an herb pot so I guessed at the amount, added more mushrooms and tweeked the sugar and salt.  This recipe is a new favorite.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rose and Harold McGee

Last week I was extremely fortunate to attend two lectures; one with Rose and the other by Harold McGee.

Rose came to San Francisco for a series of presentations.  Thanks to Rachelino, I attended the presentation and book signing at Omnivore Books.  Rose mentioned she spoke to two baking groups in the bay area,  Bakers Dozen and another group in the Napa valley, whose members each month bake a recipe from Rose's Heavenly Cakes exactly as written.  They then taste test and discuss.  I can't remember their name but it sounded fun to me!  And definitely made me think the Heavenly Cake Bakers should have a conference somewhere, sometime.

Harold McGee was a speaker at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at the University of California at Davis.  I didn't know a thing about Mr. McGee but a longtime, childhood friend, a UCD alumni, signed me up after my Seville Orange Marmalade obsession.  Still dubious, Virginia mentioned Harold McGee's method for hollandaise sauce and I was inspired to attend the lecture.

My memory is somewhat fuzzy these days but here are the few notes I took during the lectures. Both taught me one thing, there is nothing like listening to a gifted speaker who happens to be a world class baker, cook, food scientist.  If I had it to do over again, I would attend a culinary school, if only at the junior college level, which is where GingerElizabeth began her education, and who I noticed was at Harold McGee's  lecture.

Those of you who have expressed interest in culinary school and still have long term/short term memory, I whole heartedly encourage you to go for it.  Maybe only one class at a time if your family responsibilities or current job prohibits you from taking more or geography. I see so many gifted bakers and cooks on the blogs, with curiously keen minds and more importantly, passion, that want to pursue the culinary arts.

Favorite book is The Florist's Daughter by Patricia Hemple
Favorite cake is the Golden Lemon Almond
Understand ingredients and what they do for successful baking
Too much flour and cocoa mixed with water left uncovered both make for a dry cake.
Vanilla, if measured and left uncovered before use, will evaporate.
Texture affects flavor
Accurate oven temperature is critical

The story behind the chocolate lacquer recipe is fasinating and I hope she'll post it on her blog, if she hasn't already. I probably have the details wrong but it involved a lady, I think in Japan, who knew the technique, a baker who wanted to learn the technique so spent many years observing her, he then wrote a book. Rose saw his chocolate lacquer cakes in his itty bitty tidy cafe/bakery, he gave her recipes in Japanese. He only spoke Japanese and French, she speaks French so they were able to communicate. Rose had a student/assistant/friend(?) translate the recipe then waited, I think, three years to  make it afraid it wouldn't work.  Okay, I may have hallucinated that last bit because it still doesn't seem possible chocolate and sugar could ever intimidate Rose.

She introduced her brother, who is as cute as she is, and plugged his store saying "Shop at Pet Food Express!" which was next door to Omnivore Books.  It was hillarious!
Cake Bible was styled completely by Rose and Martha Stewart told her she needed a professional stylist because it looked too perfect.
Her husband figured out straws would work better than wood dowels for supporting wedding cake layers but doesn't want any of the credit!  The plugs from the straws are a perfect way to taste the cake.
She loves the restaurant Qoi
Rose's two books, Rose's Celebrations and Rose's Melting Pot: A Cooking Tour of America's Ethnic Celebrations, were not big sellers because people didn't think she could cook. ( I personally think the publisher should re-release both.  They are fantastic books and do include desserts)
The biggest shock of all: it was a challenge to get Cake Bible published as no one particulary believed in her.

Harold McGee
Research shows the human brain is "bored" after three bites of the same flavor.  Cutting edge chefs take this into consideration and devise menus with small amounts of different foods, so the palate is "shocked" and not bored.
Low temperature cooking over a long period of time produces superior flavor in meats ie 50 hours @ 130 degrees.
Sous-vide water bath cooking is now available for home use
Temperature controlled at precise degrees produces textures and flavors never tasted before
French Culinary Institute cooked eggs at temperatures which varied by degrees to produce different tastes.
Paris restaurants are now featuring egg on the menu by degrees.
His slide show included cutting edge chefs from around the world:
Ferran Adria
Wylie Dufresne
Heston Blumenthal, who devised a way to make a cup of tea both iced and hot at the same time.  No joke!
Tech n Stuff Blog
Jose Andres
Massino  Bottura
Daniel  Patterson, from Qoi in San Francisco
The book Food for Thought, Thought for Food 1987-2007, the menus from Ferran Adria who never repeats a meal at his restaurant.
One of these chefs, which I failed to earmark, is creating stunning flavor sensations with agar, producing such things as plum caviar.
And last but not least, there are 52 odor active compounds detected in the flavor range of stews.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Two Fat Cats Whoopie Pies and an afternoon with Rose

Two Fat Cats Whoopie Pies are a fun dessert.  Light chocolate cake with meringue filling that drives kids crazy with impatience waiting to eat one.  Adults like them just as much.

But you really don't care about the particulars of Whoopie Pies, now do you?  Be honest, you'd much rather hear about Rose!  I can't blame you one bit.  She is completely charming, even more so in person than in her videos, if that's possible.  It is.

But back to Whoopie Pies and judging by the way my eldest granddaughter went whooping up and down the halls like Daffy Duck, these "pies" are aptly named.   The ingredients were simple and straight forward: chocolate, muscavado sugar, flour, egg, oil, buttermilk, etc  I had Ghirardeli semi sweet chocolate on hand which didn't specify the percentage.   Very perplexing.  The cake alone would be fantastic paired down to a small cookie size.  I plan to make this recipe mini size next time.  The filling was not difficult to make except for guessing the hard ball stage.  My instant read thermometer does not register above 220 degrees and the sugar syrup called for 250 degrees.  I was surprised by the final texture; light and creamy verses typical spongy marshmallow. This was in a class all it's own.

So how did I end up seeing Rose Saturday afternoon?  After Rachelino kindly posted about Rose's book signing in San Francisco, I was excited; it's only an hour and half drive.  The logistics of dealing with weekend traffic convinced me to skip it but eldest granddaughter had already packed for the beach and set her sights on Ghirardeli Square ice cream parlor after Golden Boy pizza for lunch.  There was no turning back.

We left home early for time to play at Baker Beach before the book signing and ran smack dab into the worst traffic jam I have seen in forty five years of living in this town.  The universty began celebrating Earth Day early with an annual picnic and over a hundred thousand people, according to the news, jammed the freeway trying to get on campus.  It took over an hour to go ten miles.  Luckily it was smooth sailing once past the university.  Not even the Golden Gate bridge was grid locked which was a miracle for a sunny Saturday.

It took massive willpower to tear ourselves away from the warm sand and crashing waves but the lure of Golden Boy Pizza is mightier than a sandcastle.  This pizza is like no other. It's made with foccacia dough that somehow is magically transformed by the foggy salt air.  The owner once told me the dough doesn't turn out as well on hot days.  I had to laugh at the realization not one of the many world class restaurants in San Francisco  has the power to entice us to eat anywhere else in The City by the Bay.  Not one, including COI which both Rose and Harold McGee highly praise.  I would go so far as to say if I had to choose between Golden Boy Pizza and Alice Water's Chez Panisse, I'd bid Alice adieu.

We made it to the book signing a little before three o'clock and  were completely astonished to walk into the small quaint shop packed with people sitting in chairs and standing against the walls. Surprised to discover Rose was scheduled to speak made it all the more special.  Lucky enough to land  in the front row,  I absolutely hung on Rose's every word, as did the entire room.

This is where I would insert pictures of Rose and Woody, except the camera was in the car.  I will tell you she had the whole room laughing hysterically with the revelation straws used for supporting  cake layers also provides the perfect opportunity to taste test a cake, like taking a geological core sample.  She also pointed out ingredients can be correctly added but if the oven temperature is off the texture will suffer. If the texture suffers, so does the taste.  Texture and taste go hand in hand.

She  answered questions from the audience and then signed everyone's spotless, pristine books.  Notice my book is neither spotless nor pristine.  When I handed it to her, she said "Oh, you've used this book!"  She signed her name by the original sticker.  And then signed a Christmas cookie book for my daughter.  Woody signed his picture as well. I didn't dare pull out the original cookie book from 1991 complete with children's first attempts at writing, the puppy's teething marks on the cover or the chocolate stains.  I had it with me, though.

This puppy, who was tall enough to reach the bottom row on the bookshelf, also teethed on Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts.  Martha was not amused when she autographed it.  NOT AT ALL.  Which is funny as Rose told a story how Martha instructed her to get a stylist after Cake Bible came out because the pictures were "too perfect".  Rose herself did all the styling.  I was stunned to hear she had a difficult time getting the Cake Bible published as no one particularly believed in her.  I know, I think my brain short circuited hearing that!

It was such an enjoyable presentation. The entire room, crowded like a game of how many kids can fit into a telephone booth,  would have stayed til midnight listening to her speak.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Banana Refrigerator Cake with Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting

Dreamy Creamy White Chocolate Frosting.....absolute perfection atop a delicately flavored banana cake with  just a hint of lemon.  This frosting is amazing.  Next time I'll double the recipe and slice the cake in half for a filling.  Or just run off with the dish and the spoon.

It never fails when ripe bananas are called for there are only green ones available in the markets. This past week was a bit hectic but I managed to actually plan ahead buying bananas on Friday.  Yesterday they still were not sufficiently ripe. A few hours in a 250 degree oven did the trick.  They obliged by turning black and quite nasty looking.

The batter was wonderfully easy to mix together.  The mini Cuisinart worked fine, which thrilled me.

I used Lindt White Chocolate with Coconut in the frosting.  It played off the banana perfectly.  

                                             This is the reason for the chaotic week.

Lilianna Rose was born Saturday evening on her Italian great grandfather's birthday. He would have
been thrilled. She's our little bit of heaven.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sybil's Pecan Torte

Sybil's Pecan Torte with Coffee Cream is a simple cake delightfully acceptable for Passover.   The minute I looked over the necessary ingredients, visions of spices danced in my head.  

I decided to follow the recipe exactly as written in Rose's Heavenly Cakes this first try but that quickly changed after pulverizing the toasted pecans into pecan butter.  Not holding out much hope for anything more than a Pecan Cookie Bars a la Sybil, I threw in muscavado sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla.

Whenever the name Sybil is mentioned within ear shot of my family, it is guaranteed to launch a Fawlty Towers monologue.  I am happy to report that Mr. Carnegie would not have to shut down my kitchen in spite of the evidence below.   

Trusting the instant read thermometer knew what it was doing, I  patiently waited and watched  the cake get darker and darker.  I remembered to lower the oven temperature taking into account the dark spring form pan, but it didn't help.  So I pulled out a serrated knife and sliced off the bottom. 

It just goes to show, once again, Rose's recipes have a huge margin for error.

This cake was loved by everyone who had a slice, even kids.  I let the little ones taste test whipped cream flavored with a smidgen of coffee before frosting the cake.  They preferred it vanilla flavored with Lindt's new sea salt dark chocolate shaved over the top.  I sprinkled the remaining instant Starbucks' coffee powder over the whipcream on the adult's slices.  It played beautifully with the coffee hints in the cake.  This is  a light exquisite dessert that I'm certain will be requested many times over.   Everyone wanted seconds and it's even more flavorful the next day.