Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

In honor of the holiday, I'd like to share pictures of the pumpkins we carved this year. We decided to go with a theme near and dear to us here at Chez Marshmallow: Nintendo. 

Boo the Ghost

The man himself: Mario!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Last Grab at Summer

Summer is over. I have to admit it, even here in sunny Florida. It was less than 40 degrees when Hubband left for work this morning, and that's probably the third day in a row. It's time for squashes, pumpkins, mushrooms and apples, and gone are the days of melons and berries. 
Just two weeks ago, though, I made one last stand for summer's bounty, and it was wonderful. 
T & J were coming over for dinner, and I decided it was a perfect opportunity to try making some ice cream. I've had my eye on a recipe of Brilynn's for quite a while now: a Balsamic-Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream. Mmmm! I love drizzling fresh berries with a little aged balsamic for dessert, so when she posted the recipe back in June, I was immediately intrigued. I rearranged it just a bit, and I must say, it came out fabulously. I used a mix of sugars to macerate the berries before roasting, and followed Shirley Corriher's advice about letting scalded milk rest, even after cooling. The ice cream churned up beautifully, with a super-creamy texture and no over-crystallization. It was so flavorful that I didn't even drizzle the reserved berry juice on top; we saved it to slather onto french toast the next morning. 
The picture isn't great, but that may be because I was too impatient; taking pictures is a fiddly business when all you want to do is eat your new favorite ice cream!
Balsamic-Roasted Strawberry Ice Cream 
Adapted from Brilynn of JumboEmpanadas

I personally think that brown sugar is much better with strawberries than white, for depth of flavor. Next time I will most likely use 100% brown sugar in this. This makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

2 lbs strawberries
2 1/2 Tb granulated sugar
3 Tb brown sugar
3 Tb balsamic vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 F. While it warms, wash and pat dry the strawberries and remove the green hulls. Cut any very large berries in half. Place the berries on a baking sheet with sides (half sheet pan) to keep all the juices in, and then toss them with the two kinds of sugar. Let the berries macerate in the sugar for half an hour, then toss them with the vinegar. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the berries are completely squishy and there is lots of juice in the pan. Let cool completely. 

Custard Base

3 egg yolks
1 C heavy cream
1 C whole milk
2/3 C granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp table salt

Combine the milk and cream in a heavy saucepan and heat to a scald, or around 175 F on a candy thermometer. While the milk is heating, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in another bowl until they are pale and airy. Slowly add a large spoonful of hot milk to the egg/sugar mix, and whisk to temper. Add two more large spoonfuls, whisking after each, and then pour all of the tempered egg mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the hot milk/cream. Continue heating and stirring until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla and salt, stir, then pour through a fine sieve to remove any egg protein that may have clung to the yolks. Place in a bowl and let cool. Once cooled, cover and chill for at least 4-12 hours to allow the scalded milk proteins to rest. 
Once both berries and custard are cooled and rested sufficiently, strain the strawberries over a bowl to catch the juices, and combine the juices with the custard base. Reserve the berries. (You can also reserve a few spoonfuls of berries with juice at this point for topping, if you're so inclined.) Pour the custard into your ice cream machine and churn according to their instructions. 3-5 minutes before the ice cream is finished churning, add the berries to incorporate them into the custard. When finished churning, the ice cream will be more like a soft-serve consistency. I recommend freezing it in an airtight container for a few hours to firm it up, but it will be delicious either way. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

House Guests

Things have been very busy in the Marshmallow household for the past two weeks, and that has meant not blogging as frequently as I had hoped. I'm sorry! We've had house guests for the last two weekends, and being as nit-picky as I am, that means that I want everything to be just so...of course, it never is, but I do try. 
This past weekend our house guests were Hubband's parents, so I (attempted to) pull out all the stops. I tried something new with my go-to apple pie recipe, baked scones, made cannelloni with homemade pasta, and whipped up some of Jude's Honey-Whole Wheat bread to go with my chicken salad. That was before they even got here on Thursday night. During the weekend, I also made a big batch of shirred eggs, Hubband grilled rainbow trout and corn on the grill, and I put together some light and fluffy buckwheat pancakes. We also took advantage of Orlando's large selection of restaurants and dined out two nights. 

Back to the baking: I made scones on Thursday morning, both because I know my guests enjoy them and because there is a scone recipe in my Tartine cookbook that I've been eyeing for some time. It is the recipe for their much-touted buttermilk scones, with Zante currants. I decided to rearrange things just a little, and used dried unsweetened Bing cherries instead, as well as replaced half of the all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour.

The scones baked up moist with a wonderful texture and some flaky layers. It's a little hard to describe these scones; they were dense and substantial, but didn't sit in the belly like a rock the way so many often do. I really liked the addition of the whole-wheat flour, both for nutrition and flavor, and am curious how they would turn out using 100% whole-wheat pastry flour. Next time I would add more citrus zest, and would maybe try orange instead of lemon. 

Buttermilk Scones
Adapted from Tartine

The original recipe calls for Zante currants. I used cherries, but these could easily be made with blueberries, raspberries, apricots, or raisins. If you fresh fruit, freeze it before adding it to the dough so the pieces don't leak juice and dye the dough as you mix. I think that next time, I will increase the amount of citrus zest, but I am listing the original amount here. I find it much faster to place a bowl on my kitchen scale and weigh out all of my ingredients, so those are the measurements I've included here.

100g (3 1/2 oz) Dried unsweetened Bing Cherries 
340g  (12 oz) All-purpose flour
340g (12 oz) Whole-wheat pastry flour
15 mL (1 Tb) Baking powder
3 3/4mL (3/4 tsp) Baking soda
100g (3 1/2 oz) Granulated sugar
6 1/4 mL (1 1/4 tsp) salt
255g (9 oz) Unsalted butter, very cold
375 mL (12 oz) Buttermilk
5 mL (1 tsp) Grated citrus zest 

45 mL (3 Tb) Unsalted butter, melted
Large crystal sugar such as Demerara for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment. If using dried fruit, plump it by placing it in a bowl and adding enough warm water to cover, then let it sit for ten minutes. Sift together the flours, baking powder, and baking soda into the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and mix, then cut the butter into small cubes and scatter them over the dry ingredients. Pulse the mixer on and off until you have pea-sized lumps of butter throughout the flour. You don't want to break up the butter too much, so keep an eye on it. Add the buttermilk, zest, and fruit all at once and mix gently on low speed until you just have a dough that will hold together. You should still have some visible bits of butter in the dough. Dust a work surface lightly with whole-wheat flour and turn the dough out onto it. Use your hands to gently shape the dough into a rectangle that is 18" long, 5" wide and about 1 1/2" thick. Brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar, then using a dough scraper or long chef's knife, cut the dough into 12 triangles. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake 25-35 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Birthday Baking

Last week was a busy baking one for me. I made several different nibbles for Mom's Book Club meeting, and then it was my sister's birthday. After I pestered K a few times about what kind of cake she would like, (having silently and unofficially declared myself 'birthday cake maker' for everyone, including myself) she finally gave me ultimate leeway, saying only "Surprise me. Make whatever you want....but...I do like chocolate..." As if I could somehow forget. 
I originally planned on devil's food cake with a meringue frosting, but decided to keep looking around for ideas. I came across chockylit's Cupcake Bakeshop (now, sadly, 'closed') and began to browse, just looking for tips on meringue frosting. Instead, I came across a recipe for Samoas Cupcakes, based on the classic Girl Scout Cookie Samoas, which also just happen to be K's absolute favorite. After wavering for a minute, I realized that I had to make them for her. 

A brown sugar butter cake base, with a teaspoon of homemade caramel tucked inside, topped with dark chocolate ganache, a soft thick layer of toasted coconut and condensed milk, and then drizzled with more caramel and ganache; they are an intricate and rich treat best eaten with a fork and a cup of coffee. 
They were tasty. Real tasty. I think they would have been even better had we not all been incredibly full after a fabulous brunch at La Coquina, touted as the best brunch in the Orlando area. 
Happy birthday K! I hope you enjoyed the cupcakes as much as I enjoyed making them for you. 

I followed chockylit's recipe pretty closely, so I will just link to it here

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More Chicago Eats

Well, after our little intermission of homey goodness, it's time to get back to this backlog of travel food. 
Imagine yourself transported to the Midwest, to a historic, blue-collar city that loves teams sports and neon green relish. Imagine yourself in Chicago. 
You get up one morning while you are there, and because you have done some research before leaving home, you know there is good breakfast to be had at a place called the Southport Grocery & Cafe. You hightail it there and find friendly folks, good coffee, and a happy little store. 
You then glance at the menu, and are blown away by choices. Cupcake pancakes, made from their award-winning cupcake batter. Stuffed French toast, great-looking hash, delectable sounding omelets, breakfast bruschetta, Mexican-influenced steak & eggs, baked oatmeal, and something called a Grown-Up Pop-Tart. 
You decide to go big, and between yourself and your spouse, order Cupcake Pancakes, a Rosemary Ham, Gruyere, Mushroom, & Leek Omelet, a piece of griddled Coffee Cake, and the mysterious Pop-Tart.
The Pop-Tart is a warm piece of folded bread-like pastry, filled with mascarpone cheese, berry preserves, and vanilla walnuts. Mmm. You are shocked that no one has thought of this before. You then consider the fact that maybe someone has, and somehow neglected to give some to you. This thought is equally shocking. 
You then move on to some griddled sour cream and walnut coffee cake, which has been sliced in half, slathered with cream cheese, put back together, and slapped on the griddle until a warm layer of caramelized crustiness forms on the bottom. Spicy with cinnamon, and with cream cheese that is wisely left unsweetened, this is absolute comfort food. The rosemary ham omelet is good, but not quite as bold as the baked goods, although it provides a much-needed savory counterpoint. The cupcake pancakes are exactly that: cupcake batter slapped on a griddle. They are sweet and cakey and fun, and don't need any syrup, although it is provided. 
At some point you manage to roll yourself out of Southport, thinking that if you lived nearby, you'd hang out there all the time. You go check out an aquarium and a museum, and highly enjoy your nerdy self. 
Eventually, some hours or days later, or perhaps it was the day before, (the lingering effects of sugar coma make it all blend together) you decide you cannot leave the Windy City without having consumed a hot dog. Because you love television, and have wasted many hours of your life watching it, you remember an interesting place called Hot Doug's: The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium, located in this same city. You decide to make your way there, and on arriving only 40 minutes before closing time, find a line that winds out the door and halfway down the block. You feel secure in the knowledge that it's got to be good, and you wait. Service is fast, and you are ordering only 15 minutes later. You order a Dog, char-grilled, with everything, which translates to a Chicago-style hot dog, poppy-seed bun, neon relish, and all.
Your spouse nearly has a fit trying to decide, (in their defense, the menu is huge, and there are always at least 5 specials) and eventually goes big again, ordering a Jamaican Jerk pork sausage with passionfruit mustard and fried plantains, a Kobe dog with Cinci-style chili, mustard, and cheddar, and a Wild Boar sausage with spicy mustard and cheese-stuffed peppers. You decide to pass on the duck-fat fries, although they are tempting. 
The dogs are all excellent. The Chicago-style is classic, with the wedge of pickle and a touch of celery salt. The Cinci-style chili on the Kobe dog has the requisite hint of cinnamon, and the spice of the wild boar sausage toppings is good; hot, but with great flavor. Your spouse also vouches for the deliciousness of the Jerk dog, which you pass on trying. 
You again manage to roll yourself outside and return to your hotel, where you nap before heading to a late dinner reservation...
To be continued!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Samgyeopsal...Sounds Good to Me!

I was perusing Andy & Loey's Only Planet blog last week, on a day that I happened to be trying to plan the week's menu, and came across their posts about Korea. (If you've never checked out Only Planet, go for it. It's a blog all about doing that thing I could never do, selling it all and going around the world.) In their posts, they mentioned enjoying a dish called Samgyeopsal, which I (of course) proceeded to look up. It happens to be a popular Korean dinner dish involving slices of grilled pork belly, served in lettuce leaves with rice and a dipping sauce. I decided that it sounded like a novel use for my homemade bacon, and penciled it in. 
A few nights later, Hubband grilled thick slices of bacon and wedges of onions while I boiled some long-grain brown jasmine rice and sauteed mushrooms with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. We bundled the bacon, onions, and mushrooms into lettuce leaves along with sliced scallions and bean sprouts, and served with the rice and some (very) hot chili sauce for dipping.

Delicious! It was a great, fast dinner for a weeknight, and a nice departure from typical dinner fare. I've made lettuce wraps before with a chopped or ground chicken filling, never bacon. Traditional Samqyeopsal is made with unmarinated, uncured pork belly, but I really liked the smoky flavor of the bacon with with crisp veggies and spicy sauce. 

This recipe is highly adaptable depending on how many mouths you're feeding, so I'm not going to give many concrete measurements. This is simple, delicious food. 

Thick-sliced bacon or uncured pork belly
Mushrooms, e.g button or cremini
Sesame Oil
Mung Bean Sprouts
Lettuce leaves (Boston/Butter is my favorite for wraps, but Iceberg works too)
Hot Sauce/Sriracha/Gochujang

Cut onion into wedges through the root, which will help them stay together on the grill. Brush them lightly with olive oil, then place them on a preheated grill over indirect heat. After a few minutes, add the strips of bacon, and cook until bacon is heated through and onions are softened and have nice char marks. If using uncured pork belly, be sure pork is completely cooked. Remove to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Saute sliced mushrooms in a hot skillet until shrunken and golden, using a little cooking spray if necessary to keep them from sticking. When close to finished, add minced garlic and ginger. (I used about 1 1/2 tsp of each for a pint of mushrooms.) Add toasted sesame oil to taste. (I used about 1/2 tsp.) Place bacon/pork belly, onions, mushroom mixture, sliced scallions, and bean sprouts in lettuce wraps, and serve with rice and hot sauce. 

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Taste of Home

As much as I love to travel, to explore new places and find the best of their cuisine (or at least attempt it), I love coming home again even more. I could never be one of those people that sell everything and go around the world for a year; I need the safety and the calm of a home base, somewhere to retreat and recharge my batteries. Traveling makes me a bit anxious no matter how much I plan, and too much traveling in a short time really wears me out. 
In that spirit, let's take a break from these posts documenting all of our recent travel, and talk about something homey and comforting. How about eggs? 
I made these eggs a few weeks ago, between two of our trips, and I think it's time to make them again. They are technically called shirred eggs; "an egg baked or broiled in a buttered cocotte, or small dish, until the white is set and the yolk is liquid". In this case, they are baked atop a bed of creamy spinach, scented with a little nutmeg and parmesan, and after baking are topped with some garlicky breadcrumbs for crunch. They were warm and soft, homey and comforting, and just the thing to recharge the batteries. 

Shirred Eggs with Spinach
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Breakfast

The spinach could be prepared in advance and refrigerated, but baking it while still well-chilled would increase baking time. This could be gotten around by just blanching, squeezing, and chopping the spinach in advance, so the next step would warm the chopped spinach back up before baking. I used individual cocottes simply because I had them. Baking in an 8 1/2" round gratin dish or similar shallow container should take about 18-20 minutes. Adding lardons of bacon to the spinach mixture would be nice as well.

1 1/2 lbs spinach, well rinsed and stemmed
1 small onion or 2 medium shallots, finely diced 
1 Tbs unsalted butter
1/2 C heavy cream 
1/2 C freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 extra-large eggs
Garlicky Bread Crumbs

Fill a large saucepan 3/4 full with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lightly salt the boiling water and then add the spinach, cooking until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Immediately drain in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible, then chop coarsely. Preheat the oven to 350 F and butter your chosen baking dish. Place the empty saucepan back on medium heat and add the butter, then the diced onions. Cook until the onions are translucent. Add the chopped, drained spinach to the onions and cook until any excess moisture has evaporated. Stir in the cream, cheese, a pinch of salt, freshly ground pepper, and nutmeg. Cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and place the spinach in the prepared baking dish or portion evenly among 4 cocottes. Smooth the top of the spinach mixture, use the back of a large spoon to create 4 depressions in the spinach, then crack an egg into each. Carefully transfer the dish or dishes to the oven and bake until whites are almost set and yolk is runny, 8-20 minutes depending on baking dish size. Remove while the whites are still a little jiggly, as they will continue cooking outside the oven. Top with a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs. 

Garlicky Breadcrumbs
This is a recipe to play with. I used whole-wheat dry breadcrumbs, but you could just as easily use white or sourdough, and fresh breadcrumbs would work perfectly too.

1 Tbs unsalted butter
2 medium cloves garlic
3/4 C breadcumbs

Mince garlic very finely. Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, and when melted, add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add breadcrumbs and stir to combine.  Stir often to prevent garlic from over-browning, and cook until breadcrumbs are crisp and golden brown. Use immediately or cool and store in an airtight container at room temp for up to 24 hours. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An Evening at Alinea

Last weekend, Hubband and I took a trip to Chicago for food and football. He is a longtime Bears fan, and has always wanted to watch a game at Soldier Field. 
We started planning this trip more than 6 months ago, and I can't really remember what came first, the food or the football. Did we talk about Alinea first, and decide to go to a game while we were in Chicago, or was it the other way around? I actually think it may have been food first. We originally read about Alinea in some magazine article detailing the cruel irony of Chef Grant Achatz's battle with tongue cancer, as well as his innovative molecular-gastronomy cuisine. Eventually we heard more and more about the restaurant, (on the list of Top 50 restaurants in the world, James Beard Award winner) and decided we should go at some point, and then this trip came into being. We knew we wanted to go in late September to catch a Bears game before it became too cold (I get cold very easily, and tend to shiver in a very conspicuous and uncontrollable fashion) and Hubband called in June to find out when the reservation books for September would be open. He was told to call July 1st, 10 am central time, to try for a booking for last weekend. He called July 1st at about 10:04 am, and an 8:45pm booking was all they had left. Needless to say, we were stoked about getting it. 
We got into Chicago around 2 on Friday, went to our hotel, took a little nap as it was going to be a late night, freshened up, and got a cab to the restaurant. Happily, we were aware in advance that there is really not much of a sign for the restaurant, which is accessed through a set on nondescript matte black doors in a brick building. The door was opened for us, and we found ourselves looking down a very interesting hallway. The left wall was normal and painted grey, but the right-hand wall was painted white, softly lit with pink, and was an undulating shape that gradually brought the hall to a narrow dead end. As we slowly walked, and gawked, an automatic stainless steel set of doors inset in the left hand wall opened, and we were inside. We were a few minutes early, so we gladly chose some seats near the kitchen in which to wait. I, of course, peeked as much as possible without making a fool of myself. (Hopefully.) I think my favorite part of the kitchen was the wall on which Chef's sketches of each course were taped. Those rough sketches, done with a Sharpie marker, were translated into some of the most whimsical, elegant, and thought-provoking food I've ever experienced. 
Within just a few minutes, we were led up a lovely stainless steel and glass staircase to a softly lit room decorated in shades of black and pale green. We sat at a large table of black wood, on a black velvet banquette that was very comfortable, as you would hope to find in a restaurant where your meal may take 4-5 hours. 
There are only two dinner choices at Alinea: a 12-course tasting or a 24-course tour. About 70% of their guests do the 12-course, and if you would like the 24, you are asked to notify them when you make the reservation. I'm sure you can guess which one we went with. We also decided to do the wine pairing with the meal, which Chef had added a few things to, so in the end, we had 26 courses, 11 wines, and 5 types of bread. 
I couldn't resist bringing a camera, but I also couldn't find the courage to bring the big SLR (which I should have, someone at another table had one, AND a tabletop tripod!) so it was back to the old point-and-shoot. I also didn't want to use any flash. I apologize for any dim photos, as well as any that are less than crystal clear. The room, as I mentioned earlier, was softly lit; bright enough to enjoy what you are eating and be totally comfortable, but not perfect for photos. A photo of each course, with explanation, can be found by clicking on the flickr icon that's now in the left sidebar and navigating to the Alinea set. 
Some of my favorites:
Course #2: Aromatic eating utensil-lemongrass. Topped with a tiny, briny Kumamoto oyster, chive, seaweed, yuzu, and sesame. A one-bite wonder. 
Course #4: Cauliflower with multiple coatings, 3 gels, and apple soup. Divine. I could eat this every day, and be completely happy.
Course #5: Yuba bean curd, fried, wrapped with tender butterflied shrimp and a tiny bit of citrus peel and chive, sprinkled with sesame, and accented with a miso dipping sauce. FANTASTIC. I loved this course. Crunchy and salty, with sweet tender shrimp and a hint of spice in the sauce, it was just perfect. These should be served everywhere, in giant baskets like breadsticks. 
Course #9: Beef, Beer, and Peanuts. Braised beef short rib under a translucent sheet of Guinness beer, with broccoli puree, fried broccoli, shaved broccoli stalks, fried peanuts, mustard, and pink peppercorn. So good. Hubband really enjoyed this course. It may sound like an awful lot of broccoli, but no preparation of it was overpowering. The peanuts added great textural contrast.  
Course #17: Wagyu beef over maitake mushrooms and smoked dates, drizzled with Blis extra-aged sherry vinegar, finished with fennel pollen. So nice. Tender, buttery beef, paired with the earthy, powerful mushrooms and sweet dates, it was soft and luxurious. 

Every course was precisely thought out, and each presented us with something to think and talk about. Although some courses were not necessarily to our taste (pine ice cream!) we enjoyed the experience and the conversation that they stimulated. Our 26-course meal took about 4 hours, and I can't find praise high enough for the food, the service, or the company. It seemed every detail in this restaurant was given the same attention as the food. Even the air-conditioning vents were covered with diffusers, so no chair was in the path of a cold breeze. (If you recall the earlier note about my uncontrollable shivering tendencies, you understand why I notice these things.)

(My one quibble? The coffee. This was an expensive meal, as I'm sure many of you already know. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of the guests who go there, and if someone is paying that much for a meal, I think coffee after dinner should be included or complimentary, not $6.00.)