Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Quick Note

Lovely readers -- I know I've been away for a while. Things have been crazy busy around here. I've been packing, planning, and preparing for my big move across country, and it's been taking an insane amount of time. I miss cooking, posting, and reading and commenting on all my favorite blogs. I'll be moving mid-August, then starting my new job about a week later, so things will be hectic for a while. It's hard for me to say right now when I'll be blogging like the good ol' times again, but hopefully it won't be too long. I'm looking forward to catching up with you all soon.

-ms. meanie

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Île Flottante (Floating Islands)

I'm too cheap to pay for cable, but I always say that if the people at Comcast made me a deal where I just pay for one channel, they would have me sold. Of course, that one channel would be FoodNetwork and the one show I'd be sure to watch is Barefoot Contessa.

A few months ago when I visited my parents (who apparently are not to cheap too pay for cable), I watched Ina Garten make an Île Flottante. The dessert looked so elegant and different than anything I'd ever made, I was instantly intrigued. Fluffy meringues that are ever-so slightly baked floating on top of a rich and boozy sauce? Yes please!

This dessert was definitely interesting. I know that's not the most appetizing word to describe a dessert, but it seems the most accurate to me. The crème anglaise was fantastic: I spiked it with a touch of Pisco (a Peruvian brandy) which complemented the vanilla extract very nicely. The caramel was tasty as well, albeit somewhat tricky to work with. The meringues were a different story. They baked up beautifully, but me being the idiot that I am, decided to refrigerate them until I was ready to assemble this dessert. Yes, I know Ina would want to rip out her hair (or maybe mine) if she knew I committed this cardinal sin against meringues, but I really had no choice. I simply did not have enough time to make the entire dessert, plate it up prettily, and take pictures before the sun went down.

Despite the chewy and cold meringues, I enjoyed this dessert. I'm also pretty confident that had I not chilled the little meringues to death, it would have been the luscious dessert Ina intended it to be. Maybe the next time I have enough time (and sunlight), I will make this dessert again. In the meantime, anyone out there work for Comcast? Make me a deal, and I'll make this dessert for you (sans the chewy meringues, of course).

Île Flottante (adapted from Ina Garten)

For caramel (about 1 cup):
*1 1/2 cups sugar
*1 cup water
*1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For meringues (the recipe says this will make 12 meringues, but I got more than twice this amount):
*8 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
*1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
*1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
*1 cup sugar

For crème anglaise (2 cups):
*4 extra-large egg yolks
*1/2 cup sugar
*1 teaspoon cornstarch
*1 3/4 cups scalded milk
*1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*1 1/2 teaspoons Cognac or brandy

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper or a baking sheet.

2. For the caramel , heat 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Cook over medium heat until the syrup turns a warm caramel color. Don't stir, just swirl it in the pan. Off the heat, add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla; be careful, the syrup will bubble violently. Stir and cook over high heat until the caramel reaches 230 degrees F (thread stage) on a candy thermometer. Set aside.

3. For the meringues , beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed until frothy. Turn the mixer on high speed and sugar. Beat until the egg whites are very stiff and glossy. Whisk in the vanilla. With dessert spoons place 12 mounds of meringue on the parchment paper and bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.

4. For the crème anglaise , beat the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs. Pour the custard mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened. The custard will coat the spoon like heavy cream. Don't cook it above 180 degrees F or the eggs will scramble! Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, add the vanilla extract, Cognac or brandy, and chill.

For serving, pour creme anglaise on the bottom of individual plates. Place a meringue on top of each serving, drizzle with caramel sauce, and serve.

To make a day or two ahead, leave the caramel at room temperature and refrigerate the creme anglaise. Reheat the caramel and bake the meringues before guests arrive and assemble the desserts just before serving.

This dessert is also my attempt to make up for missing last month's Daring Bakers challenge. I know it is not the Chocolate Pavlova challenge hosted by Dawn, but it does consist of a few of the same components: baked meringues and creme anglaise. Click here to see the actual Daring Bakers creations for June.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Garlic Hummus

Homemade Hummus. Did you see this coming? After making tahini sauce, it was only natural to use it in a hummus recipe.

As a vegetarian, I always find it a challenge to come up with different fillings for sandwiches. Hummus, my friends, is the ultimate solution. It is easy to make, delicious to eat, and packed with protein. I made a big batch of this stuff almost 2 weeks ago, and I've been eating it ever since. Just freeze it in portions and let it defrost the day before.

The raw garlic in this recipe gives the hummus a nice kick. Be warned however, that this means you will have garlic breath. I have garlic breath almost every single day, so I'm now used to it, the BF is too. Not having to worry about garlic breath -- one of the best things about a long-term relationship.

The measurements here are estimates. The great thing about this recipe is you can add more of this and less of that depending on your tastes. Add some heat with a bit of cayenne, richness with more oil, or (my favorite) an extra kick with more garlic. Mmm...garlic breath.

Hummus Recipe (adapted from Simply Recipes, makes about 2 cups)
* 3 garlic cloves, minced and then mashed
* 1 15-oz cans of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed, OR about 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (keep can or cooking liquid)
* 1/3 cup of tahini
* 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
* 1/4 cup liquid from can of beans or cooking liquid from beans (I threw this out by accident so just used water)
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/4 teaspoon of salt

In a food processor, combine all ingredients. Process until smooth. Add more olive oil if necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Homemade Tahini

Some things just do not photograph well. Let me rephrase that -- there are some things which I just cannot photograph well. Like homemade tahini. I know this looks like a pile of slop, but try not to focus on that part. Instead, direct your attention to my brand new mortar pestle (oooh, ahhh). You like?

I've used store-bought tahini once in the past for making hummus. Although it was tasty and all, I had to buy a whole can of it when I needed only a few tablespoons. Sadly, much of it went to waste, which pains me because this stuff ain't cheap.

So this time, I decided to make it myself and it was surprisingly simple. Yes, mashing it up in the mortar pestle requires a bit of elbow grease...but that's why we work out, no? To be better cooks, right? Of course!

Step 1. Get out some sesame seeds and toast them until nice and well, toasty.

Step 2. Put them, along with some olive oil, in your lovely new mortar pestle. No picture here, sorry, got a bit anxious.

Step 3. Mash the bejeezus out of them.

Since I used a small amount of sesame seeds (about 1/4 cup) I made this in a mortar pestle. For a larger batch, you could certainly save some time and effort and make this in a food processor.

Homemade Tahini (adapted from Joy of Cooking and here)
* 1/4 cup sesame seeds
* 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350. Toast sesame seeds for 5-10 minutes, tossing the seeds frequently with a spatula. Check often and make sure they do not burn!! Cool for 10 minutes.
2. Mash the seeds and oil with a mortar pestle until mixture is somewhat smooth and thick. The mixture will still be slightly lumpy.