Sunday, October 26, 2008

Simplest Autumnal Fruit Salad.

The first "cold" snap has hit Florida and I feel that my diet should change accordingly. I'm posting over at my mother's house. The French doors are open, the jack russells are napping, the wind chimes are making their music, and its absolutely perfect outside. Damn near noon and I could spend all day in the sun and probably wouldn't even break a sweat. 

So why am I on the computer? Well, because I am getting information on my next little endeavor, which will be a one night camping trip Wed. night. The low should get to be around 45 degrees F and I'm trying to decide what to cook that night if I don't catch any fish. I'm still rather new to wilderness cooking. This much I know, lots of tin foil. So more on how that went later. 

I've moved onto the next food pairing duo: parmesan and chestnut honey. As I mentioned before I'm a nut about honey and chestnut sounded just divine. I anticipated a warming, nutty, possibly toasted tasting honey, with a thicker viscosity than most. While it was a nice, rich, amber colour the flavour was biting and a little more floral than I'd like. I'm not wild about it on its own. 

I had to figure something to do with it though, so I took a ripe bosc pear, chopped it up, topped it with some freshly crumbled aged parmesan cheese, and tossed these both in the chestnut honey. It was warming, fresh, light, and slightly musky at the same time. And when I say musky I mean that hearty aged cheese flavour. Musky is a good thing to me. Musky is earthy and sensual and adds a soul warming depth to food. This dish was surprisingly filling, but I think "satisfying" is a better term. Next time I'd toast the parmesan to increase the nuttiness, and possibly some type of pepper, maybe just the slightest sprinkling of fresh crushed white pepper to give it a hint of heat. Might even shred it and cook the parmesan till crisp to give added textural depth. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

TGRWT # 11, Banana Clove Truffles

Heston Blumenthal, I humbly thank you. Had you not taken the time to research the different (but more importantly the similar!) chemical compounds of certain flavours then I would not have known that white chocolate and caviar is just the sexiest food ever. And how lucky was I to have discovered his works right in the beginning of my descent into the rabbit hole that is molecular gastronomy? And when I say molecular gastronomy I am still including chefs such as Ferran Adria and David Arnold, even though the two of them try to distance themselves from such nomenclature.

Mr. Blumenthal posted a list of foods that you wouldn't think to pair up but due to their sharing of the same major volatile molecules they have a tendency to taste really nice together, or taste somewhat surprisingly similar. The list can be found here . Of all the suggested new food pairings listed the two I was most ready and eager to try were white chocolate with caviar and banana and clove. These two seemed the easiest considering my culinary history in confections and the in realm of sweet vs. savory.

I rushed out and bought a nice bar of white baking chocolate and the only jar of black caviar at my local grocer. Not a great brand but one I grew up eating on Christmas Eve at my grandparents' house. A friend of mine was over at the time and I broke us off a few pieces of chocolate and simply spooned a small amount of caviar on top of it. We placed the pieces on our tongues with the caviar on top. Pressing my tongue into the bottom of the chocolate I smashed the whole thing up into the roof of my mouth, the heat melting the chocolate which then blending astonishingly well with the salt of the caviar. At first the caviar was too present and I was nervous that this was going to be a mistake. Once the two melded and the chocolate liquefied it was a different story entirely. Both of these are powerful flavours and the end result was a dreamy, sensual, soul warming buttery wash of savory sweetness coating the palate. It was an intense taste, and a little goes a long way. I think that will go into the memory banks as my new trump card.

After the wonderful success of that pairing, the next one to move onto was bananas and clove. After a little researching online I found a recipe for a banana and clove milkshake at . I added more cloves then Erik here did and really enjoyed this recipe. It was simply, it wasn't too sweet, and it seemed to me to be a wonderful comfort food flavour. The cloves added a really nice but not overpowering depth to the bananas. Personally I can't get enough of flavours like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. They are my weakness and I often say if true love had an aroma it would be pumpkin pie spice mulling on the stove.

I decided I would try and develop a recipe for the challenge had posted with TGRWT #11. TGRWT is the acronym for "They Go Really Well Together" and is an invitation to try out new flavour pairings and post them in the blogosphere. So with that today I came up with Banana and clove truffles dipped in white chocolate.

Banana filling:
1 cup pureed very ripe banana
1/4 cup dark brown sugar (I would use light brown next time, as the dark was very heavy)
1/2 TBL butter at room temp.
1/4 tsp powdered cloves

for the Ganache:
1/2 lb. white chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
10 whole cloves, cut in half
1/2 TBL butter at room temp.

Melted white chocolate for dipping.

Put white chocolate in a medium sized heat resistant bowl.
In a small saucepan simmer the heavy cream and the cloves for 5 minutes. In a shallow nonstick pan mix the banana, cloves, butter, and brown sugar. Cook till banana mixture starts to boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Keep tasting the mixture until it reaches a nice caramelized flavour, and remove from heat.
Strain the heated cream to remove any pieces of cloves. Bring back up to a simmer if necessary. Immediately pour over white chocolate mixture, stirring constantly starting from the inside and working towards the outside of the bowl. Stir in the butter and banana mixture, whisking all of the ingredients together until light in colour and all the white chocolate has melted. Line a shallow tray with wax paper and spray with cooking oil. Pour the banana and white chocolate mixture onto the tray and place in the freezer until it firms up enough to be able to be rolled into small balls. Dip these into melted white chocolate and dust with clove powder.

Verdict: These were overly sweet. Granted they were decent but they could stand for some major improvement. First of all the filling was very sticky and difficult to work with (but I didn't spray the paper.) Secondly there is just way too much white chocolate going on here. I was having to ghetto rig some of my cooking equipment as I was reprising my role as the kitchen nomad and had to make these in my friend's near barren kitchen so the white chocolate dipping could have gone a lot smoother. I will try to make these again at some point (when I get the taste of white chocolate out of my system and my molars.) and changes I will experiment with are caramelizing the bananas before pureeing them, either cutting down/cutting out the sugar or just switching to a light brown sugar as the dark is a rather powerful flavour, and possibly rolling these in powdered sugar or coconut instead of dipping them in white chocolate (remember the ganache itself is made of white chocolate.) The main downfall is that they are too sweet. If you still wanted to have these coated in white chocolate I would recommend going the chocolate mold route so you could have a nice thin shell of white chocolate and you could pour the filling in, which would allow for the addition of more pureed banana and the subtraction of some of the white chocolate and cream.

End note: white chocolate, banana, and clove go well together, just don't let one overpower. Banana and clove itself is excellent and I will experiment with these two a lot more.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The cookies keep on keeping on.

Fall is here but way down south at the near end of Florida you would never know it. Unless perhaps you were sitting in my kitchen with me right now. I've just made a variation of the Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies from Vegan with a Vengance. Which is the precessor to Veganomicon. Like I said before, not a huge cookie person. However since those peanut sesame ginger cookies were so excellent, and since my father was out of the kitchen long enough for me to whip these up and I had most of the ingredients on hand, I damn near jumped at the chance to bake.
I collect varietal honeys. Have for a few years despite the fact that the collecting has slowed down severly since I have a surplus of honey and a defecit of space. The jar I started this collection with was purchased down in Sav-La-Mar in Jamaica. Bottled locally into an old J. Wray & Nephew rum bottle the honey is just as dark as a buckwheat. Thats all well and good until you take your first taste of this carmelized sweetness... and, what the hell? Whats that taste? Is that rum? They never rinsed the bottle before filling it back up with honey! So the bottle resumed a position up in my cabinet until I could find a use for this alcoholic tasting sweetener. Well this honey was the perfect answer to the fact that I still haven't broken down and gotten any molasses, like the recipe called for.
The cookies are very soft and moist. They were supremely easy and will serve as a good base for experimentation. They essentially retain the same shape as they have going into the oven and seem to be rather forgiving in the preparation. While I would not be against making these again I think I have too many other recipes to try before I would be making this one. These cookies get better as they cool, and I was informed they will be better the second day.
Originally just a plain pumpkin oatmeal drop cookie, they really benefit from the addition of a pinch of cloves and powdered ginger, and a vegan "browned butter" icing.
"Browned Butter" Icing
1/6 cup vegan butter
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp- 1 TBL almond/soy milk
Heat the vegan butter until it is clear and starts a mild boil. Remove from heat and whisk in the powdered sugar and almond extract. Add milk 1/2 tsps at a time until you reach a consistency that will drizzle well but is not too watery. If you need to test this, put a small ceramic plate in the freezer ahead of time, and drop some of the icing onto the plate to see if it hardens. Take a small sammich style ziploc bag, cut the tiniest bit off of one of the corners and fill the icing into the bag. Viola! You've made a makeshift piping bag. I also find putting the bag into a coffee mug and wrapping the opening of the bag around the lip of the cup makes pouring the icing in a snap.
Then just drizzle the icing over the cookies of your choice.
Because this is not real butter and tends to have a plant oil base it doesn't brown like traditional butter. I'm going to look into adding a little salt and brown sugar next time in the melting stages. To better mimic the flavours.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

On Breakfast

I picked up this months Saveur magazine which is focused on breakfasts around the world. Let me tell you, few things have made me want to start eating meat half as bad as this issue. The food porn was in full effect with pictures of bacon, various breakfast sausages, egg dishes (I still hate eggs, always have), morning pastries, and various noodle dishes, to name just a few. I've pretty much lost the taste for meat, but still crave a lot of the textures. The snap caused by biting into the casing of a traditional sausage. The crack of crispy bacon, followed by the crumbling and blending of the buttery fat and the crispy meat. These textures I have yet to find in a veggie based culinary world. But this morning I did find a lovely substitution, though not a vegan one (it involves feta.)

My breakfast of champions:
small handful of Bulgarian feta
some sliced kalamata olives
sage honey (any honey will do, but the picant flavor and hearty undertones of this honey make it a real winner)
1 English muffin, split and toasted till the edges had browned and the entire thing was stiff and crunchy.

Take the toasted English muffin, top one half with a liberal slathering of sage honey. Top the other half with the feta and pop it into the microwave for about 10 seconds, or until the feta has fully melted. Once done, remove from microwave and top with the kalamatas.

I ate this along with a wonderful homemade Frappe that I made while the muffin toasted. Recommend started with the savory half first. This gives the honey enough time to soak into the dense English muffin and cause it to soften up a bit. Easy as hell, feels more indulgent than it really is (assuming you don't go overboard on the toppings.) The only thing I'd add is maybe some grapes to go along side. Other than that it has everything I was looking for in a breakfast. The crispness of the muffin, tang of the feta, heartiness of the kalamata, and the divine sweet of the honey. Washed down with ridiculously strong coffee? Yes please!

Vegan Thai Curry and Cookies!

I love Thai food. It ranks up pretty highly on my list of favourite ethnic foods, just below Greek and just above Jamaican and Mexican. Now, I loved Thai food before I even discovered the wonder that is curry. In fact I'm still relatively green when it comes to curries. I make a fierce Panang with tofu, use curry powder in my Jamaican Patty dough and obviously am a fan of curried ackees (as evidenced by my cooking video.) Thats about it for my curry experience. Yet when I saw the recipe for Yellow Curry with Pineapple and Peas by Nancie McDermott in her book Real Vegetarian Thai (which I picked up at the Strand on my recent trip to NYC) I knew I had to try it.

The end result of this dish is a very visually pleasing one. It has punches of red pepper and some refreshing bits of green to break up what would otherwise be a monochromatic (albeit happy sunshine looking) yellow dish. The pineapple does not stand out as much as I had thought it might, but this is a good thing. The subtle flavour of cooked pineapple blends well, but its the texture that makes the pineapple stand out when compared with the firmness of the potatoes. The overall taste is good, but I was not floored with it. I think my expectations were set a little high. This is not to say I won't make it again. It was exceedingly easy and rather fast. All in all it was finished in about 30 minutes, and I cleaned up as I went. Gotta love that.

Yellow Curry with Pineapple and Peas
1 can (14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
1 to 2 TBL Yellow Curry Paste (I went with one and a half TBL yellow curry paste for this recipe as I like some bite but can't handle burning off my tongue with spice. If you still have to be told to adjust the spiciness to your liking then you probably haven't been cooking for long.)
12 oz potatoes, cut into bite sized chunks (The recipe says to peel them but I NEVER peel my potatoes because its a: tastier, b: more nutrients, and c: easier)
1 can (8 oz) pineapple chunks, drained
1/2 cup veggie stock
1 TBL brown sugar
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
8 oz firm tofu, cubed
1 red sweet pepper, julliened
1/4 lb snow peas
3/4 cup frozen peas (I ommitted these on accident)

Shake the coconut milk can well. Spoon out 1/3 cup into a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens about 3 minutes.
Add the curry paste and cook for about 3 more minutes, mashing, scraping, and stirring often to soften the paste and combine it with the coconut milk. Add the potatoes and pineapple chunks and stir gentle to coat them with the curry paste. Add the remaining coconut milk, veggie stock, sugar, soy sauce, salt, and stir well. Bring to an active boil, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Add the tofu, red pepper, and peas to the curry and stir gently. Let the curry return to a boil and remove from the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve hot or warm.
Serves 4 to 6

I firmly believe in having a little something sweet after a meal to cleanse the palate. A separately prepared dessert, a piece of fruit, a mint, anything like that. And for the longest time I struggled with what to have after Thai, Japanese, Indian, or any Asian inspired dish. Then Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero came to my rescue with their Peanut Sesame Ginger Cookie recipe from their book Veganomicon. I'm not a big cookie person. Never really have been. These are an exception. I LOVED these cookies. The peanut butter flavour is subtle enough to not overwhelm the delicate sesame notes, and the ginger is definitely present but not too aggressive. Even my friend who isn't the biggest fan of ginger really enjoyed these. I made some substitutions to the recipe out of necessity and will try to follow it to the letter next time to see how different the effect is. Not too sweet and featuring traditional flavours of the region these cookies really are the perfect following to your next Asian dinner.

Peanut Sesame Ginger Cookies
Makes 42 (I halved the recipe when I made them and they came out perfectly)
2 1/4 cups flour, all purpose, whole wheat pastry, white whole wheat, or any combo of these.
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup nonhydrogenated vegan shortening, softened
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter (I used reduced fat just cause I like the consistency better)
1/4 cup brown rice syrup (I used agave because I didn't have brown rice syrup)
1 1/4 cup sugar (I used half light brown sugar half white, to make the cookies chewier and to make up for the lack of brown rice syrup) plus additional sugar for rolling (I rolled mine in turbinado sugar instead of white)
1/2 cup soy milk (used vanilla almond milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
5 ounces candied ginger, diced finely (it was so hard to not eat this before using what I needed!)
1/3 cup each white and black sesame seeds, or 2/3 cups of just one kind.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease two cookie sheets.
Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, ground ginger, and cinnamon, and set aside.
In a large bowl, use electric beaters to cream the shortening until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the peanut butter, rice syrup, sugar, soy milk, and extracts. Continue to beat until creamy, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon stir in the flour mixture, then add the candied ginger and stir until a very firm dough forms. You can use your hands toward the end to mix the dough (I found my dough was too sticky at this point, possibly from halving the recipe, so I added flour 1 TBL at a time until I had a stiff but tacky [not sticky!] dough.)
Roll scant TBLs of the dough into walnut size balls. Roll each ball in the sesame seeds, then roll in a little sugar and place on a prepared cookie sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between each cookie.
Flatten the balls just slightly (she says its optional, I think its most likely vital) and bake for 10 to 11 minutes for chewy cookies (I opted for 10 minutes and got perfect cookies,) up to 14 for firmer, crunchier cookies.
Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to remain on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool.