Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sticky Toffee Pudding


To follow the roasted goose we served on Christmas (as mentioned in my last post) Jonathan baked sticky toffee pudding, following a recipe I clipped from Bon Appetit. It’s a confusing dish for Americans because it’s not pudding (it’s cake!) and it doesn’t feature toffee (the Brits call caramel toffee). Language barrier notwithstanding, it’s a terrific dessert. Sweet and decadent. Even more so when we plated it atop a generous spoonful of vanilla custard we had leftover from the morning’s pastry breakfast. We also opted to top the pudding with roasted hazelnuts and pecans.

ingredients

Pudding:
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pitted dates (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
Sauce:
  • 1 1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon brandy (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
  • Special equipment: A 6-cup Bundt pan or 6 one-cup Bundt pan molds

 

preparation

For pudding:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour Bundt pan. Bring dates and 1 1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan with tall sides. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda (mixture will become foamy). Set aside; let cool.
Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend (mixture will be grainy). Add 1 egg; beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining 1 egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into mold.
Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert pudding onto rack. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
For sauce:
Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in brandy, if using, and vanilla. DO AHEAD: Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently before using.
Cut cake into wedges. Serve with sauce and whipped cream.




Goose Liver Pate

 

This year we decided to roast a goose for Christmas (it turned out really well) which meant I found myself with a goose liver on hand. After a bit of researching I found this wonderful recipe from Jacques Pepin and after making a few modifications, I set about preparing it for tonight’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Like Christmas, tonight’s dinner will be a quiet, low key affair for just the two of us as I’m still feeling down about my mother’s passing in early December. We picked up her ashes yesterday. It’s all a bit surreal. We snuck an advance taste of the pate this afternoon and it is marvelous. Marvelous! I recommend serving it with cherry jam (we’re going to use the homemade jam we canned over the summer) on rich buttery crackers.

ingredients

  • 3 ounces goose fat
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped (2 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1 goose liver (about 3 ounces), chopped
  • 1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (or more, to taste)
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Port
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • teaspoon of unflavored gelatin

preparation

1. Soak the liver in the milk; set aside. Meanwhile, place fat in a skillet, and cook over medium to high heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until the fat has melted and some of it has browned.

2. Add the shallots, and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring occasionally. Add the liver and milk, herbes de Provence, Port, and garlic, and cook over medium to high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until liquids have reduced. Add the salt and pepper.

3. Transfer the mixture to a blender, and blend until liquefied. This will yield 1/2 cup. Pour into souffle cup and sprinkle gelatin over, stirring to dissolve. Let cool for at least 1 1/2 hours, then cover and and refrigerate until serving time.

4. Spread the pâté on crackers or toasted baguette slices, and serve. The pâté will keep, well covered, for 3 to 4 days.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Asian Chicken and Mushroom Soup

This month's issue of Bon Appetit featured a quick and easy winter soup infused with Asian flavors. I made it for dinner last night with some modifications and it went over very well.  Herbs and spices are paired with poached chicken and mushrooms and the result is a warm and flavorful broth that elevates ordinary chicken soup to a deeper, more soulful, plane. I've adopted the recipe as my own and with how simple and speedy the prep is, I'll be making it frequently. 

Here's my version (serves 3):

Chicken and Mushroom Soup with Chile 

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 T allspice

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts 

      •  teaspoons kosher salt, plus more
      • 1 T chicken broth base
      • 8 ounces baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
      • 1 serrano chile, thinly sliced
      • 1 1” piece ginger, peeled and grated
      • 1 T rice vinegar
      • 1 T soy sauce
      • 1 T Aji-Mirin sauce 
      • Handful of rice vermicelli 
      • Freshly ground black pepper
      • Cilantro, for garnish
      • Wonton strips, for garnish
      In a heavy soup pot (I use a Le Creuset enameled cast iron dutch oven), heat olive oil over medium heat. Place garlic, bay leaves, and allspice in the oil and saute until the allspice begins to release it's flavor. Add the chicken, chicken broth base, and 1½ tsp. salt to the pot and cover with 6 cups water. Bring to a bare simmer over high heat. Immediately reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot, and cook 8 minutes. Remove chicken from liquid and let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces.
      Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean pot; discard solids. Add mushrooms, chile, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, and Mirin to stock. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until broth tastes rich and flavorful, 8–10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then add shredded chicken and vermicelli and simmer just until noodles are tender. Divide soup among bowls and serve topped with cilantro and wonton strips.


      Thursday, June 5, 2014

      Movies and TV

      I've been varying my media diet as of late and ingesting a lot of content that I don't normally favor and it's been GREAT. I want to highlight some of the stand outs.

      Movies

      1. Hillsborough. This documentary is part of the ESPN 30 for 30 soccer stories that have been produced and are being released in advance of the upcoming world cup. The film draws us into the scene of one of the worst soccer stadium disasters in history during a soccer match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. It's not so much about sports as it is about crowd behavior, police cover up, politics, and the importance of proper architectural design. Even if you're not a sports fan you'll be riveted. It's airing again on June 6th at 10pm on ESPN. If you don't mind spoilers, the in-depth discussion of the film can be found here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/espns-30-30-soccer-stories-694728

      2. Hoop Dreams. This documentary was released in 1994 and it chronicles five years in the life of two teens from an inner city neighborhood in Chicago, focusing primarily on their basketball careers. The teens are both accepted at a prestigious private Catholic high school in the suburbs that is known for getting talented black boys out of the inner city and under the spotlight of college basketball recruiters.  This is the same high school (St.Joseph's in Westchester, Illinois) that took in Isiah Thomas and served as his springboard to basketball success. It's one of the best documentaries I've ever seen and again, even if you're not a sports fan you'll be pulled in by the human interest angle of the film. What happens for the boys over the course of the filming is at times exhilarating and at times demoralizing. You can't help but root for these young men who have so much potential yet face so many challenges as a result of their socioeconomic backgrounds and family dynamics. I came to the end of the film wanting the continued success for the boys more than anything and eagerly googling their names to see how their lives are progressing (they're in their early 40s today). This film was so powerful that it upended the entire process of reviewing and selecting winners in the documentary category for the Academy Awards-  when it wasn't even nominated despite it's overwhelming popularity and recognition for stirring viewers' hearts, it became obvious that somehow the nominating members were gaming the award system and investigations into the "cheating" took place and new guidelines for the award process were established. The film is available on Netflix for streaming and DVD delivery so if you haven't seen it yet you need to get on it today. TODAY. And I'm not going to tell you the name of the boys who are the subject of the film because you absolutely should not google them or look them up in any way before watching the film. You need to go into it blind, trust me.

      3. The Damn United. This quasi fiction film (based on a true story) takes us along the journey of  Brian Clough as he rises through the coaching ranks of the UK soccer club scene to eventually coach Leeds United, replacing Don Revie (one of the most famous coaches in UK history). From nearly the beginning to end of his career, Clough is driven by an unending desire to outdo and humiliate his once-idol Revie after a brief encounter between the two leaves Clough feeling dismissed and insulted. This is yet another sports film that really isn't at all about sports. It's about the inner dialogue we feed ourselves regarding our experiences and how much impact this kind of self-talk has on our attitude and behavior.  It's also about how much we can accomplish when we are driven by a deep seated competitive drive to beat a rival and how it can all come tumbling down under our own hubris. You can catch the movie on Netflix.

      4. Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Now for something totally different! This dark comedy is a hilarious twist on traditional horror films. Who are the real victims when a group of fresh faced college students venture off into the woods and have an encounter with a creepy looking pair of "backwood hillbillies" that leads to misunderstandings and danger all around? This movie made me laugh from beginning to end. If you liked Shaun of the Dead or Adventureland you will really love this movie.

      5. The Who: The Kids are Alright. This music documentary on The Who was pieced together in 1979 and takes viewers from the beginning of the group (complete with 60s mod Austin Power outfits!) up through the last performance with Keith Moon before he died. I'm a child of the late 70s so this group was not really on my radar growing up. In fact, for most of my life, my knowledge of the group consisted entirely of "um, aren't they the ones who wrote that Pinball song or something?" Only recently did I listen to a cross-section of their music and that was enough to pique my interest because, hey, it turns out they're pretty damn talented. So I was happy to watch this film and get a better grasp of their history and discography. Unlike sports films that aren't really about sports, this is a music film that actually is about the music. And the music makers are really more of an intellectual sort of group (when they're not smashing their equipment or destroying their hotel rooms) with raw groundbreaking talent makes most of the hair bands I was exposed to in the 80s look like posers. The film provides a great overview of the group and serves as a good Who 101 for newbies. You can grab it on Netflix here: http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/The-Who-The-Kids-Are-Alright/60029025?strkid=140027686_1_0&strackid=12f313bf168c4e5e_1_srl&trkid=222336.

      6. History of the Eagles. Yep, another music documentary. So so good. First aired as a two part special on Showtime, it's now available for purchase on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/History-Eagles-Blu-ray/dp/B00BSBUZT6). I've always enjoyed the Eagles music I was exposed to on the radio and over Christmas break I listened to a lot more of their collection when I was visiting friends in Memphis who had a fondness for playing their music so I was well groomed for watching this. The film is exhaustive in its scope and run time (~ 3 hours) but well worth it.  It's definitely about the music and has a ton of great performances but it's also about the dynamics of the band members and their interesting little dramas and conflicts over the years.

      7. Umbrellas of Cherbourg. French musical romance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Umbrellas_of_Cherbourg). One of the most heart wrenching, beautiful love stories I have ever seen. Released in 1964 but re-released this spring for it's 50th anniversary, the film introduces us (exclusively through song) to a sweet young couple, Geneviève and Guy, who are madly in love but are forced to separate when Guy is called off to military duty in the Algerian war. What happens while he is away and the conclusion of their story when he returns is devastating and brilliant. This is a movie that really can't end any other way then it does given the events that transpire over the course of the film and the nature of society at that time. And yet the longing and aching for a different outcome (if only, if only, if only, things had gone differently) haunted me long after the movie was over. The 50th anniversary Blu-ray disc can be purchased on Amazon UK (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Umbrellas-Cherbourg-Anniversary-Edition-Blu-ray/dp/B00GDEZNHM/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top) but since the disc is encoded for playback only on Region 2 players (i.e. Europe) you'll also need to make sure you own a multi-region Blu-ray player (such as this one: http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-BD-F5700E-Region-Blu-Ray-Player/dp/B00GR9CP88/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1401983862&sr=1-1&keywords=multi+zone+dvd+players).

      TV

      1. Silicon Valley. This new comedy/drama series on HBO by Mike Judge is fantastic. Season 1 just concluded this week and I am so in love with the show. The writers have really nailed the brilliant IT geek persona here and the results are engaging. It's a thrill to follow along with the show and actually understand the IT-geek-speak while watching the interactions between the business and tech sides of start up companies as they push for venture capital funding. Definitely a lot more fun to watch the show then I imagine it is to actually go through the stress of striving and struggling to survive as a start-up entrepreneur oneself. Basically, if you're a Wired magazine subscriber or know anything about compiling programs you're going to love it too. And if you're like me, you're going to start off hating the over-the-top ridiculous incubator house dad (Erlich), but eventually he's going to win you over and you'll favor him above the rest of the characters. Can't wait for season two!

      Monday, April 21, 2014

      Book Review: Cowgirl Creamery Cooks

       

      I received a copy of Sue Conley & Peggy Smith’s new cookbook, Cowgirl Creamery cooks, several months ago after great anticipation of it’s publication. There’s a Cowgirl Creamery right here in the Washington, DC metro area, making it easy to source the recipes.

      Our review team has made a handful of recipes from this beautiful book so far: Parmesan crusted chicken, classic mac and cheese, and pancakes.

      The chicken dish turned out the best; the recipe was easy to follow and included a helpful and detailed description on how to wet/dry coat the chicken breasts and make clarified butter. A novice cook could follow this recipe with ease. We would have liked to see a picture included but otherwise it was very good and we will make this again.

      The mac and cheese turned out well also. The directions were easy to follow and we loved the beautiful picture. Note that this recipe uses a béchamel sauce as the basis for the cheese sauce and this can be a tricky sauce to perfect, so it might be slightly more difficult for a novice cook to execute successfully. Our review team especially liked the addition of the Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. We always add a dash of nutmeg to our béchamel so we were pleased that Sue and Peggy suggests this in the back of the cookbook in the detailed description section (she does not mention it in the mac and cheese recipe directly).

      The pancakes were the least exciting of the recipes we tried (one reviewer’s daughter however scarfed down three, so your mileage may vary). The recipe is straightforward. It's a fairly simple set of instructions but as egg whites can prove temperamental our review team would have liked to see suggestions such as using cream of tarter when whipping and folding egg whites to ensure nice stiff peaks. Also, where is the vanilla in this recipe? Everyone knows great pancakes should always have a dash of vanilla.

      Overall, our review team found Cowgirl Creamery Cooks to be a well written cookbook. We especially enjoyed the detailed descriptions in the back of the publication. The cookbook tells a story and gives you good insight into cheese selections you might not use often as well as those we are most familiar with. It’s primary appeal will be of course to cheese lovers.