Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quince Clafoutis

Quince is not something I'd ever cooked with, or even tasted, before. Naturally that meant that when I saw some at Sobey's I had to purchase it. And then it sat for ages in my fruit bowl until finally I figured they would need to be used before they starting going off. I decided to poach these (as they cannot be eaten raw) and use them in an adapted clafoutis. It's a French recipe that's a little bit asian, with star anise in the poached quince and Zen Green Tea liqueur in the clafoutis.

Step 1: Poaching the quince.
4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
a couple of star anise or stick of cinnamon
3 quince

I tried to peel these, then got lazy and gave up. They were simply chopped and cored and dropped in the poaching liquid, then simmered for an hour plus. These need to be drained very well, as they retain a lot of liquid. I let them sit overnight in the fridge to get as much liquid out as I could. They have a lovely fragrant flavour and would be delicious on their own just after poaching, but I didn't want the extra liquid to ruin the clafoutis.

Step 2: Making the clafoutis.
3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
6 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp Zen Green Tea Liqueur
3 quince, poached

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C. Butter a 1 quart/1 litre dish and sprinkle the bottom and sides with sugar. In a bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy, then mix in the flour, cream, zest, salt, and liqueur. Set that aside and line the dish with your poached quince. Pour the batter over the quince and bake around 40-45 minutes until the custard is firm and golden.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Renkon Chips

I actually cook with lotus root (or renkon) quite often, mostly because it makes such a pretty addition to my bento lunches. Luckily, it turns out it's also quite good for you. It has a delicate flavour and a lovely crunchy texture (even when not deep fried).

1 section renkon
vegetable oil for frying
1 tbsp flour
1/2 tbsp shichimi togarashi or szechuan pepper

Peel the vegetable, then slice thinly. I used a mandoline for this as I wanted paper-thin slices for the chips. Drop them in a bowl of water with a generous splash of vinegar to keep them white, as they start to discolour quite quickly. Once cut, briefly dry on paper towel and drop them into a plastic bag with the flour and spice, then shake around to coat.

Drop into the heated oil in batches, pulling out when lightly browned. This only took a couple of minutes as my slices were so thin.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Prosciutto & Fig Crostini

I don't recall where I first read about someone combining fig jam and butter, but whoever it was is a genius. These appetizers have been a hit every time, and have even resulted in a marriage proposal. The sweet fig butter and salty prosciutto are a perfect contrast to each other. The first time I made these I went down to the Italian Centre to get Parma ham and kofylitiri cheese, and I recommend splurging on a good quality prosciutto. Subsequent attempts with supermarket prosciutto didn't have the same saltiness and bite.

Prosciutto & Fig Crostini:
1 loaf skinny french bread
olive oil
1/2 cup butter, softened
5-6 tbsp fig jam
salty firm cheese
prosciutto or Parma ham

For the crostini, I like them a little crispy and a little soft so I only toast one side. Slice the bread and lay out on a baking sheet, then brush the slices with olive oil. Heat under a broiler until just browning, then lay out to cool. These can be done a day or two in advance and kept in ziploc.

Mix the butter and fig jam together very well (this takes some doing). Spread generously on the crostini, top with a thin slice of cheese and then prosciutto. These appetizers were very easy to assemble on site, which is a lot more convenient than worrying about how to transport them as a finished product.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Crème Brûlée

This recipe is from John Burton Race's book, French Leave. It was my first crack at making Crème brûlée, and I expected it to be difficult, but it was surprisingly easy! Seriously, I wouldn't say it if it wasn't true. It amazes me that I have had so many bad brûlées at restaurants in the past (seriously - scrambled egg consistency at a high end restaurant that I won't name!). This is going to be a bad bad thing for me, as I will likely start keeping full cream in my fridge at all times and make this very regularly. Methinks that will not help me on the road to losing the baby weight...

Crème Brûlée (Serves 4):
2 egg yolks
90 grams caster sugar (seeing as we are in North America I used fine berry sugar)
1 vanilla pod (I used vanilla extract about a teaspoon)
70 mL milk
175 mL double cream

Put the egg yolks and 40g of the sugar into a bowl with the vanilla and whisk to a smooth paste. Add the milk, whisk in the cream (thicken a bit, but it won't be like whipped cream), pour into four ramekins and refrigerate for an hour before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 300F/150C and put the ramekins in a shallow pan filled with water to a depth of about 2.5 cm (1 inch) as shown. The brûlées will take about an hour in the oven to set. When cooked, remove from the oven and let the brûlées cool to room temperature.

When you are about ready to serve, sprinkle the tops with the remaining sugar and put them either under a very hot broiler or use a torch to caramelize the sugar. Using high heat is important because you want to create the sugar crust on top, but not warm the custard through and make it runny. Serve right away.

This is so good I am thinking about making it for breakfast now, thank goodness I don't have any cream on hand and I have a baby that will be back up to eat again any second!


Friday, January 8, 2010

Pizza Dough - Take 1

Being a stay at home mom now, I keep trying to make more things from scratch. Part of the reason is that I want things to be healthier (without a bunch of preservatives), and it is usually less expensive and tastier to have anything made from scratch. Other Edmonton food bloggers seem to be big fans of Peter Reinhart, so I looked up his Neo-Neapolitan Pizza dough recipe. Ours ended up a bit heavy, so I will have to try it again and see if I can work more air into it and let it rise better. This is a picture of the cheese pizza I made with it. Hopefully the next round goes better.

Pizza Dough:
5 cups all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon sugar or honey
2 teaspoons salt (or 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 3/4 to 2 cups room-temperature water

Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or mix in an electric mixer. After you've combined all of the ingredients, set the dough aside to rest for 5 minutes. Stir again for 3 to 5 minutes, adding more water or flour if necessary. Generally speaking, you want the dough to be wetter and stickier than your typical bread dough. It should be dry enough that it holds together and pulls away from the side of the bowl when you mix it, but it doesn't need to be dry enough to knead by hand.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Place each one into an oiled freezer bag.

If you aren't going to bake them that day, you can throw the bags into the freezer. They'll stay good in there for at least a month. The evening before you intend to bake them, move the frozen dough balls to the refrigerator to thaw.

If you intend to bake them later that day, place the bagged dough balls in the refrigerator. Remove them from the fridge and let them warm to room temperature an hour or two before you intend to bake them.

Remember that, as a baker, time is your friend: longer, slower rises at reduced temperature result in better tasting bread. But sometimes you don't have the luxury of time - that is OK; this dough will still work well if only given an hour or so to rise at room temperature. Allowing pizza dough to rise is more about giving the yeast time to bring flavors out of the wheat than it is about leavening. Most of the leavening occurs when you put the active dough into the hot oven, so you don't need to wait until the dough balls double in size.

Top with your pizza toppings and bake at 450 F for 5 to 7 minutes or until the cheese and dough are brown.