Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chocolate Marble Madeleines

Have you had a good madeleine lately?  I have.  These little cake-like cookies seem to be invading grocery stores all over the place nowadays and although I don't eat store-bought cookies, they actually look pretty decent.  When I was thinking of the different types of madeleines I've had--vanilla, lemon, chocolate, orange, spice & even honey--I realized that I had never seen or tasted a chocolate marble one.  In this country we seem to like marbleizing all sorts of baked goods and since I like "playing" around with cake batters, this became my goal.  I turned to the dozens of cookbooks in my possession for inspiration, because some of my favorite authors also happen to have some of my favorite recipes for these spongy cookies.  After trying a few methods, I decided on the tried-and-true creaming method to produce a light, cakey, fragrant and lovely madeleine.  This is my second recipe for The Monthly Cookie and I'm very happy to share these with you.



The Chocolate Marble Madeleines.





The Ingredients
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon milk, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 madeleine pans with 3" wells (12 shells per pan/plaque)


Note: Madeleine pans come in several sizes & shell shapes, so pay special attention to use the ones stated above.



This is room temperature butter.  It should still be cool, NOT warm.  If you press your finger into it, it should leave an indentation.  You shouldn't be able to push your finger through the entire stick without some effort.  Most people make the mistake of thinking that "room temperature" butter means, oily or mayonnaise-like butter.  It is not!






Cream the butter in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed.  Slowly add your granulated sugar down the side of the bowl.  You want to beat this for a good 3 minutes, scraping down at least once or twice, until your mixture is light & smooth.




This is what your butter & sugar should look like when it's well creamed.




Add your eggs one at a time, making sure there are no bits of shell (this is best accomplished by cracking one into a bowl & then proceeding).  Let each egg beat well into your mixture before adding the next one.  Make sure you scrape your bowl at least twice during this process.




Sift your flour, baking powder & salt into a bowl.  Reduce your speed to low and add these dry ingredients carefully.



Combine your milk and extracts, then add these to your batter.  Mix well.



The finished batter!  Make sure it is evenly mixed.



Divide your batter in half between two bowls.  Sift your cocoa powder (this is Valrhona) into one of the bowls.





Cocoa powder always clumps, which is why it's imperative to sift.  Push these lumps through the sieve.  Blend the cocoa into the batter carefully.  You want it to be fully absorbed & mixed



One side is plain, the other is dark & chocolatey.  Let the batters rest for 30 minutes.




❧❧❧❧❧
Preheat your oven to 375°F  
❧❧❧❧❧





This may cause controversy amongst you purists.  Many master bakers will butter & flour their madeleine pans, some with clarified butter & others with room temp butter; some may even chill the pans beforehand.  I simply spray the pans with baking spray (the type with flour) and proceed.





Place half of the plain batter into one pan and half the chocolate batter into the other pan.





Divide the remaining batter over the pans, alternating flavors.



Take 2 toothpicks & begin to swirl the batter in each well, so that you get nice marbling.  Try to leave it mounded in the center.




Place these into your heated oven & bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.  The edges will begin to get golden and the middles will form a nice dome. 



Piping hot right out of the oven.






When they come out of the oven, immediately flip the pans over a cooling rack & tap out the little madeleines.  They should come out quite easily if you used the baking spray with flour, but if you're having trouble, pry them out with a toothpick.




I don't need to tell you that these pair well with tea.  This is my idea of a little luxury. Simple & delicious.




Madeleines are best served the same day they are baked and some will insist that you serve them within hours, but they're still good the following day.  Although sifting confectioner's sugar over them is very traditional, I much prefer them plain.  Here I've stacked them on a vintage cake stand.



Even though these madeleines are a bit unconventional, they really are delicious.  I'm not sure what it is about the combination of chocolate with just a hint of almond, but rest assured, it's a good one.  If you want to make more that the 2 dozen, simply repeat the recipe instead of doubling it.  We all know that Marcel Proust wrote about madeleines in  À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time), but something tells me that he never had the pleasure of eating a chocolate marble one.  Tender, spongy, cakey & delicious.  My very own, Chocolate Marble Madeleine.  Cheers!


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Remembering May & June

The month of June debuted The Monthly Cookie with those delicious lemon bars that so many of you tried & loved.  What I didn't tell you in that story was that I was actually given this recipe (after much begging) back in college during my senior year.  My friend Ashley wrote it on a 3x5" card that I kept in my files for quite awhile; that card saw a lot of use & a lot of kitchen stains, I can assure you.  After graduating from college in the late 90s, it made the trek with me from California to New York City.  Several years later, the recipe somehow got lost in the shuffle after I made my move from New York to Philadelphia.  I was completely bereft of all that tangy sweetness for over a decade!  It wasn't until last year when I finally "found" Ashley again, that I was reunited with those bars, and I made it a priority to record the recipe without a moment to lose!  Now that it's in the "archives", I won't need to ask for it again. 


The day that I made those bars & was photographing them, I noticed my friends Steve & Tim working on the barn (more on that in the future) next to our house.  I stopped by to check their progress and asked them if they wanted to try my lemon bars.  Tim said yes, but Steve gave me a puzzled look and asked, "what's a lemon bar"?  Well (!), I raced down my driveway, went into the house and came back with a few bars to offer them.  Tim devoured one and Steve, after one bite, gave me the biggest smile.  He said, "these are very summery and so good"--he ate two! 

When I thought about that cookie, along with the many others that I've grown to love over the years, The Monthly Cookie idea was born.  I think we all love cookies, whether we like to admit it or not.  Cookie baking should be enjoyed by everyone because it takes such little time to mix, shape, cut & bake these little tasty treats.

Let me show you some pictures from that photo shoot that didn't get published after finding flaws with them while doing my editing. 


Hoffman Lemon Bars



I think I became distracted by a phone call & mindlessly picked up one of the bars to "nibble" on.  My friends will tell you that I'm often eating something whenever I'm on the phone (it's a bad  habit, I know).  After hanging up, I picked up my camera & began shooting.  Then I realized my blunder...see the missing bar in the left-hand picture? The picture on the right shows a smudge on one of the bars as I was stacking them.  After noticing this, I quickly decided to do a zoom in shot instead. 

♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠

This past May I showed you some pictures of the foxes that reside on the grounds of our home and I also made a delicious Strawberry Rhubarb pie.  I took many pictures during those two stories that I found it difficult to make up my mind & choose the best ones.  Here's a small sample of some that didn't make the cut.

♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠♠




 Strawberry Rhubarb Pie



 It was a bit dark on the right hand side and the strawberries didn't look enticing enough.



I actually like this picture because it shows all of the bits of butter properly dispersed throughout the pastry, but I didn't use it.  Click on the picture to zoom in.




Here I am showing how I trim my pate brisee with a sharp paring knife. 




This zoom-in shot shows how flaky & golden brown that pastry turned out, but I decided against using it.




Extra pictures of the Mother Fox & Kits. Enjoy these!



The mother had an itch.



As she was cleaning one kit, the other was trying very hard to get her attention.



Now the baby has an itch.



I just love this shot of mother & baby.




She was about to pick up that stick in front of her & begin a game of fetch.





Here she is carrying it to one side of the lawn.  The kits would then grab it with their mouths & take it back to her.  This went on for a small length of time.





A beautiful profile.




A few days after I took pictures of those kits, these two adult foxes began grooming each other out on the lawn right behind the house. 





Although I was standing on my back porch well within their sight, they seemed to have not a care in the world.


♤♤♤♤♤♤♤♤♤♤

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ratatouille

Whenever I make ratatouille at home there never seems to be enough of it to go around.  I always make a big batch for us to eat, because I love having leftovers for work lunches or as a filling for omelets.  There is no one formula or one absolute-best recipe for ratatouille (pronounced RAT-AT-OO-EE).  If you've seen the movie by the same name, then you know that the recipe made by the adorable chef rat Remy, was the work of world-renowned chef, Thomas Keller--he was the food consultant & stylist for the animated movie.  Keller's version is more of a tian (a casserole) that uses paper thin slices of vegetables and gets baked in the oven au gratin.  The one I like to make is more country-style, therefore a bit more forgiving and casual.  Not only is it very good, but it's one of my favorite ways to eat these vegetables.     


The Ingredients

  •  1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 6 baby Italian eggplants, cut into 1" chunks
  • 3 large zucchini (1 1/2 lbs.), cut in half lengthwise & sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • One 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands
  • 4 sprigs flat leaf Italian parsley
  • salt & pepper

Note: any other type of eggplant can be used.  If you happen to use the more readily available, larger ones, peel them. 


In a large pan or Dutch oven, heat one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over a medium flame.  Add your onions and bell pepper and saute until softened, about 4 minutes.  Salt & pepper to taste, then add your dried thyme & basil, stir well.  Add your garlic and saute for 2 minutes more.

 
Add your chopped eggplant and zucchini and saute this for another 3 minutes.  Salt & pepper again.  Make sure you give everything a good toss, so that nothing sticks or starts to burn.  


Add your crushed tomatoes carefully.  Give everything a good stir and add a bit more salt & pepper.

 
Aren't you tempted by all these Good Things?


Mix everything thoroughly & bring it up to a good simmer.  As soon as you do, cover with the lid and lower your heat to medium low.  Let this simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring 2-3 times as it cooks.  Check for doneness and make sure everything is fork tender; you may need to add several minutes to this.  This will all depend on the freshness of your vegetables & how thick you actually cut them.  Taste for seasoning & add more salt and pepper if it needs it.

Yield: At least 6 servings.


The stew is done and every vegetable is still intact.  Although it's stewy, I haven't let the entire dish turn into mush.  I've had ratatouilles that were almost complete purees, but I've never cared for those versions. 

۩
Right before serving, sprinkle the entire dish with your minced parsley.


I like to serve it in a pasta bowl with a generously sized spoon. 



This does make a good side dish to grilled chicken, duck breasts or even baby lamb chops.  If you're a vegetarian or even a vegan (I know plenty of people who are), this can certainly become a main course when accompanied with a nice helping of rice, quinoa or even as a topping on pasta (I love it with penne).  Treat yourself, your friends & family members to some of my ratatouille this summer.  Even if you find it difficult to pronounce, you're going to find it a very easy & Good Thing to eat.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Salmon Cakes

Salmon cakes can be very tasty bite-size hors d'oeuvres and everyone seems to like them.  They can also be a great main course for lunch or dinner if you make them a bit larger.  In the never-ending, daily challenge to put something nutritious & delicious on the table for our families, I'd like to show you how I make them at my house.  The great thing about this recipe is that I use wild-caught, canned red salmon that's already cooked; this creates a minimum of fuss in the kitchen.  Let's get started because you may just want to make these tonight!


The Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery--2 stalks
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup medium diced, roasted bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon minced celery leaves
  • 4 tablespoons minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained & coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard--plain or grain
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche--sour cream or Greek yogurt can be substituted
  • 2/3 cups breadcrumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 dashes tabasco sauce--optional
  • One 15oz. can or Two 7.5 oz. cans, red salmon (wild caught), bones removed & well-drained

Note: I don't use salt in this recipe because canned salmon already contains it, as do the capers & dijon mustard.


Saute your celery & red onion in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Cook until softened & translucent, about 5 minutes.  Let cool completely.

Note: the first picture of the mise en place shows the cooked & cooled mixture.



Place all of your ingredients in a large bowl & gently fold everything.  Try to leave large pieces of salmon.


Shape your mixture into 2" cakes of an even thickness.  You should end up with about one dozen.



In a large nonstick frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of canola or safflower oil over medium heat until very hot.  Fit as many salmon cakes as possible, without crowding, and fry for 4-5 minutes per side until nicely browned.  Repeat this process until you've cooked all of them.  Have a rack lined with paper towels (this absorbs excess oil) nearby to place them when you're done.

Salmon cakes can be kept in a warm oven for about one hour, well covered with foil.  These can be made a day in advance and reheated; a Good Thing when entertaining.



A closeup of a delectable & irresistible salmon cake.  If you form your cakes gently, you will end up with nice flakes of salmon in each one. 


Stack the cakes on a nice platter and rush them to the table.  Tasty, flaky, and mouthwatering.

Yield: about one dozen 2" cakes; 4-6 servings.


Here's a good dinner.  Two salmon cakes with some freshly snipped dill, orzo with baby heirloom tomatoes and blanched haricot verts. 



With all of us trying to eat fish in order to improve our overall health, it's very important to choose wisely & responsibly.  I love visiting the Seafood WATCH list from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium to get recommendations on what fish to buy & what to avoid.  You can download their app for your IPhone or Android; a big convenience when you're out grocery shopping.  Don't overlook wild-caught canned red salmon the next time you're at the grocery store.  I find it a very convenient item to keep in stock at all times. There you have it, salmon cakes my way.  Make them tonight & let me know what you think!   

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Changes

As I make changes on my blog, there will be a short period of time when previous posts will look a bit off.  I'm testing, changing and experimenting with my layout to make it easier for you to view.  Please be patient and thank you for stopping by! 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Roasted Bell Peppers

I love roasting bell peppers in the summertime, because the markets are filled to the brim with them.  A lot of people simply char their peppers over an open flame and then remove the peels.  This is perfectly fine if all you need is one or two peppers, but have you ever tried roasting several of them in the oven?  I find it so much easier to make big trays of these capsicums, because I don't have to fuss & watch over them.  My oven does all the work while I do something else; this is especially helpful if you have an electric range vs. a gas range.  At our house we enjoy eating red bell peppers because they are the sweetest & most delectable, but you can just as well use orange, yellow or even the spicier poblano peppers.  These vegetables are a good source of folate, dietary fiber, Vitamins A, C, B6 & magnesium.  Roasted bell peppers are not only good for you, they're also quite delicious on so many things like pastas and toppings for crostini.  I even like pureeing them into plain hummus for some added zip.  Run out to your local market & buy several bell peppers, because now that summer is here and these vegetables are inexpensive, you're going to want to roast some at home.



Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Simply halve & seed your bell peppers. Place them cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.  Bake for 30 minutes, rotating your sheets halfway through.  You want the skins to blister.

The roasted peppers.  Carefully transfer them, while still piping hot, into a heatproof bowl.

Cover your bowl with a piece of plastic wrap & let the peppers sit for 15 minutes.  This glass tempered bowl is part of my Mise en Place.

See them sweating?  After 15 minutes, remove the plastic wrap & begin peeling them.  The skins should easily come off.  Don't rinse them under water because you end up losing so much of the flavor. 

Note: The peppers may still be quite warm.

Transfer your strips & pieces of bell peppers into a glass refrigerator dish with a lid.  These will keep for about a week or so.  Delicious!




How easy was that?  I know you're all thinking that jarred bell peppers are more convenient & readily available at the local supermarket (admittedly, I keep a jar of these in my pantry at all times), but you really need to give these a try.  Don't be surprised if you get hooked on them.  I've been known to use them in rice pilafs, sandwiches and as burger toppers, but perhaps my favorite way to eat them is in pastas.  I saute some garlic in the best extra virgin olive oil until tender, add some strips of roasted bell peppers until just heated through, and toss this with just-cooked al dente linguine.  Sprinkle this dish with some minced parsley and pass the freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (my preference).  Utterly delicious.  Enjoy!