Friday, April 18, 2014

Chocolate covered strawberries




Chocolate covered strawberries are surprisingly easy to make. Grab a friend in the kitchen and it's twice as fast! I personally like to use dark chocolate, although these are milk chocolate, which works quite well ; ). 

It's a tad bit silly to post a "recipe" for these, but the tricky part is if you decide to temper the chocolate. Check out this article, written by the great David Lebovitz, for information about why to temper chocolate, and what "bloom" is. You don't need to temper chocolate for these if you keep them in the fridge before serving, but you have the option if you choose.


Ingredients: 
Strawberries, rinsed and dried
2 bags of chocolate, melted
1 sheet of parchment paper (the strawberries release very well from parchment when set)
Optional: chopped toasted nuts of choice

Directions:
Melt chocolate:
In microwave: put chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave at 20 second intervals, stirring in between until the chocolate is melted. 
In double boiler: place chocolate in a heatproof glass over a pot of gently simmering water. Stir until the chocolate is smooth and melted. You can either take it off the heat and re-warm it if needed, or keep it on very low, stirring to keep the chocolate at the bottom from burning. 

Dip strawberries one a time, gently shaking to release any extra chocolate. Place on a parchment lined tray, and either dip into a bowl of toppings, or sprinkle toppings on top. 





Chocolate covered frozen banana slices


I am getting a little ahead of myself here, but these chocolate covered frozen banana slices are perfect for Summer! There is no baking here, no pre-heating the oven or creaming butter and sugar. The hardest thing to do is not to burn the chocolate. 
You have two options to melt the chocolate into silky ribbons of decadence: microwave, or double boiler. The microwave is very simple: nuke the chocolate at 20 second intervals and stir until melted. Be careful not to melt it longer than that because the chocolate will burn. Burned chocolate looks grainy, and slightly lumpy. It will not set, so be careful! 


If you are using a double boiler, place a large glass or ceramic bowl above a pot of gently simmering water, and the steam will heat the chocolate, melting it. Be careful to stir the chocolate with both methods, so you don't burn it! In regards to the bananas, small slices of banana (about half an inch thick) ensure a greater chocolate to banana ratio- which is pretty awesome. More chocolate, more toppings, more crunch. 


Also, anything "mini" is absolutely adorable. Call me crazy, but these are just cute! They're also the perfect "healthy" snack to have a stash of in your freezer for when you come back from the gym, or come inside from a hot summer's day. If you make them with dark chocolate, and toasted nuts they're pretty healthy- no added sugars other than the scant few grams in dark chocolate. 


Ingredients: 

2 bananas, sliced as you wish 
1 bag of dark chocolate chips (12 ounces)
Chopped toasted nuts of choice 
Optional toppings: coconut flakes, sprinkles

Directions: 

1. Slice bananas and arrange on a tray. Freeze for about one hour. 

2. Prep your toppings: coarsely chop nuts, and put in bowl. Arrange other toppings in bowls. 

3. Place the chocolate chips in a medium sized glass or ceramic bowl. If using a double boiler, place the bowl over a pot with gently simmering water (heat on low). Stir until the chocolate is melted. Keep the burner on low, and stir to keep the chocolate on the bottom from burning. 

4. Using forks, dip one piece of banana at a time into the chocolate, pausing to let the excess drip off. You can scrape the fork against the edge of the bowl to release the dripping chocolate. Carefully place the banana slice in the bowl of toppings, turning to coat. Alternatively, you can place the slice on a tray covered with parchment paper, and then sprinkle the toppings on top. 

5. Keep going until the tray is filled and everything is dipped. 

6. Put the tray in the freezer until frozen (a couple of hours). You can transfer them to a container, where they will keep for... well they never seem to last more than a few days before they're gone ; ). 



Monday, April 14, 2014

Chocolate Caramel Matzoh

 
 I came across this recipe on David Lebovitz's blog, and was drawn to it insantly. Besides looking fairly straightforward to make, I was intrigued by the idea of using matzoh for a sweet recipe. It's essentially a homemade candy bar in fun, bite-sized pieces. The richness of the caramel and all the calories therein proclaim loudly to a primal part of your brain, "Delicious calories have ARRIVED- stuff your face!". Other reactions include giggling like a schoolgirl, and resisting the urge to fight people (or alternatively, high five them).  
I've made them for friends, and most recently for a Passover Seder. Jordana, my violinist, hosted her first seder at her house with her husband, and it was a lovely affair. Also, when substituted with Kosher ingredients, these are perfect for Passover! You can sprinkle slivered almonds, toasted coconut, or anything your heart desires on the chocolate before it sets. 
 David Lebovitz made the interesting point that for this recipe, it would be better to use chocolate chips rather than chopping up a nice chocolate bar. The reason is that chocolate chips are made to hold their shape after melting, and would have a better snap to them than bars of chocolate.
 

Adapted from the marvelous blog of David Lebovitz
Ingredients:
8 to 12 sheets unsalted matzoh
2 cups unsalted butter, sliced up
2 cups firmly-packed light brown sugar
big pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips 
2 cups toasted sliced almonds (optional)
2 cups lightly toasted coconut (optional)
light sprinkling of fleur de sel (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with foil (make sure you wrap it up and over the edges of the baking sheet). Cover the foil with a sheet of parchment paper, and then cover a layer of matzoh, breaking up pieces of matzoh to fill in the pan.

In a medium sized saucepan put the butter cubes and sugar and cook over medium heat, stirring until the butter melts and the mixture boils. Boil for three minutes, stirring constantly. Take off the heat, add the vanilla extract and salt, stir. Pour over the matzoh, one tray at a time, spreading it over the matzoh with an offset spatula, or other heat-proof utinsel.

Put back in the oven, and reduce the heat to 350F. Bake for fifteen minutes. Keep an eye on it to make sure that the caramel isn't burning. If it looks like it is browning too quickly, lower the heat to 325F.

Take out of the oven after fifteen minutes, and immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Wait patiently for five minutes, and then spread to coat the matzoh/caramel with an offset spatula. This is the fun part. Now you can add any toppings your heart desires- flaky sea salt, toasted almonds, toasted other-nuts, roasted cocoa nibs...

Leave at room temperature until the chocolate sets, before breaking into pieces. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve. It should keep for one week, but I wouldn't know anything about that. Sometimes when you put the chocolate in the refrigerator, it might "bloom" from the temperature change. This means that the milk solids in the chocolate separate and float to the top of the chocolate. Is it still delicious? You bet! It is just an aesthetic. This article describes bloom in more detail, with suggestions on how to prevent/minimize bloom.      

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bacon Baklava ("American" Baklava)

Despite my lack of  spatial reasoning, each of these differently sized diamond baklava bites tasted good. Maybe I'll get it right one day... 
This ain't yer mama's baklava. This is an American hybrid, made by an East Coaster who found herself feeling nostalgic in the Midwest. It contains 'Murican things, like bacon, maple syrup (we consume a lot of maple syrup at least...), and bourbon.
Why hello there.

I have two versions of this baklava- one with bacon and the other without. I can assure you that pecan/maple syrup/bourbon baklava is going to be just as good without bacon. But for those who want to try something a little off the grid, you can start warming your saute pan now.
The first phyllo layer. 
Baklava is a pastry dessert, although I had someone ask me if I was knitting a balaclava. Baklava is made with layers of paper thin pastry dough, called phyllo dough, and can be used for savory, or sweet dishes. My mom and grandma make their own phyllo dough for their savory dishes, called pita.
The anointing of the bacon!

I have childhood memories of visiting my mother's aunt in Detroit, where we would watch her make phyllo dough from scratch. My mom would scold me pre-preemptively, warning me not to talk, breathe, or make any other indication that I was alive.
Yes.

 We would climb up the rickety stairs to the second floor of my great-aunt's apartment, and I would give her the obligatory two to three kisses (sometimes four!), typical of the Montenegrin culture of my mother's side. My mom's strina (aunt on her father's side) would be in her mourning black with a black headscarf, and I would peer from the far end of the table, watching her as she effortlessly spun a thick block of dough into a large, shining sheet of thin phyllo. Her eyes looked closed, as if this was a meditation for her that was both effortless and involuntary. She was the phyllo machine, and we were her humble subjects, eager to learn and fawn over here (quietly, and non-existantly in my case).

I digress though. Let's talk baklava. I learned how to make baklava first-hand from a Italian-Greek master of said pastry at IU, George L. Watching George make baklava, I realized that organization is key. Prep all of your ingredients and have them accessible and ready to go- it will make your life easier. I used to not be a very precise baker, but having all of your ingredients measured out and ready to go is crucial.
It sizzles and hisses when the syrup hits the hot pastry! 
To sum up George's philosophy- be organized, prep, move fast, and use a sharp knife! He also decorates each diamond with a tiny clove, which is a beautiful touch. Since I didn't use any in this baklava I didn't include it, but feel free to add it (not to be eaten, just for looks), or a tiny pinch of crushed nuts on top of each square.

Now, let's talk about the process a little...
Clarified butter shining with the warmth of a thousand suns. Isn't it beautiful?

Why use clarified butter? Clarified butter is the process of removing the water from the butter. Most butter is typically 80-82% butterfat, and the rest is water. If we kept the water, it would steam during the baking process, which would make it soggy. Clarified butter will ensure a wonderfully crisp texture. You can use unflavored ghee, which is essentially clarified butter, or make your own.
Why toast your nuts? Toasting your pecans allows for a stronger nuttier flavor, which is always welcome. You don't need to toast them, but putting them in a single layer on a baking sheet at 350F for 10 minutes won't hurt ; ).
Syrup mixture.
Real maple syrup, seriously girl? Girl, yes. Get grade B, which is a little darker/more flavor. A general rule of thumb is the darker the color, the more flavor there is.
Phyllo- if your phyllo is frozen, put it in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours before using.
Kind of ugly looking, but I gently pat down the baklava before slicing, to get any air holes out. 
Baking pans- avoid nonstick, because you will be slicing the baklava in the pan and you don't want to damage the nonstick coating. A traditional metal pan will work well, or glass (which I used).
 Knife- you will need a really sharp knife. Seriously. The sharper the knife, the easier it will cut through the layers of baklava to make clean beautiful buttery delicious diamonds. If your knife is not sharp you will probably end up cursing a lot, and it will feel like you have to force the knife more, which is dangerous.
Cross section (un-strained syrup, which is why there are little bits of orange zest throughout).  

Ingredients:

Sugar syrup
1 1/4 granulated sugar
1/2 Cup water
1 Cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon squeezed orange juice
Zest of half of one orange
3 Tbsp. bourbon : )
1 large cinnamon stick
a few shakes of ground cinnamon
* If you would like to add a pinch of nutmeg or allspice go for it!

Phyllo layers
1 pound phyllo (it comes in different grades. I used #10, which is on the thicker side)
4 sticks of butter, clarified

Nut filling
12 ounces toasted and cooled pecans
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp table salt

Bacon filling
2 pounds of cooked bacon, finely chopped

Directions:
Prep
Toast nuts for 10 minutes at 350F, then set aside to cool. Once cool chop them finely, or pulse them in a food processor.
Clarify butter. I suggest checking out David Lebovitz's article on clarified butter.
Trim phyllo. Depending on the size of your phyllo you may need to trim just the edges, or perhaps like me, cut a giant sheet in half. Unwrap the phyllo and lay it out flat, then trim it as needed to fit in the pan. Lay a piece of saran wrap over the phyllo, and then a damp towel (or paper towel) over that. This keeps the phyllo moist, as it dries out quickly.
Bacon- prepare bacon, put on paper towels to absorb excess oil, and let cool. Finely chop or pulse in a food processor.

To prepare the nut mixture:
Finely chop by hand or food processor (pulse it) your nuts. Add the cinnamon, salt, and sugar, and mix evenly. Set aside. Have ready to go before building your baklava!

To make the syrup:
In a medium sized saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil, and simmer for five minutes. You can strain the mixture at this point if you don't want the orange zest in the baklava. Turn off the stove and take off the burner. Let cool. Make the syrup whilst the baklava is baking.

To assemble the baklava:
Make sure everything is ready to go! Cooled clarified butter, nut mixture, phyllo sheets. Check, check, check.

Take your baking dish, and using a silicone or other cooking brush, paint some butter on the bottom of it. Lay your first phyllo on it carefully, and then brush it with butter. Make seven such layers.
Sprinkle 1 cup of the nut mixture evenly over the pan. Sprinkle enough chopped bacon to cover this mixture. Carefully layer another sheet of phyllo, except this time dab the butter on. If you try to brush it it will tear.
Make 5 such layers, then another layer of nuts/bacon.
Make 7 more layers, and then press down on the phyllo carefully with your hands to get any air pockets out.
Using your sharp knife, slice it into diamonds.

Bake at 300 from 60-90 minutes. Check it at 45-50 minutes. When it is done it will be a light golden color.
Immediately pour the cooled syrup over the hot baklava. It will make a hissing noise! Let cool at room temperature, then put in the refrigerator overnight. This is important to let all of the flavors develop and deepen.

When ready to eat, slice again into the layers, and enjoy!







Friday, March 7, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with cumin

Cauliflower soup for a rainy, cold day.  2014. 
This past weekend I found myself at home on a Saturday, a rare treat for a traveling musician. It's a guilty pleasure, and I feel like I need to live up to it by doing something fun, or nothing at all. I came across Joy The Baker's recipe for cauliflower soup, and was instantly drawn to it. It's a warm, inviting soup that makes your whole house smell delicious, and it's very comforting.
Is there anything better than onions and garlic cooking on the stove? March 2014.

 This was the first time I've made cauliflower soup. It sort of sounds eh, not compelling enough to warrant chopping stirring and whirring, but with the weather so dreary and cold, and Joy the Baker's pictures so charming I found myself compelled to make it. It was worth it! 
Cauliflower soup- almost ready! The last simmer before blending everything up.  March 2014. 


adapted from: 
Ingredients: 
One head of cauliflower
1 heaping teaspoon of cumin 
1 heaping teaspoon of curry powder
4 Tbls olive oil, divided 
salt and crushed red pepper flakes
one medium sized onion, chopped
two cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
4 cups of chicken brother, vegetable broth, or water

Optional:
1/4 cup plain yogurt 

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375F
Wash, and break/chop cauliflower up into small pieces, and place in a bowl with three tablespoons of olive oil, cumin, curry, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Mix to coat, and spread evenly on two baking sheets. Bake for about twenty-five minutes, or until knife-tender. Set aside.

In a large pot heat the butter and olive oil on low. Saute the onions for about five minutes, until softened, and then add the garlic and sauté for an extra minute. Add the bay leaf, broth, and cauliflower, and bring to a boil. Simmer for fifteen minutes and let the liquid reduce. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup up to a smooth consistency. Alternatively you could puree the soup in small batches in a blender. Let the soup cool a little before blending, and be careful not to urn yourself!

The question of why cauliflower smells indubitably comes up. What's up with that?