Thursday, October 30, 2008

RFJ: Winter Squash Tart

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with glazed pecans, maple cream, and sage-caramel

Oh my god, I'm foodie jousting! I know, I can't believe it either. Seems like it's been ages since I joined in on the monthly battle brought to you by Jenn at the Leftover Queen Forum. Last month Susan won with her creamy gorgonzola, fennel, and pear tart. She probably deserves a separate award for both her blog and post titles. They sound like they should be spoken in a titillated breathy moan. I think it comes down the the use of the word "creamy"...

I thought I'd keep it tart-ie with Susan's chosen ingredients of acorn squash, sage. and orange.
Which are awesome ingredients.


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I made an orange scented-pecan crust, a sweet filling of pureed acorn and delicato squash, spices, brown sugar, and a little egg- Your standard issue pumpkin pie filling but with different squash.
The sage was infused into cream for the star of this dessert: sage-caramel. I gotta say, this one really tickled my g-spot. The earthiness of the sage cuts right through the sweet caramel. A little sea salt is stirred in as well to balance everything out. It was absolutely perfect when paired with the spicy, yet not overly sweet tart.

I finished the dessert with pecans that have been glazed with brown sugar, butter, and a little salt, and a chantilly of maple syrup, whipping cream, and sour cream. Oh yeah- and a spot of bourbon.....never forget the Bourbon.....
I brought the whole shebang to work so my colleagues can get fat too.

I've witnessed enough eye fluttering after watching them devour these to decide that it should probably be put on my menu. It's the super amazing funky phresh sage-caramel that makes it. I think I might take a bath in it.
...maybe make out with it a little?.....
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Sage Caramel: pretty much the best thing ever.

You know what I just realized? The next time I post a blog, we will have elected a new president. Fucking better be Obama or I'm going cry for a very long time.

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Winter squash tart with glazed pecans, maple cream, and sage-caramel

orange-pecan crust:
1 1/4 cup pastry flour
4 oz cold butter, cut into cubes
pinch sea salt

1/3 cup toasted pecans
1 tsp orange zest
1 T + 1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp flour

1 small egg
1 T cold cream
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

whisk the egg, vanilla and cream together in a small measuring pitcher and set aside. In the food processor, pulse up the nuts, zest, 1 tsp flour, and brown sugar until nuts are finely ground. Add the flour and salt. Process until nut mixture is evenly combined with flour. Add the butter and pulse until butter is the size of small peas. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the egg mixture and mix on low with the paddle attachment until dough just forms. Dump out onto the counter and gently work dough into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 3 hours. Roll out onto a lightly dusted surface. Makes either 6- 4" tarts or 1- 9" tart.
Freeze tart shell until baking time.

Sage-Caramel:
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4 sage leaves, torn slightly
1 cup whipping cream

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp lemon juice

1 T butter
pinch of sea salt

combine the sage and cream in a small pot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, bring to a boil again, then strain into a measuring pitcher. Cover to keep hot. In a separate, larger pot, combine the lemon juice, water and sugar. Cook, brushing down the sides with a brush that has been dipped in water until copper colored. Remove from heat. Slowly and carefully whisk in the hot sage scented cream. Whisk until smooth, then stir in the butter and salt.

Winter Squash Puree:
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oven cam!
1 acorn squash
2 delicato squash, peeled, de-seeded, and cut into cubes
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Slice acorn squash into rings, removing the seedy center and place on a foil lined pan. Prep the delicato squash and place in a hotel pan. Cover with foil. Place both pans in a 400 degree oven. Acorn squash will be done after about 30 minutes. Delicato will take up to 2 hours. Spoon out the center of the acorn squash into the food processor. add the cooked pumpkin and puree until completely smooth. Let cool. There are plenty of leftovers for soup after making this tart.

Tarts:
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6 pecan tart shells

1 cup winter squash puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 T granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp clove
3 T whole milk
1/2 cup cream
1 1/2 Tb maple syrup
1 tsp bourbon (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
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Blind bake the tart shells for 25 minutes at 350. Remove pie weights and continue baking until pale golden (shells should be almost fully baked). Lower oven temp to 325.

Whisk together everything but the squash and eggs.
Place the squash puree in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the the spice mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in the eggs. Transfer mixture to a pitcher, then carefully pour into tart shells. bake for about 20minutes, or until set, but wobbly in the centers and slightly puffy on the edges.

Cool. Garnish with the sage caramel and a dollop of whipped cream (I flavored mine with maple syrup and bourbon), and glazed pecans.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Comfort Food

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Huckleberry Creme Brulee: scented with fresh bay leaf and served with brown butter tuiles

You know what hurts, like really bad?
A fractured rib.

Those of you who follow my twitter updates already know, I was in a car accident on Monday evening. Yes, folks- it's one woe-is-me post after another here. And by the way, thank you for all of your kind words about my kitty. Percy is doing much better-he's just as sprightly and obnoxious as ever, just the way we love him. He has, however passed his cold on to his sister- but she's always been a rockstar and seems to be kicking it's ass.

So, back to my whining: I was hit on the drivers side in the middle of an intersection. My car is kind of totaled (I can't close the driver's side door). The guy was in his mid 50's, driving a Lexus. Needless to say- he's got tons of insurance- so ya know, there's that.
Luckily, he was only going about 35 miles an hour. But that was enough to give me a nasty bruise on the side of my head, a healthy case of whip lash, and a fractured rib. Which hurts like a bitch. The other driver is totally fine, and I could be in much worse shape. For the most part, I am thankful that we are both okay.

But this rib....good god. Please don't make me laugh, cough, or sneeze. For that matter, I'd prefer not to breathe if thats possible. Anyone who has ever had one of these knows that there is nothing the doctors can do. I was given a weeks worth of codeine and told to "take it easy".

The last couple of nights, as I've been nursing my aches and pains- I've been craving comfort food (wine and the doting husband can only do so much). The combination of hurting, the cold weather, and this post, which I read just hours after the accident, brought it all on.
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I need a hug

It seems like the general dining public is craving it as well. Some of my fancy pants desserts at the restaurant are being snubbed for the simple, snuggly ones. Huckleberry creme brulee in particular seems to be all the rage right now. Which is fine by me- as it couldn't be easier to make.
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I use frozen huckleberries procured by the very same hippies that forage the wild mushrooms for the restaurant. They come all cleaned and ready to go (huckleberries are a fucking nightmare to clean). Those of you not living in the pacific northwest might be shit-out-of-luck. There is no commercial licence for huckleberries (which are native to the mountainous regions of Northwest forests), so they can be hard to find if you live in Skokie, Illinois. Blueberries would work (but they're nowhere near as good. sorry).
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I infuse my brulee base with a vanilla bean and some fresh bay leaves. If you've never tried a dessert made with fresh bay leaves, for the love of god try it. It's really good infused into creamy substances such as flans, ice creams, and of course brulees. If you live in an area where huckleberries are nigh impossible to get your hands on, I highly recommend you just try the bay-scented brulee. Trust me on this. Have I ever let you down?
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Huckleberry-Bay Creme Brulee
makes 4-6 individual servings, depending on the size of your ramekins

9 fresh bay leaves
1/2 of a vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 cups whipping cream
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz. granulated sugar
1/3 cup huckleberries, fresh or frozen

Tear the bay leaves and combine them with the cream and vanilla bean. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2 hours.
Whisk the eggs, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Bring the infused cream back to a boil and temper it into the eggs. Strain through a fine sieve.
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Line a roasting pan with a tea towel to keep the ramekins from sliding around. Pour hot tap water into the pan until the cups are halfway submerged. Divide the huckleberries amongst the ramekins. Pour the brulee base into each cup. Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hour (start checking after 45 minutes). Brulee is done when custard is set, but slightly wobbly. Remove cups from water and chill for at least 4 hours, overnight if possible. Just before serving, sprinkle with granulated sugar and (if you have a propane turbo torch) torch until the sugar melts. Otherwise, place under the broiler until the top is golden brown. Don't walk away, this happens fast!
Serve with cookies.
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Monday, October 13, 2008

Poppy seed shortbread and a pissed off kitty

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I had some big plans for my day off today. I was gonna take myself out for pancakes, go kitchen doo-hickey shopping, possibly hit up a nice bowl of pho for lunch, and take a power yoga class. Yeah. I was looking forward to it. It was gonna be a good day. Some serious "me time", ya know? All of that was shot to hell when one of my cats developed a nasty cold, which started on Friday night, then steadily got worse over the weekend.

This is why I don't have kids. Hearing his kitty sneezes breaks my heart. His drippy little eye looks like he's crying, and then makes me want to cry. It freaks me out, and I drop everything to rush him to the vet.
If that were my child, I would probably be panting into a paper bag.

So, little Percy (why yes, he is in fact named after the Scarlett Pimpernel) spent the morning being poked and prodded. Thermometers shoved up his bottom, hissing and growling at vet techs who smell like foreign animals. Usually, his sister is with him at these dreaded appointments, so he's got the comfort of the buddy system. But alas, she is feeling fine and got to sit this one out.
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Leave me alone. I am both sneezy and grumpy.

The vet decided not to treat him with any meds and just let this thing just work itself out. He had an upper respiratory infection as a kitten, and they do tend to pop up now and again. So, now I feel too guilty to go run around. All I wanna do is stick around the house and keep an eye on my guy.
Who is totally pissed off at me.

Maybe I'll make a pot of soup and a loaf of bread. Equally as satisfying and shopping and going out for pho.
I guess.

Right now I am drinking a pot of coffee and snacking on my favorite cookie EVER. I made these during The Great Baking Marathon of last week. I always try to keep a log or two of poppy seed shortbread in the freezer. People always love them. These days, I tend to prefer the simpler, less sweet butter cookies over the big chewy chocolaty varieties.
This batch was made to bring along to my mom's salon when I was getting my hair done. Where they quickly disappeared.
By the way: ALWAYS bring your hairdresser coffee and cookies....it's just common courtesy.
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Excellent dippage.

Poppy seed shortbread

8 oz. butter, softened
5 oz. sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
3/4 tsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
3 T poppy seeds
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Good cookies start with good butter and salt. Readily available brands I like are La Bailene sea salt and Plugra unsalted butter

Combine butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the lemon juice and vanilla- mix. Combine the flour and poppy seeds (poppy seeds should be evenly distributed throughout the flour. Add to the bowl and mix until dough just forms.
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"Poppies! Now they'll sleep! Sleeeep.."

Dump out onto a work surface and form into a log (or rectangle, as I like to do). Wrap in plastic. Freeze or refrigerate until firm. Slice off 1/4 inch thick cookies and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. Bake at 350 for 12 minutes, rotating halfway though.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When life hands you a case of plums....

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Make upside-down plum cake

So, yeah- I bought a case of black plums. A CASE. I'm beginning to wonder if I may have been high at the time, as I am feeling totally overwhelmed by them. I ordered a case for the plum pie I am making at work right now, and was surprised by how especially delicious they are this year. So why not order a WHOLE CASE for myself? Forget the fact that Trevor doesn't even like plums and will therefore be no help whatsoever in consuming them.

High I tell you. Tripping Balls.

In the past week I have made plum sorbet, plum scones, the upside-down cake you see, and will hopefully will be tackling the bulk of them today by making plum jelly.
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I'm drowning

Thats okay, when fall rolls around I get a major home-baking bug up my ass. On top of all of the plum desserts being pumped out of my kitchen, I've been on a cookie frenzy as well. Trevor and I made Halloween cat shaped chocolate butter cookies on Sunday. The recipe came from Cooks Illustrated and they SUCKED ASS (they were, however adorable). It's one of the few times I've been let down by C.I., but not even the ganache glaze could save them. I ended up dumping them on my co-workers who, not unlike meth addicts, will eat anything containing sugar. Anything.
Future blog posts will most likely include pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies (which were both cute and had the good manners to be delicious), poppy seed shortbread (my all time favorite cookie), and chocolate sandwiches (read: oreos).

These little plum cakes are my favorite incarnation of the upside-down genre, and it usually makes an appearance on my dessert menu in the late summer. The cake is not overly sweet and has the texture of a cross between a muffin and a cake donut. The Armagnac scented caramel provides most of the sweetness and acts as a gooey counterpart to the tart plums and muffiny cake. They don't need much dressing up. Ice cream is a little too rich. I usually go for a dollop of creme fraiche. On my menu, I will add a plum caramel to accent the flavors of the cake.
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The modest, unassuming dollop.

I'm going to send this dessert over to my girl Ley, of Cilantro and Lime. She's hosting her first blog event Baking for breast cancer awareness. I participated in the boobie bake off last year with my boob-shaped cupcakes. I had considered revisiting these, but opted not to be quite so 7th grade this time around. These plum cakes are pink(ish), which for some reason is the chosen color to represent breast cancer. While that is not a requirement for this particular event, I found them to be somewhat fitting. Ley also asked that we share how breast cancer has affected our lives personally....
Somehow, this form of cancer has not really affected me. I consider myself to be very lucky for this. Cancer in general has affected me greatly. My mother-in-law lost her battle with a rare form of lung cancer. My Grandfather (the coolest Grandfather EVER)is currently battling prostate cancer, and knock on wood, appears to be beating it. I could keep going, but as far as the boobies are concerned, those close to me have been fortunate. So I will keep participating in events like these, keep taking care of myself, and keep hoping the women I care about remain healthy.

Upside-down plum cake
Makes 7 4" individual cakes

Caramel:
4 oz. butter
6 oz. brown sugar
2 T Armagnac or brandy of your choice
sliced plums

Spray ramekins with pan spray. Line the bottoms with little circles of parchment paper and spray again. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk until it melts. Remove from heat and whisk in brandy.
Ladle about 1 oz of caramel into the bottom of each ramekin.
Fan 4 slices of plums over the caramel (usually takes about 3 plums). Chill until caramel is firm- at least an hour.
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Cake batter:
3 oz. butter, softened
1 cup sugar (I always use my vanilla sugar. If you have any on hand, it really makes a difference. If you don't- make some!)
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup + 3 Tb all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup sour cream
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In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the butter with the sugar using the paddle attachment until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl as needed. Alternate adding the sour cream and sifted dry ingredients in 3 additions. Scoop the batter into the ramekins and spread with a small offset spatula (batter is quite thick). Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes- until a cake tester comes out with a few moist (but not raw) crumbs clinging to it and the surface of the cake springs back when gently pressed. Let cool about 10 minutes (until just cool enough to handle). Flip cakes out onto a cake rack. Serve warm.
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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Flavors of a Suburban Childhood

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Creamsicle Semifreddo

I've been a bit of a lazy blogger lately. I have been a very busy social networker though. In the past week or so, I have joined both twitter and foodbuzz. I think I have the whole twitter thing figured out. It's both kind of neat and pointless at the same time. I like being able to send immediate non-food related messages to fellow bloggers, but to be perfectly honest, I'm running low on witty repartee....

Why in god's name would anyone care what I'm eating for breakfast?
(Heritage Farms Flax Plus multigrain cereal. Keeps the digestive system on the regs...see what I mean?)

Foodbuzz still kind of confuses the hell out of me. The wine country blog I featured on my profile was accidentally posted twice and I can't figure out how to make one of them go away. And how do you get that nifty graphic to display on your blog? I'll get the hang of it eventually, as I usually do with these computer-related activities. I'm still kind of amazed that I keep a blog in the first place. I was born during the Carter administration, which means that growing up, Atari Pong was considered the penultimate in technological advances and mankind was just inches away from self-aware robots and hovercrafts. I realize that software techs in their forties are laughing their asses off at me, but yeah- when it comes to this interweb thingymajig, I'm on a bit of a slow learning curve.

Speaking of my youth- my dessert menu is experiencing a childhood kick lately. The fruit pies are always a big seller, mainly for their simplicity and the fact that it's hard to find a good slice o' pie in the city these days- but fruit pies, delicious and awesome as they are, are typically a favored by the "Jag" crowd.
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It's time for a shout out to the young'uns- and to some of my favorite flavors as a kid. Memories of watching the Mariners lose at the now demolished Kingdome with my dad and eating chocolate malts became a malted chocolate mousse cake served with caramelized rice krispies. Mom taking us to McDonalds for an orange-vanilla swirl cone (which they don't sell anymore. Buttholes.) after going to the swimming pool has been translated to a creamsicle semifreddo.
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Orange and vanilla has always been one of my favorite combos. It's right up there with burgers and beer. The semifreddo (which is basically just a frozen mousse- no ice cream maker required) has just a smidgen of an ingredient that I generally abhor: white chocolate. But when cut heartily with lots of cointreau and orange zest, you can barely tell it's there. It's minuscule- a whisper really, to help play up the vanilla bean and provide a really nice texture. White chocolate haters will most likely still enjoy this dessert.
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On to the recipe:
Creamsicle Semifreddo

Mousse Base (can be made a day or two in advance):
1 3/4 cups whole milk
zest of 1 orange
2 T sugar
1 vanilla bean split and scraped
6 egg yolks
1/4 tsp salt
1 T fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tsp cointreau*
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

combine the milk, zest, and vanilla bean in a sauce pot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover, and let steep to 2 hours.

whisk the yolks and salt together. bring the infused milk back to a simmer and temper it into the yolks. return mixture to pot and cook, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula over low heat until mixture thickens slightly. Strain though a sieve into a container and chill. Once cooled, stir in the vanilla extract, orange juice, and cointreau.

semifreddo:
mousse base
12 oz white chocolate, chopped
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp sugar
2 T fresh squeezed orange juice
1 T cointreau

line a loaf pan with plastic wrap.
In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk the cream, orange juice, sugar, and cointreau until very soft peaks form. set aside.
melt the white chocolate over a double boiler until no lumps remain. stir in the mousse base until smooth. fold in the whipped cream in 3 additions. continue folding gently until well combined. pour mousse into the prepped loaf pan and freeze over night. invert onto a frozen sheet pan and cut into 12 slices.

Thanks Norm!