26 December 2010

Christmas macarons

For Christmas, my mom challenged me to make French macarons. Well, more accurately, I took it as a challenge when she asked if I'd ever made them before because she had some frozen macarons she brought back from France and didn't know how to make them herself. Something to compare my macarons to? Challenge accepted! Oh, THEN my mom says something along the lines of she can't believe I make all the stuff on my blog, haha. She's like, "I recognize the kitchen towels in the pictures and your dirty fingernail, otherwise I wouldn't believe it!" So this is a chance to impress her with my mad skillz and show her that I am a chip off the old block (half of my memories involving her are in the kitchen baking something) I told h er, well yes I do make it all, and yes I do know how to make macarons. Wanna see?

I followed the same recipe for the shells I used last time, and then filled them with a simple chocolate ganache. Love the classic combination. And while the macarons my mom brought back were flavored, so not an exact comparison to mine... We can both confirm that the texture of the macaron cookies themselves were spot on, so Victory is mine!

Macarons and Chocolate Ganache Filling
adapted from Tartelette

3 egg whites, aged 1-3 days (large eggs)
2-3 tbsp white sugar
110 grams blanched almonds
200 grams powdered sugar

Prepare/Age the eggs: Separate the whites from the yolks, place whites in a really really clean bowl, and cover loosely. Let it sit at room temperature 1 to 3 days. I aged mine for 3 days. You can also refrigerate up to 5 days.

Prepare the almond meal: Combine almonds and confectioners sugar in a food processor and proccess until it's very fine. Sift through a strainer to keep the big bits out and regrind as necessary, until pretty much all of it can be sifted through.

Make the meringue: In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy -- it should look like a bubble bath. Continue beating and add sugar little by little (I added 2 tbsp worth) just until it forms a glossy meringue that looks like shaving cream - you should just get stiff peaks.

Add about half the almond meal/powdered sugar mix to the meringue and mix in - about 10 strokes. Gently fold in the rest of the dry mix until it comes together. You know it's done if you cut your spatula through it and it sinks back into itself within 10 seconds. You can also take a little bit and dollop it onto a plate - it should flatten on its own. If it's got peaks, fold a couple more times. This whole thing shouldn't take more than 50 strokes.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Fill a pastry bag or zip top bag with the batter. If using a zip top bag, snip off the bottom corner when ready to pipe. Pipe small rounds the size of a quarter onto the baking sheets. It should spread a little, so leave an inch between each one. Let sit for 1 hour so the shells harden. Preheat oven to 300.

Bake for 12-14 minutes. Look, more feet!
Chocolate Ganahce
1/3 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp instant espresso
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped well
Put chocolate into a small bowl. Heat heavy cream over medium high heat until the edges start to bubble. Mix in espresso powder until dissolved. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Allow to cool until thick enough to pipe.
Assemble the macarons: Match up similar sized/shaped cookies. Pipe or spoon about 1 tbsp of the ganache in between and sandwich the cookies. Allow to cool/set completely (I just did this overnight) so flavors can meld. Enjoy!

25 December 2010

Christmas Eve dinner recipes

Merry Christmas! Maligayang Pasko! My gift to you: recipes from last night's killer meal :)
Since I wouldn't get to spend Christmas dinner with my dad and little brother, I made dinner for us for Christmas Eve.I went with something not so traditional and knocked off another Hit List item at the same time: pastitsio. Almost didn't happen, though -- I may have almost burned down my kitchen, haha. That's an exaggeration, sorta... Instead of turning on the burner to boil water, I ended up charring the bottom of the box of pasta sitting on the other burner, lol. By the time it stopped smoking and, um, glowing, half of the bottom was gone, lol. Don't worry, I saved the pasta and was able to make this!

So pastitsio... Never heard of it? It's a Greek casserole, kinda like lasagna: you layer pasta (in this case, tubular noodles), meat sauce, and bechamel, then bake.  It's not the same in flavor, given you use cinnamon and nutmeg in the meat sauce. The only change is that next time I'll double the bechamel (and go to the gym for twice as long, lol) cuz I LOVE that stuff.  I wish I could explain it better, but you'll just have to try it: it's definitely delicious!
Adapted from food.com

For the pasta:
1 box ziti (since I couldn't find bucatini or the traditional No. 2 pasta)
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 C parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 C milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the meat sauce:
1 lb ground lamb (or ground beef*)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 8-oz can of tomato sauce
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper

For the bechamel:
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 C milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 C parmesan cheese

Make the pasta according to the box al dente instructions. Drain, then return to the pot. Mix in the milk, butter, cheese and egg then set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

Make the meat sauce: In a large sautee pan, heat the oil over medium and add onions. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the lamb. Cook until the lamb is no longer pink and the onions are translucent. Drain off the fat. Add the tomato sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.
(*Note: if using ground beef, the 2 tsp salt should be good... If using lamb, make sure to taste it and add salt as necessary.)

Make the bechamel: In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in the flour and salt. Slowly stir in the milk, whisking constantly so there are no lumps. Cook, stirring, on medium high heat until sauce thickens (thicker than gravy, not as thick as sour cream) then take off heat. Mix in the egg, stirring well. Mix in the cheese.

Spread half the noodles into an 11x7 or a 9x9 baking dish. Spoon on all the meat sauce and spread so it's even. Top with the remaining pasta. Pour the bechamel over so everything's covered. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until top browns. (I shoulda baked mine a bit longer to have it brown all over but we were impatient, lol.) Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes before serving.


Okay and for those green beans:
These are SUPER simple and absolutely awesome. I think I actually ate MORE of them than of the pastitsio, lol. (I heard a radio commercial say that the average american gains 10 lbs during Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays... not for me, thank you very much.) So. I got 2 bags of the prewashed, steam in the bag green beans (from Wegmans, though I'm sure most grocery stores have something similar). I microwaved it for 30 seconds shorter than the instructions said. Drained them, then put into a bowl. Drizzled some olive oil and lemon juice from half a lemon, sprinkled with salt, ground some red pepper flakes and viola! Absolutely perfect green beans! I will make those over and over again!

24 December 2010

Christmas Eve spread

Dinner for three on Christmas Eve:

> fried Halloumi cheese over sourdough crostini with orange apricot marmalade
> lemony haricort verts
> 2008 Kendall Jackson Reserve Chardonnay
> cookies for dessert (not pictured)

Recipes to come! Until then, Maligayang Pasko! Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

iced chocolate peppermint snaps

Behold, the one Christmas cookie recipe I will be posting before Christmas. Just under the wire, lol. They're basically thin mints topped with white chocolate and crushed candy canes... perfect for the holidays! Big thanks to Carly for trying the recipe first and sending me a sample. So good I had to try for myself :-)
These crisp cookies are adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe. I didn't get 60 cookies the way she did, I got 36 uniform square cookies. I skipped her method of chilling discs of dough then rolling them out and cutting out circles. I went the shortcut method (that I picked up from a post on one of the first blogs I started reading, Smitten Kitchen): after mixing the dough, dump into a gallon size ziplock bag, roll until unform, chill, then cut away the plastic and cut squares. That method is SO much neater and in my opinion much simpler to cut out cookies. And I'm all about easier and neater during this majorly hectic cookie baking season!

Iced Choclate Peppermint Snaps
adapted from Martha Stewart

1 C flour
1/2 C dutch processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp butter
3/4 C sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp peppermint extract
crushed candycanes -- about 20 small ones
8oz white chocolate

Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder, and salt in one bowl. Beat butter and sugar on medium high until well combined - 2-3 minutes. Reduce speed to med-low and mix in the egg, then the yolk, then extract - beating well after each addition. Slowly mix in the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Dump into a gallon size bag, zip about 75% so air can escape while you roll it out. Roll it to about 1/8" thickness -- will take up about 3/4 of the bag. Zip, and refrigerate flat for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 325. Cut edges of the ziplock so you can peel back one side, exposing the flat dough. Cut with a knife or pastry wheel into 36 squares like so:
Arrange on baking sheet with at least 1" between each cookie. Bake for 11-13 minutes then cool completely on a cooling rack that's over newspaper or something you won't mind throwing away later...

Chop up white chocolate and put into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for 30-second bouts, stirring between each one, until chocolate is melted. Put into a piping or ziplock bag and snip a small piece off the end. Drizzle over the cookies. (You can also just dip a fork into the chocolate and drizzle, but the bag was a lot neater cuz I just tossed it out afterwards. This is also why you want something under the cookies to catch the extra drizzle.) Sprinkle with the crushed peppermint. Allow to dry completely (I let it sit overnight) and then enjoy!

19 December 2010

hit list challenge item: Risotto

You'd think I'd be blowing up the blog with Christmas cookie recipes. Well, I wish I had been, but not so much, lol. Wll, since I'm not playing any sports (shocker) and I dropped choir, I had a lot of free time so I picked up a seasonal job. So, there goes my free time to bake, lol.

BUT, I did make time for Friendsmas* at Ang.'s. It was a perfect time to try out a new recipe and to knock out one of my Hit List items. There are only a few things left, so I went with the risotto. Since she was making the pot roast, I opted for a side dish version. It was yummy! The addition of meyer lemon zest really made the flavor sing. Or as Danielle said, "what is that extra something... it tastes... zesty..." Lol.
I was actually quite surprised at how easy risotto is. It's not HARD to make per se, since it's mostly just stirring. It is just time consuming. Patience is definitely your friend here... Like the original recipe said it'd take some 18 minutes for it to cook, mine probably took closer to 25-30. Be patient, taste it along the way, and enjoy.

*Friendsmas = the Christmas version of Friendsgiving, of course!

Asparagus Risotto
adapted from Gourmet

4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1 lb asparagus
3/4 sweet onion, chopped small
4 tbsp butter, divided
1 1/4 C arborio rice
1/4 C white wine
lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
1/2 C parmesan, (freshly grated, may want to use less if using the plastic jar kind)

Snap the ends of the asparagus then cut into 1" pieces. Bring the broth and water to a boil. Add the asparagus, reduce the heat and simmer for 3-4 minutes until tender. Use a slotted spoon to remove the asparagus and put in an ice bath to stop the cooking, then drain. Keep the broth/water mix on the stove.

In a large pan, melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender - about 5-6 minutes. Add the rice, stir constantly, and cook for about a minute.

This is where the patience begins :-)

Add 1/2 C of the broth mix to the risotto and mix until absorbed. When it's absorbed, add another 1/2 C of the broth and mix until absorbed. Keep repeating - adding 1/2 C at a time and allowing to absorbe before adding more - until the rice is al dente. (Note: it should be simmering, and mine wasn't, which is probably why mine took so long to cook,)

Stir in the asparagus, remaining 2 tbsp butter, parmesan, and lemon zest. Serve hot.

This can easily be made into a main course by adding shrimp, but otherwise this works as a lovely vegetarian side.

10 December 2010

cheddar biscuits

I love buttermilk biscuits. I don't care how full I am, I will always make room for them. Add cheese and garlic, and you've got some of the best biscuits ever that taste pretty much like those from that red crustacean restaurant chain. Ya know the one. But I get to control the butter, so yay! I got the recipe from America's Most Wanted Recipes. It's actually the first recipe I've made from it even though I received it as a gift last year from James. (Hi James!) I made them for one of our Thanksgiving potlucks as an alternative to the normal dinner rolls. Yum!
Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits
adapted from that book linked above, lol

For the biscuits:
2 rounded cups of buttermilk biscuit mix
1/4 rounded tsp garlic powder

4 tbsp cold butter

1 overflowing cup of grated cheddar - I used a mix of mild and sharp cheddar
3/4 C cold whole milk

For the buttery topping:
2 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 tsp garlic powder
dried parsley flakes for color

Mix garlic powder into biscuit mix. Cut butter into the biscuit mix until incorporated but bits are still about the size of peas. Gently mix in the cheddar. Stir in the milk until just combined.

Preheat oven to 400. Drop into big dollops (about 1/4 C sized) onto the parchment lined baking sheet. Smooth the tops so you don't get any crispy parts. Bake for 15 minutes or until they're lightly golden.

Melt the butter and mix in the garlic powder and parsley flakes. Brush the baked biscuits while hot.

Makes 1 dozen.

09 December 2010

Daring Bakers: Crostata (better late than never!)

November has come and gone, but I didn't forget about the Daring Bakers' challenge. The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. I only got a chance to make this tonight, so here is my take on November's challenge.
The pasta frolla was easy to make and absolutely delicious. It tastes like a sugar cookie that mated with shortbread! (In fact, instead of using the excess to create a pretty decoration on the crostata, I baked them up as cookies then inhaled them.) It's such a great base to any kind of tart or crostata or pie. I was thinking about doing a fruit preserve crostata, but I've already made some fruit pies this year (see here and here), so this time around I needed to try something entirely not me: chocolate.

I used the pasta frolla recipe per the challenge, but pulled the chocolate filling from Rachel Eats and added about a teaspoon of orange zest, so thanks to everyone for making this possible!
This is decadent. It's like fudge in a cookie in tart form.