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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

More Maida Heatter

Made a cake for a party this weekend. Got to go with Maida Heatter. This is a simple nearly flourless chocolate rum cake from her Book of Great Chocolate Desserts . The crumb is somewhere between a true flourless cake and a regular cake. It's not as dense because it uses beaten egg whites for lift. The chocolate is semisweet so its not as intensely chocolate-y but the rum adds a nice little somethin' somethin'. And, all chocolate benefits from a generous dollop of whipped cream and berries.

Quite delicious!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ginger Apple Sauce

We love apples and this year has been particularly good for the local apple crop. A number of our friends have gifted us with apples from their trees. They are usually pretty tart, but still quite edible. They are perfect for making applesauce.

We love ginger too so this applesauce is a nice change. No cinnamon here. Just apples, a little sugar, lemon juice, and grated ginger. My husband declared this the best applesauce ever.

I like to mix apple varieties when making applesauce. MacIntosh apples cook down quickly which makes them favored for applesauce. I like to mix in Jonathan's because of their great flavor but they take longer to cook. If you use different varieties than this mix, you'll have to adjust the cooking time depending on how well the apples are breaking down.

Gingered Applesauce
(makes 4 cups)

4 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 pounds apples (I like to use ½ MacIntosh and ½ Jonathan)
⅓ cup sugar + a bit more, depending on the tartness of the apples
⅔ cup water
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Place the lemon juice into a medium saucepan. Peel, core, and cut the apples into eighths, tossing them in the lemon juice as you go to keep them from turning brown.

Add sugar, water, and ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes, until the apples are quite tender. Remove from heat and mash with a fork, living some chunks. Taste, and if the applesauce is too tart, add a bit more sugar.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pro's and Con's of the Pressure Cooker

This week I used my pressure cooker to make a fairly tasty stew, a chicken ratatouille.  A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for Korean Short Ribs in the pressure cooker. These two recipes offer some insight into limits and usefulness the pressure cooker. I offer these insights as a public service, should you find yourself staring at the pressure cookers in the appliance aisle. Should you buy one? Read on.

The short ribs were fantastic. They cook in ¼ the time it takes to cook them in a conventional braise. The ribs are tender and they only get better when reheated. Short ribs have so much connective tissue and fat that they just don't dry out. The same cannot be said of chicken. Now, don't get me wrong - the chicken was delicious fresh out of the pressure cooker. But, on reheating, it just gets stringy and dry. I would not hesitate to make chicken in the pressure cooker for guests, but I would try to eat it all in one go. The leftovers just don't hold up. Remember that the next time you cook chicken in your pressure cooker. Though I haven't tried it, I expect you would get the same behavior with leaner tough cuts of beef. Brisket would act like short ribs because it also has lots of fat and connective tissue. Lean roasts - not so good.

What else is successful in the pressure cooker? Brown rice. It's a bit faster. The texture is also excellent. It's foolproof (and apparently when it comes to cooking rice, I'm a fool). I wrote about cooking brown rice in the pressure cooker last year, and I still think it's a miracle.

If you eat a lot of beans, it's a great investment. Chickpeas, which take a good hour if cooked under normal pressure, are done in 25 minutes in the pressure cooker (and 15 minutes if you start with pre-soaked beans). Dried beans, cooked at home, are far superior in texture to canned beans. Yeah, I use canned beans in a pinch, but they are kind of mushy. Dried beans absorb a lot of great flavor in the initial cooking. Canned beans never are as flavorful. Dried beans are also an incredible value. So, if you like beans, you will get your money's worth out of a pressure cooker.

Long-cooking vegetables, like carrots or turnips or sweet potatoes, cook well in the pressure cooker. But, most green vegetables can't stand up to the intense steamy environment in a pressure cooker. However, artichokes are a notable exception. If you love artichokes like I do, it is the fastest way to get these prickly vegetables to tender deliciousness.

3-4 artichokes
1 lemon
lots of minced garlic
dried herbs
salt and pepper

Clean by pulling off the lower tough outer leaves. Cut the top off, so you don't have to deal with those nasty thorns. Use a scissor to snip off any thorns on the outer leaves. Cut off the stem. If you peel it, you can toss it in the pot too and there's a lot of good artichoke there.

Rub the exposed flesh with the cut side of a lemon. That keeps the flesh from darkening. Stuff as much minced garlic as you like between the leaves of the artichokes. Sprinkle with dried herbs (basil, oregano, Italian herbs, rosemary are all good), salt and pepper between the leaves.

Put 1 cup of water in the pressure cooker. Place the steamer rack in the pressure cooker. Put the artichokes and stems (if cooking) in the steamer rack. Drizzle with olive oil and squeeze the rest of the lemon juice over the artichokes. Toss the lemon halves in there too. Lock on the top, bring up to pressure, and cook at pressure for 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the size of your artichokes. Reduce the pressure and let sit for 5-10 minutes. They are so hot at this point that you can't really eat them anyway. Serve with more olive oil, mayonnaise, or butter sauce.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pecan Squares and Maida Heatter

When I was growing up, my mom fell in love with Maida Heatter. And, for good reason. This woman is one of the greatest pastry chefs anywhere, ever. Her recipes are infallible because they are incredibly detailed. Many of them are quite complicated (see my post on her Walnut Tart from Saint-Paul-de-Vence for a super-involved dessert!) but if you know what you are doing, you can pull them off and impress your friends, big time.

This cookie is the best - really the best! - pecan pie-like cookie there is.  My mom made them and people would swoon. They still swoon. I made them to send to my daughter in college. Won some points there with my daughter and her friends. My book club enjoyed some of them too. No one can resist them. It's not as gooey-sticky sweet as pecan pie. Loaded with pecans - over a pound! It has a lovely flavor of honey that makes them unique.
The whole sheet of pecans squares. Oh, doesn't that look delicious

Now, I would post the recipe here, but it's nearly 3 pages long. This is not a recipe for the casual baker. My advice, if you are a serious pastry baker, go get yourself Maida Heatter's New Book of Great Desserts (Knopf, 1982). You can find it used on-line. Get it. You won't be sorry.

Update: I found the recipe on line here. My only update to the original recipe would be to reduce the sugar in the cookie crust to ⅓ cup from ½ cup. The bars are plenty sweet so the crust doesn't have to be.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Finally, the end of Zucchini is in Sight!

Not exactly. I still have a bunch of it in the freezer. But, it does make a good tagline.

Because of that cache of zucchini in the freezer, I'm always looking for good zucchini recipes. Here's one I conjured up on my own. I had orange juice hanging around so I reduced that until it was a syrup. Since zucchini has so much moisture in it, I knew that the syrup would be diluted quite a bit after it was mixed with the shredded zucchini. The result was a little sweet, with a nice hint of orange.
The zucchini doesn't take a good picture, but it's still tasty.

Zucchini Kissed with Orange
(serves 4)

½ cup orange juice
4 small zucchini, shredded
1 ½ Tablespoons butter
1 clove of garlic, minced
salt and black pepper

Bring orange juice to a boil in a small saucepan and reduce to a thick syrup. You should have about 2 Tablespoons of syrup. Place the zucchini in a colander and squeeze out some of the moisture.  Heat butter in a medium skillet until it starts to foam. Add the garlic, and saute for a minute. Add zucchini. Saute for a couple of minutes, stirring to cover the zucchini in the garlic butter. Add orange syrup and stir. Season with salt and pepper.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Korean-style Short Ribs

Whoa! It's winter. OK, maybe not where you live, but definitely here in Boulder, Colorado. This morning, we woke up to our first snowfall of the season. And, temperatures heading for the mid-20's tonight. Even if it doesn't feel like winter in your neighborhood, it's time to break out the comfort food because the calendar definitely says it's Autumn.

This is a pressure cooker recipe because that is the fastest way to get short ribs on the dinner table. Short ribs have lots of connective tissue that takes quite a while to break down at braising temperature. The pressure cooker accelerates the cooking and you have tender, yummy short ribs in about an hour.

This recipe is adapted from one in Miss Vicki's Big Book of Pressure Cooker Recipes.

Korean-Style Short Ribs with Horseradish Butter
(serves 4)

For the Horseradish Butter:
2 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 Tablespoons prepared horseradish
a pinch of salt

For the Short Ribs:
4 beef short ribs, about 2 pounds of ribs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, medium dice
½ cup soy sauce
2 carrots, coarsely grated
½ cup water
¼ cup dry sherry
3 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons grated ginger
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted until golden brown
2 green onions, sliced

To prepare the horseradish butter, mix the butter, horseradish, and salt together in a small bowl. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.

Heat the oil in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Brown the ribs on all sides. Remove to a plate. Add the onions and saute until starting to brown. Deglaze the pressure cooker with the soy sauce, making sure to scrape up the bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the carrots, water, sherry, sesame oil, brown sugar, peanut butter, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Mix to combine. Add back the short ribs and any juices. Turn the ribs in the sauce. Lock the lid in place, bring up to pressure, and cook for 40 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow to cool until the cooker has depressurized. Remove the lid. The ribs should be very tender at this point. [If not, lock the lid, bring up to pressure and cook 5 more minutes. Again, allow the cooker to depressurize and remove the lid.]

Serve the ribs by placing a rib on a mound of rice. Spoon on some sauce and a ½ Tablespoon of horseradish butter. Garnish with ½ Tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds and the sliced green onions.

These are extremely rich. You can leave out the horseradish butter and they are still rich (and still very tasty). Because they only get better with cooling and reheating, you can make these ahead. Chill in the refrigerator. Before reheating, remove most of the fat that will solidify on top of the sauce. Don't worry; they will still be rich!