Tarts – Mixed Berry and Caramelized Banana

Delicious tarts cobbled up with what I had in the pantry and fridge. The dough is a simple 3-2-1 (flour-butter-liquid) with egg yolks making up half of the liquid and ice water the rest. I also added some vanilla sugar for flavor and to help brown the baked pastry. I baked them blind till completely cooked and crispy/flaky. The filling is basic pastry cream made using the solid recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s book “Baking: From my Home to yours“. I love banana pies, Diana does not. So, hers was topped with a mixed berry sauce (frozen mixed berries cooked briefly with sugar and chilled). Mine was filled and topped with banana, sprinkled with sugar and caramelized with a torch then sprinkled with pistachios.

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Pumpkin-Olive Oil Cake and Buckwheat Ice Cream

Every year I look forward to cooking with winter squashes in the fall. It really is a pleasure to go to the store and see all the different varieties of squash, from the large cool looking decorative ones to the smaller delicious butternut squash. A favorite fall dish of ours, and last night’s dinner, is ravioli or tortelloni filled with butternut squash puree. I wrote about it a while back here. Another popular use for these fall fruit (or is it a vegetable?) is in baking. I prepare waffles and pancakes with them, bake muffins, cheesecake and quick breads. For most of these baked goods, I use canned pumpkin. Along with canned beans and canned tomatoes, they are one of the few raw ingredients I do not mind using out of a can. Of course it depends on what I am doing, I’ll never make a creamy pumpkin/squash soup with canned pumpkin, but a cake like this one here is simply perfect made with a can of Libby’s pumpkin puree (NOT canned pumpkin pie filling!)

The buckwheat ice cream from the Alinea cookbook was the first thing that came to mind to accompany the cake. It is deliciously earthy, nutty and just screams autumn. The cake recipe is from Mario Batali’s “Babbo Cookbook“. It is made with olive oil, not butter, and is studded with bourbon-soaked raisins and pine nuts. The cake is fantastic with a mild spice flavor from both the spices and the peppery olive oil. It is also very tender, but holds it’s shape perfectly.

I intended to have a few more elements to this dish, but had no time for an elaborate sauce, and my Maltodextrin dry caramel just did not work out (too wet of a mixture is the cause I suspect). For plating, I had a square of the cake and a quenelle – a very ugly one at that- of the ice cream on opposite sides of the plate. I made a quick foamy sauce with olive oil, simple syrup, and a couple of tablespoons of cream and foamed it with a little Lecithin using a stick blender. I garnished the dish with drops of Steen’s Cane Syrup, bourbon raisins, toasted pinenuts and the olive oil foam. Steen’s, from Louisianna, is really a great ingredient and one of my favorite syrups. I bought my first bottle years ago because Emeril Lagasse kept on mentioning it and cooking with and I got curious. My pantry always has a bottle or two at all times now. I use it frequently on top of pancakes or waffles, as a topping for ice cream and in marinades or sauces. It tastes like a mild molasses with complex honey notes. Buy yourself a bottle if you see one at your store and give it a shot. This dish worked very nicely, I loved the flavors, the textures and – except for my ugly single spoon quenelle of ice cream (need to practice that technique)- looked lovely and warm.

Corned Beef cooked Sous Vide

I’ve been exploring Sous Vide cooking using my Immersion Circulator often with excellent results. Deli-type meats seem like a no brainer for this cooking method, in this case for corned beef. To prepare the beef, I used a good even piece of brisket (even thickness matters a lot for this method) and trimmed most of the fat off it. Then I brined it using Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie recipe. He used salt, sugar, Cure #1 (a tiny bit gives it the pink color and the cured flavor) and pickling spice (bay, cloves, allspice and black pepper among others).

After a few days, the now corned beef went in a Foodsaver bag along with some more pickling spice and a sliced onion. It cooked for about 8 hours at 170 F in the water bath and then I quickly chilled it in a bowl filled with water and ice. It then sat in the fridge for a few days until I was ready to serve it. My main concern here was salt content. I figured normally corned beef is boiled so some of it’s salt will leach out and the meat ends up well seasoned but not salty. In this case, the meat is vacuum pakced throughout and the salt has nowhere to go.

For service I reheated the beef in some hot water and removed it from the bag. I sliced and tasted a piece. Excellent flavor, definitly not too salty. On the other hand I think it should be a touch more tender. I’m thinking next time I’ll cook it around 175 for closer to 10 hours. For dinner I made sandwiches of course. Homemade marble rye, saurkraut and melted Swiss cheese.

Great Whole Wheat Pizza

I was about to lable this post something stupid like “Healthy Pizza” and then thought better of it. Properly made pizza with a lean, slow fermented dough, formed into a thin crust, sparingly topped with pizza sauce, cheese and little else is a thing of beauty. And yes, it is also healthy, good for you (provided you don’t eat a family sized pie!) and a far cry from the greasy cardboard crusted disgraces that big chains  home-deliver as pizza. I still wish I could come up with a slightly wittier title than Whole Wheat Pizza. Oh well, it is what it is I guess.

I’ve been wanting to give this pizza dough recipe a shot ever since I got Peter Reinhart’s “Whole Grain Breads” book since every other recipe I’ve tried has been wonderful. He uses his original method that combines  a refrigerated biga starter (whole wheat flour, yeast and water) and a “soaker” (whole wheat flour, water and salt). No white flour is used at all and through the magic of enzymes, yeasts and long slow fermentation we end up with a perfect and flavorful dough.

Topped and before it went into the very hot oven

I like mine with an egg in the center. Served it with a very good Lebanese Pinot Noir.

Toppings included cooked tomato sauce, mozzarella, crumbled sausage and homemade ricotta cheese. It was delicious but certainly not “just like” a pizza made with white flour dough. It had a more robust flavor and was light, crispy and chewy. The real test was the kids. I try to give them foods high in fiber whenever possible and this pizza was a big hit with them. A win-win situation really.

Thom Leonard’s French Country Bread

I love these relaxed long baking projects, especially ones that make the time invested (albeit very little actual effort) worthwhile. Recently I stumbled on this wonderful recipe from TheFreshLoaf.com. The Fresh Loaf is a very cool forum for bakers and baking from all over the worId. If you are interested in baking, check it out. I  was so happy with the large loaves it produced, I had to share a picture and a post.

Real Men Don’t Eat quiche, they eat Quiche!

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“Real men don’t eat quiche”! Yeah, right, not when it is my quiche or should I say the Bouchon quiche. I really do not know where that reputation came from. Probably from the tiny dainty pieces of puff pastry painted with a substance that might’ve been egg at some point and frozen in boxes that you can pick up at Sam’s or Costco. Yes, these poor little imitations still pop up at an “eh-derve” party here and there, but these are not quiche!

Neither are those ½ inch thin tarts that are sold and made by many. You need 2 of those tarts, yes tarts not quiche, to get full. Is that possibly why “real men do not eat quiche”? Do they not meet the criteria of filling, delicious and rich that any man looks for in a meal? If you believe those Hungry-Man commercials, they don’t.

Well, I doubt anyone can make this argument against the quiche from the Bouchon book. This is a real quiche, 2 inches thick and chuck full of eggs, cream, milk, meats and other goodies…oh yes and cheese. Take that Hungry-Man!

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Bacon-Mushroom Quiche

Yields: 8 generous slices
I’ve made the Bouchon recipe numerous times and the first few times were bad experiences. This thick quiche will leak if not properly made, and in all honesty it is one of the most challenging cooking experiences I’ve had. A small crack can turn into a much bigger one once the custard is poured in and disaster ensues. When you get the hang of it though, this is one glorious piece of pastry, delicious and impressive. I have not had a leaky quiche in quiet sometime. Remember, work fast, keep the dough rolled thick, and fill when still hot/warm.

Here is my adaptation of the Bouchon recipe. My custard has more eggs and less dairy because I like the more curdy texture rather than creamy. I also love this bacon mushroom filling, but feel free to improvise.

Pastry
12 ounces All Purpose Flour (about 3 cups, but if you have a scale, please weigh it)
2 Sticks butter, chilled and diced
1 Tbsp salt
¼ Cup ice water

Custard and Fillings
6 thick slices of bacon, cut into ¼ strips across
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 shallot diced
1 onion, diced
1 Tbsp butter
7 large eggs
3 Cups milk
½ Cup heavy cream
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1 Cup grated cheese (Swiss, Gruyere, mozzarella or smoked mozzarella)

Special Equipment
8 X 2  inch cake ring (Available for less than $10 at a cake supply store or Sur La Table)

Make the pastry: in a food processor, combine one third of the flour with the salt and pulse a couple of times. Add the butter in increments until all of it is incorporated ending up with a paste. Add the rest of the flour and the ice water and pulse until you have a nice smooth dough. Form the dough into an 8 inch disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about an hour or up to 48 hours. This can also be frozen. Make sure the dough is pliable before rolling though.
Lightly oil the inside of the cake ring, place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. Roll the dough into a ¼ inch thick round. It should be large enough to line the ring and have about a ½ inch overhang. But DO NOT roll it too much thinner than ¼ inch. Roll the pastry on a rolling pin and lay it in the ring gently, do not pull and tug on it as you let it rest in all corners. Fold any overhang on the outside of the ring, it will help keep it in place. Save any extra dough, you might need it.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes till it sets.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line the unbaked crust with an oiled parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans (I use beans). Bake for about 30-40 minutes till the edges are brown. Gently remove the beans and the parchment, patch up any small cracks with the reserved dough and return to the oven for another 10 minutes or until the inside and bottom are lightly browned. Make the filling while this crust blind bakes.

Make the Filling: Saute the bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat till the fat is rendered and the meat is lightly crisped. Remove to a plate and sauté the mushrooms in the bacon fat, till lightly browned. Add the shallots and onions and cook everything till the mushrooms exude all their liquid and the onions are soft. Whisk in the butter and cook for another minute. Add the bacon to the pan and if needed add a little salt. You will also be seasoning the custard so don’t add too much.
Heat the milk and cream till a skin forms on the surface but do not boil them. Remove from heat. Crack the eggs in a large bowl, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and whisk till smooth. Slowly add the milk mixture and keep on whisking till everything is combined.

Assemble the quiche: Do this when the pastry and custard are still hot/warm, do not let them cool down. This will help the filling cook and set faster rather than get the pastry soggy and leaky. Make sure the shell has no small cracks, pay particular attention to the corners. If it, does patch them with pieces of reserved dough. Leaving the shell on the baking sheet, place half the bacon-mushroom mixture in the bottom, top it of with a third of the cheese, and gently pour in half the custard. Repeat with the remaining filling, half of the remaining cheese, and the rest of the custard. You might want to place this in the oven then adding the last cup or so of custard to avoid spilling during transfer since it will be filled to the brim. Top with the rest of the cheese. Bake for about 70 – 90 minutes, until it is set and nicely browned on top.
Cool to room temperature and then chill overnight. When ready to serve, the quiche should be set and can be handled easily. Simply use a knife to cut the extra overhang and slide the quiche out of the ring. Slice and heat the slices on a baking sheet in a 375F oven till heated through. Enjoy.

Timpano al Antica

Have you seen Big Night? No! Well you need to. When thinking about a film that deals with food, very few movies come close to this one. It is a classic. Film is not the subject of this post however, it is the Timpano. That awe- inspiring masterpiece of pastry, pasta and sauces that Primo serves during the big night dinner at the end of the film.

Timpano has always fascinated me since I first saw the film a few years ago, but like so many things it had to wait and I never managed to get around to making it. Now, finally, due to cooking from Campania in September in eGullet’s Italy and Italian Cuisine forum, I did try a version of this dish. Click here to see my comments, negatives and positives. We are already planning our own tribute to Big Night with a few colleagues at work, and a new and improved Timpano will certainly be featured.