Monday, September 21, 2009

A Dessert Fit For Kings

While I have no proof that any kings have eaten this dessert, it is called Eton Mess, and it's British, so I am left to conclude that it originated at Eton College, the famous English prep school that's been around longer than America and has educated scores of famous Brits from the Princes of Wales to James Bond to Mark Darcy to Captain Hook. (Okay, I realize that 60% of these are fictional characters, I am just amused by the fact that Eton is so full of itself that they bother listing fictional characters who fictionally attended Eton, along with all of the actual famous people that went there.)

I actually don't even know if this dessert is served there; a quick search of their website shows no matches. I first had it at a Marco Pierre White restaurant in England a little over a year ago when I was there touring gardens with the fam. It was so delicious that I jotted down a diagram in my notebook, for future reference. Now the diagram is the only thing I have to go by, since I've pretty much forgotten all of the details other than that it is delicious.

I threw these together for Erik and me just before watching Mad Men last night. If you prep the berries in advance and let them macerate (sit in lemon juice & sugar) for a few hours up to a few days, the dessert comes together in about 10 minutes. Although I haven't tried it yet, I think it would be great for a (smallish) group, because the only thing you need to increase for a crowd is the amount of whipped cream you whip, which, if you're using an electric mixer, isn't too much of an effort. Like last week's caramelized fruit dessert, this recipe allows you to vary the type of fruit you use. I like strawberries, but I also think raspberries or blueberries or some kind of a mix would be great, too. These look particularly festive in fancy glassware, such as a martini or wine glasses, or parfait glasses, if you have them.

Eton Mess (adapted from the Marco Pierre White's Yew Tree Inn)

Note: Apologies for the imprecise quantities--I just eyeball everything. These are my best per-person guesses for quantities, but you can adjust the amounts of each component according to your own taste.

* Vanilla ice cream, 1 small scoop per person
* Whipping cream or heavy cream, 2-3 tablespoons per person
* A few pinches of white sugar
* A few strawberries per person, or any assortment of berries that you like
* About 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (you can get by with bottled if you'd like)
* Vanilla meringue cookies, a few per person, roughly crumbled (I find these at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, or the Christmas Tree Shops. They're probably available elsewhere, too, but these stores definitely carry them)
* 1 or 2 semisweet chocolate chips per person, or the equivalent in bar form

1. In advance, rinse and chop the berries. Toss the berries in a bowl with equal parts lemon juice and sugar, but taste and adjust sweet/sour mix if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until you are ready to assemble the dessert--at least a few hours, or overnight.

2. Combine the cream and a few pinches of sugar in a deep bowl and whip with an electric mixer until the cream can hold stiff peaks. Gently fold in the meringue cookie pieces.

3. In the bottom of a glass place a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Next layer on your berries, adding lots of the juices too. Top with a generous dollop of the whipped cream/meringue mixture.

4. If desired, finely chop a few chocolate chips and sprinkle the chocolate on top, or if you have a solid chocolate bar, run a vegetable peeler along a side to make some elegant chocolate curls. Serve immediately.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pumpkin Puree, Two Ways

Happiness, for it is finally pumpkin season (well, practically)! I know, pumpkin comes in a can, and is available all year round, but I just feel funny using it when it's warm and sunny outside, and I could be going to the beach instead. Any cans of pumpkin that I buy in the fall and winter and don't end up using by the time spring rolls around are just destined to sit in the pantry until fall again. But now it's the fall (well, a few hours to go...), and so the pumpkin is out.

The whole reason I ended up using pumpkin today goes back to my post last weekend , when I gave you a recipe for a romaine salad with avocados and corn and a smoky dressing featuring chilies in
adobo. Ah yes, that ingredient that is no longer so elusive. Then this week hit, and Erik and I were out every night but one, and I never got around to using any more of that extra chili stuff. Tonight I was determined to use it in something, which is how I stumbled upon a Rachel Ray recipe for chicken with pumpkin polenta. Weird, right? Not only does the polenta have lots of pumpkin, it also uses chilies in adobo, so I figured hey, why not? Easy enough, and I had everything I needed (always an important factor to consider when the grocery store seems oh so far away. Hey, 5 miles is far, in my opinion. City girl here, accustomed to convenience...)

So here's my only gripe about canned pumpkin: the cans only come in two sizes (big and huge), and so recipes are formulated around those sizes, and they often yield a lot. Which isn't always desirable when you're cooking for 2. I never end up using extra polenta, so I wanted to halve the recipe, but it calls for a full can of pumpkin, so what is a girl to do? Well, what this girl did was recall that her favorite pumpkin bread recipe also calls for a full can of pumpkin but makes 2 loaves, which despite her deep, deep love for pumpkin bread, cannot be consumed before the second loaf gets stale and/or moldy. Solution: half recipes of each, using 1 can of pumpkin. Genius! (or at least, I like to think so).

Pumpkin polenta is an interesting thing. I
think I like it, but it's definitely a little odd at the same time. It's very well balanced, with smoky/spicy chili in adobo, savory pumpkin, sweet honey, and salty salt. Sorry, ran out of adjectives there. We served it with Rachel's BBQish chicken and hearty salad dressed with the remainder of the dressing from last week's salad, which tied the flavors together. I'd really be interested to know what others think of this recipe. It's quite easy (and you may already have the ingredients), so give it a whirl and let me know!

Pumpkin Polenta (from Rachel Ray)
Serves four, halve it for two, since it makes a lot

* 2 cups chicken stock
* 1 cup milk
* 1 chipotle chili in
adobo, finely chopped, and 2 teaspoons of adobo sauce
* 3/4 cup of cornmeal or quick cooking polenta
* 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling--they are different!)
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2 tablespoons honey

1. Combine the chicken stock and milk in a saucepan with the chili in adobo, and bring to a boil then lower the heat.

2. Slowly add the corn meal or polenta to the liquid, whisking as you do so to avoid lumps. Continue whisking until the polenta has thickened, about 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin and allow to heat through. Whisk in the butter and honey, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Obviously, I did half of this recipe for Erik and me, and then saved the second half of the can for pumpkin bread, which I whipped up after dinner. I love this pumpkin bread recipe because it is incredibly easy and comes together in a cinch. The bread is incredibly sweet, savory, and a little spicy, and can easily accommodate any little things you want to throw in (always chocolate chips in this household, but dried cranberries are good, and I have a suspicion that blueberries could be good too, although with Erik around, it's always chocolate chips!)

Pumpkin Bread (Better Homes & Gardens Red Plaid Cookbook, 12th Edition)
Makes 2 loaves

This is the full recipe, but it halves easily if you only use 1/2 a can of pumpkin

* 3 cups white sugar
* 1 cup cooking oil (corn or canola)
* 4 eggs
* 3 1/3 cups all purpose flour
* 2 teaspoons baking soda
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 2/3 cup of water
* 1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree (not pie filling--they're different!)
* Optional: chocolate chips, dried cranberries, nuts, or any other additions you choose

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 loaf pans (9x5x3 inch) or the equivalent in mini loaf pans or muffin tins (yup, converts easily to muffins)

2. In a large mixing bowl beat together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs and beat again until combined.

2. In a medium bowl combine dry ingredients.

3. Alternately add the dry ingredients and water to the egg mixture, beating together after each addition. Mix in pumpkin puree. Fold in any other additions, if desired. Divide between loaf pans and bake for 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Adjust baking time for small loaf pans or muffin tins.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dessert 101

This next recipe epitomizes one of my stated goals, which is to provide easy recipes, especially good for the easily intimidated (like me). This little gem, courtesy of Real Simple Magazine, is called Caramelized Pineapple with Coconut Sorbet. It is indeed "real simple," with only 4 ingredients (2 of which are butter and brown sugar, so you simply can't go wrong), and takes only about 15 minutes to throw together. I made it during 3 commercial breaks of Mad Men, and didn't even need to attend it while I was watching the show. What could be better? And not that I'm an expert on 1960s food, since I wasn't exactly around then, it almost seems to me like something Betty Draper (or my grandmother) might make, although with infinitely tastier results that some of the fare from that generation (like my Gran's wonder bread rounds with cream cheese and canned mandarin orange slices).

So now the recipe (in its unadulterated version. More thoughts to follow):

Caramelized Pineapple with Coconut Sorbet (Real Simple Magazine, April 2009)
Serves 4

* 2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
* 1/4 cup brown sugar
* 4 canned pineapple rings (or fresh, if you know how to butcher a pineapple--I don't)
* 1 pint coconut sorbet

1. Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar and cook for 1 minute (the butter and sugar will remain separated).

2. Cut the pineapple rings in half and place in pan. Cook until the pinapple is tender and the sauce is smooth and golden, about 4-5 minutes per side. Cool slightly. Serve the pineapple over the sorbet and drizzle with extra sauce from the pan.

And now my thoughts, since I can never resist. Neither Erik nor I actually like coconut, so I thought that I'd replace it with lemon sorbet, because that is one flavor I love, but I went into total sticker shock when I saw how expensive sorbet is--$5.19 for a pint! Is this normal? I don't know. So then I remembered that I still had some plain vanilla kicking around in the freezer from my slightly less-than-successful homemade ice cream sandwiches, and I said, "that will do." And it did, with flying colors. It was delicious! While I was savoring my dessert I got to iming with my friend Jes, who started suggesting other fruits for which this easy technique would also work. I haven't tried any of these yet, but I've never met a caramelized fruit I didn't like. I mean, it's butter, sugar, and fruit. Foolproof!

- Apples & Vanilla ice cream. (Also could throw raisins and/or cinnamon into the sauce while it's cooking for an autumnal twist.)

-Pears & ginger ice cream (I don't know where one finds ginger ice cream outside of Chinatown, but I think it could be delicious nonetheless.)

- Bananas & vanilla ice cream or mango sorbet (Bananas should be cut on a diagonal for bitter pieces thus more surface area for caramelizing.)

This is just what we came up with, please suggest more! And of course, Enjoy!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Radloff Salad with a Twist

In my July post "BBQ, Overachiever Style" I gave you the recipe for "Radloff Salad," the romaine salad with tomato, corn, and parmesan that I make in the summer. Today, while browsing through an old issue of Gourmet Magazine that Erik snagged from my parent's house, I came across a salad called "Romaine, Grilled Avocado, and Smoky Corn Salad with Chipotle-Caesar Dressing." See why I might find this appealing?

So, Erik and I were finally able to see Julie & Julia last night due to a ferry booking snafu that was actually my fault, although I tried to pass it off on the Steamship Authority. I thought we were on the 5, it turns out I booked for the 2:45, which we couldn't make, so we ended up on the 8. So we had a couple of hours to kill... After watching the movie I was so inspired by the food that I wanted something worthy of Julia, but was restricted to whatever we could find on a whirlwind tour through Trader Joe's before boarding the ferry. I ended up with brie, the last loaf of bread in the store, (which sadly wasn't a fresh baguette), and a Toblerone bar. Healthy, no? Tonight I thought I might make something truly Julia-esque, but my inner practical person said I should use what I had in the house first, before I went out and bought a duck or something...hence the aforementioned salad.

It was simple to make but very tasty. It uses the same components as my Radloff Salad but replaces tomatoes with avocados, (though I used both), and jazzes the dressing up with lime juice and chipotle chilis in adobo. Do you guys see as many recipes calling for chipotle chilis in adobo as I do? I always wrote those recipes off because I assumed these special chilis would be impossible to find on island, but not so. Easy to find, and actually cheap. A new outlook! My culinary world has been broadened! But back to the recipe at hand... The dressing was easy to whisk up, the grilling was easy (other than my gas tank running out, but that's unrelated). Toss it together and serve. I served grilled chicken breasts marinated in bottled Caribbean Jerk 30-minute marinade alongside, and voila, dinner! I was running kind of late though due to the grill running out of gas, so I didn't bother taking any photos, so just picture it ;)

Romaine, Grilled Avocado, and Smoky Corn Salad with Chipotle-Caesar Dressing (Gourmet Magazine
, June 2009)

* 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
* 1 tsp minced garlic
* 1 TBS minced canned chipotle chilis in adobo
* 3 TBS vegetable oil
* 2 ears of corn, shucked
* 2 firm-ripe avocados, halved and pitted but not peeled
* 1 head romaine (1 lb), tough outer leaves discarded (if necessary--mine were just fine), quartered lenghtwise and then sliced crosswise into 1 inch pieces.
* 1 large tomato, cored and diced (if desired--I did!)

1. Preheat grill high or prepare charcoal grill for direct heat cooking (whatever that means. I use gas.)

2. Put grated parmesan in a medium bown and add EVOO in a slow stream, whisking. Whisk in lime juice, garlic, chipotles, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.

3. Rub vegetable oil on the corn and the cut sides of the avocados and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill corn and avocados (cut side down). Cover the grill if you're using gas, for charcoal leave it open. Cook for 3-4 minutes (according to Gourmet--mine took longer, but I don't know how soon my grill ran out of gas) or until golden brown. Turn corn occasionally.

(If you are going to grill chicken or some other meat, throw it on as soon as you pull the veg, and the timing should work out nicely)

4. While the corn & avocado are cooling, dress the lettuce (and tomato, if using) in a salad bowl. Working carefully, slice the kernels off the corn cobs and peel and thinly slice the avocados. Serve the lettuce topped with the corn and avocado.

A final note on quantity: Gourmet says this recipe is a 6 side/4 main course serving recipe. I would disagree. I actually followed all of the quantities and found that Erik and I collectively ate 3/4 of the salad in addition to a chicken breast apeice. I think it would only serve 2 as a main course, unless you and your dinner mates are light eaters. Erik and I are not. Also, I only used half the dressing (and I actually measured things, which almost never happens), so either halve it or save the rest for another day.